Hanks, Bullock are 'Incredibly Close'

December 23, 2011


NEW YORK – As a resolute Army captain, he safely led his company through the massacre on Omaha Beach and gave long-reticent World War II veterans a reason to open up about their own battle scars in 1998's Saving Private Ryan.

As a feisty Southern lady with a big heart, she elevated what could have been a standard underdog sports drama into a healing salve of a pep rally for the nation's racially, politically and economically split soul in 2009's The Blind Side.

Who better than Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, arguably the most popular stars in the Hollywood firmament, to act as the audience's emotional buffers in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a rare big-screen exploration of the grief-stricken aftershocks of 9/11 that opens on Christmas Day.

As the patient parents of Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn), a curiously inventive if socially challenged 11-year-old who most likely suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome, the two beloved Oscar winners make for a very credible married couple in their first movie matchup.

There is one hitch: As the film begins, it has been almost a year since Hanks' eccentric New York-based jeweler died in the World Trade Center attacks. Save for flashbacks of a domestic scene that consists mostly of exchanged glances and a timely phone call that is destined to deplete tear ducts, Hanks and Bullock barely interact.

As Hanks, 55, notes as he and his movie spouse enjoy morning beverages in a stark white photography studio with a riverside view: "Our relationship in the film is literally like that of people who have been married for 17 years. We pass in the hallway. 'Are you going to do that thing?' 'Yeah, I'll take care of it.' 'Don't worry.' 'Bye-bye.' "

However, their familiar ease with each other off-camera reflects more of a close sibling bond than matrimonial bliss. Bullock, 47, does an impressive imitation of Hanks spitting out the office-party caviar in Big ("Whenever I eat something I don't like, I do that — I Hanks it"), while her castmate takes some teasing jabs at her severely flattened red-carpet-ready hair ("Did you get some kind of Brazilian straight job?").

And, not unlike many family reunions, at least one middle-finger salute ends up being delivered — by Bullock, no less.

The Famous People's Club
The actress recalls that she and Hanks previously shared only two fleeting encounters of a personal kind. One was in Las Vegas (whose details will apparently stay in Vegas), and the other was outside the restrooms at the Golden Globe Awards.

"We had a whole exchange while we were waiting for people to come out," Bullock says. "We were blocking everyone from moving through."

She looks at Hanks: "I won't even repeat what we said because it will get you in trouble."

"I describe it as being members of the Famous People's Club," he responds. " 'Hey, I know you and you know me, but we never met, and we can talk about stuff like we know each other.' "

Could a possible reason for their delayed pairing be that their combined salaries, often ranked among the highest in the industry, would sink most movie budgets? Hanks — whose summer release, the self-directed Larry Crowne, underwhelmed critics and grossed less than $55 million worldwide — can't help but laugh.

"Hey, what year is this?" he asks. "You are talking about old show business — you remember that. I don't think the studios are building any more modern edifices on their lots. They did that for the longest time because there was some sort of Niagara Falls of free money."

No more. The economy has taken its toll on their profession as year-end box-office totals continue to dip. Technology also is a threat as the subject shifts to how digital images are endangering the livelihood of human actors.

"That is where it is going," Bullock says. "We won't be needed anymore. We realize we are being phased out."

Says Hanks, whose Toy Story alter-ego, Woody, is probably as famous as he is and sells a lot more merchandise: "I'm looking to license my face, voice and attitude. Can you license an attitude? 'You had a moment in this movie where somebody made a goofy look, and I believe that's mine.' "

"I like that," Bullock says with a smile. "That is such a Hanks move."

'The worst day'
But Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close director Stephen Daldry realizes all too well the irreplaceable value of warm flesh-and-blood images on-screen. Especially when your movie is based on a love-it-or-hate-it 2005 best seller told from a child's fractured frame of mind, one of literature's first fictional attempts to examine the still-tender wounds suffered a decade ago on what young Oskar calls "the worst day."

"People have to make their own minds up about whether they want to watch anything about that day," says Daldry, who first made his mark in British theater and has been Oscar-nominated for his other three films, Billy Elliot (2000), The Hours (2002) and The Reader (2008).

To provide a sense of comfort for those willing to buy tickets, casting Oskar's parents was key.

"Tom and Sandra came to mind first," Daldry says. "From the boy's point of view, he has the perfect dad. He is the person he pins all his hopes and dreams on. I would want Tom Hanks to be my dad. Sandra Bullock is an actress who we all love, and rightly so. She really is the best of folk, and she is a dramatic actress of huge power. And if I'm going to have really hard and difficult scenes with my mum, I'd want her."

Since her Oscar-rewarded success of The Blind Side, Bullock's private life has undergone a major overhaul, including the addition of adopted son Louis, almost 2, and the subtraction of an unfaithful husband, custom-biker dude Jesse James.
It makes a statement that she chose this project to get back into work mode, and in a supporting role.

"I think we have been really, really fortunate," she says of herself and Hanks. "That's when you stop and say, 'What do I really want to experience? What do I want to do? What do I want to be involved with?' I don't look at anything, except at college tuition, but I've set that aside. It's nice to be a part of something in our business that takes you back to what everything should be about."

Reaching out to others
Both actors, known for their philanthropic efforts, agreed to sign on partly because of their own fresh-as-yesterday memories of 9/11.

Bullock found herself in a hotel room with a balcony facing the World Trade Center. She had reserved it for her visiting sister and brother-in-law, whose birthday happens to be Sept. 11.

"All of a sudden, my sister started screaming, 'Oh, my God, a plane hit the Twin Towers,' and I said, 'No, it didn't. I'm just looking at it now.' But a door jamb was covering up this bit. I stood up and you looked at this black hole. No plane, nothing, and the whole city was silently still going on with its stuff."

She would spend much of that day voluntarily sending e-mails for survivors on the street with her BlackBerry, which was miraculously still in service. Later, she wrote a $1 million check to the American Red Cross for its relief fund — an act that has turned into a routine for her whenever a natural disaster strikes.

Meanwhile, Hanks was waking up on the West Coast. "It was before we got the kids off to breakfast and carpool. And we got a call from a friend who said a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center. So we saw everything happen on TV." He would participate days later in America: A Tribute to Heroes, a massive fundraising telethon overseen by George Clooney to help the families of victims. "I was here in New York. I left and watched with my brother as Neil Young sang Imagine. I burst into tears a couple times."

Hanks also found solace in the community of the Greek Orthodox church he attends with actress wife Rita Wilson and sons Chet and Truman, who were then 11 and 6. "There was this amazing kind of thing for a week or so of hugging strangers and looking into each other's eyes. It was a good thing to experience."

They are hoping that Extremely Loud revives those positive feelings of reaching out to others in time of need — just as Oskar does as he embarks on a city-spanning quest to solve the puzzle of a key left behind by his dad.

As Hanks says, "How do you rationalize the irrational? I don't think you can. But, in a weird way, art in all its permutations — including the crass commercial art of film — is one of the ways you work through that."

The actors know they can't solve all of the world's woes. But they have concocted a plan to give a boost to the Oscar broadcast ratings next year.

Says Bullock: "You know what we need? We need the streaker to come back," referring to the unclothed man who caused a sensation while racing across the stage during the televised ceremony in 1974. "Once you got the streaker, it gives that element of surprise." And this time, the people should get a choice of flasher. "There should be a selection of male and female, five of each, much like the Oscars," she says. "But it should be like a raffle thing so it's unexpected."
Adds Hanks: "Can I be the person on stage when the streaker goes by? That's what I'd like."

By Susan Wloszczyna

Source : USA Today