Tom Hanks relishes challenges of Cloud Atlas roles

October 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES – Tom Hanks has nothing to prove in the acting game, but he still likes to entertain himself with tests.

That’s why he jumped at the opportunity to play multiple characters in the complex film Cloud Atlas, which opens Oct. 26.

The 56-year-old is part of an ensemble in the movie made up of six time-shifting, inter-connected stories over centuries, which examine the impact of fate on good and evil behaviour.

The reinvigorated actor confirms at a Beverly Hills hotel suite that the timing seemed right for him to get involved in the time-consuming film trip. “The kids are gone,” says a smiling Hanks, referring to his now-adult children.

So Cloud Atlas, based on the complex David Mitchell novel, arrives in theatres thanks to Hanks’ cachet and the determination of Andy and Lana (formerly Larry) Wachowski and co-writer and co-director Tom Tykwer.

In the picture, Hanks gets to play both hero and villain as a tribal warrior in a post-apocalyptic world, a 19th-century doctor, a 1970s scientist and a modern-day thug who becomes an author.

Joining him in the multiple-role challenge are Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Zhou Xun, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Keith David, and Susan Sarandon.

But Hanks, who won back-to-back Oscars for roles in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, is at the forefront.

One meeting with the Wachowski siblings, best known for The Matrix trilogy, and Twyker, of Run Lola Run fame, is all it took to convince Hanks he couldn’t pass up the experience.

He must have been especially delighted to portray his thug, who tosses a carping critic off a balcony in one scene.

“I can’t lie, they were all a lot of fun,” says Hanks. “Some of them didn’t last for very long. I mean I play an actor in a TV movie.”

But really, Hanks is told, he must be relieved to know that film reviewers will avoid giving him a negative Cloud Atlas review thanks to the critic toss.

“Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing?” he says smiling.

More seriously, he points out the sequence underscores the delicate balance of grim and grin that the Wachowskis favour.

“This is how bold these guys are,” Hanks says. “Anybody else would show the critic landing in a garbage truck full of peat moss, and he would survive. But no.”

The Cloud Atlas logistics seemed just as daring. Sometimes Hanks and company had to shift from one character to another within 24 hours. They would spend hours in makeup for each, as well. And, add this to their performance stress: They had to commute often between the main sets in the U. K. and Germany.

The convergence of tasks would panic even the most confident of performers, but the cast had the steadying influence of Twyker and the Wachowskis to rely on.

“They wouldn’t let us panic,” Hanks confirms. “They wouldn’t let us come in and be freaked out about any individual choice.

“They were just so happy to see us every day, and they were so anxious to let us play in the repertory company. Without a doubt, they steered us to some degree, but they showed faith in all of us.”

Whether audiences will respond to the high-minded themes in Cloud Atlas is difficult to predict. But Hanks refuses to under-estimate moviegoers despite the modern-day trend of marketing action flicks as fodder for franchises.

“I think (Cloud Atlas) is as risky as Inception was,” says the actor referring to the one-off Christopher Nolan hit. “Good lord, that’s what all movies used to be. Now they’re not, without a doubt. My joke was we can bypass all this by calling it Cloud Atlas 2.”

Even the pragmatic side of Hanks admits the film tends to be esoteric.

“Look, I am a lay historian by nature,” he says. “I seek out an empirical reflection of what truth is. I sort of want dates and motivations, and I want the whole story.

“But I’ve always felt, unconsciously, that all human history is that connection from person to person to person, event, to event, to event, and from idea to idea.”

For instance, Doona Bae’s character in the sci-fi portion of Cloud Atlas says at one point, ‘Truth is singular. Versions of truth (are) mistruth.’

“I thought, ‘Well, holy smokes that’s the deepest thing I’ve ever heard anywhere’,” Hanks says. “Then later on, she’s literally saying the thing that is quoted by Susan Sarandon’s (character): ‘From womb to tomb, we’re all connected and your choices reverberate through eternity.’”

Hanks is doing some reverberating, too. He is about to start filming his role playing Walt Disney in the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Mary Poppins called Saving Mr. Banks. He’s also preparing for his Broadway debut in the dearly departed Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy next spring.

“I knew of it for a number of years, and then it just came together,” he says of the play.

Why Broadway at this point in his career?

“Because,” Hanks says, pretending to be frustrated by having to repeat himself, “the kids are out of the house.”

By Bib Thompson

Source : The Montreal Gazette