Complex ‘Cloud Atlas’ a multi-role challenge for Hanks

October 22, 2012


The latest movie starring Tom Hanks, the incredibly ambitious Cloud Atlas, is a film that requires some explanation — and the 56-year-old actor happily obliges.

“I think it’s as risky as Inception (2010),” he said recently. “You saw that one the first time and said, ‘How many movies are in this thing?’ ”

Based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas has a huge cast and three directors (Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski).

It tells six distinct stories, all blended to explore the larger meaning of life and human connection.

The main characters include a lawyer in the 1800s, who is slowly dying on a ship voyage across the Pacific to California; an elderly musician in 1930s Belgium, an investigative reporter trying to bring down a sinister energy company in 1970s California, an elderly book publisher stuck in a retirement home in contemporary London, a genetically engineered woman in 2144 Korea on the way to her doom, and a goatherd living in the post-apocalyptic remains of Hawaii . Hanks plays six characters, including the goatherd mentioned above.

The three-hour movie required outside financing because its distributor, Warner Bros., considered the convoluted storyline overly risky.

Hanks embraced the project precisely because of its unusualness and the risk.

“It’s original and creative,” he said. “I loved that it wasn’t going to be simple for audiences. Lord, doesn’t that sound beautiful? A film that is original, creative and makes you think. That’s what movies used to be.”

The actor said he enjoyed the challenges presented by the six roles.

“They were all a lot of fun. I especially liked playing an actor in a TV movie. I kept asking: ‘ Is it a lousy TV movie? Am I a good TV actor?’ ”

He worked primarily with the Wachowskis, calling them a calming influence amid a potentially chaotic shoot involving complicated stories, hordes of actors and side-by-side sets with different directors on each.

“They wouldn’t let us panic or let us be freaked out, .  .  . ” Hanks said. “I loved it that they were honestly happy to see us each day, and the vibe was like they were letting us play in their rep company.”

Co-star Jim Sturgess, who shared a number of scenes, was impressed by Hanks’ approach to the intricacies of Cloud Atlas.

“Tom pulled all the pages out of the script and organized them in a different way, so that he could focus on all the stories separately, like he was making several short films,” Sturgess said in a separate interview.

The film offers a bleak vision of the future but also the promise of reincarnation and the gradual evolution of the human spirit — ideas that resonate for Hanks.

“I’m a historian by nature,” he said. “I want dates and motivations. I’ve always felt, unconsciously, that all human history is the connection between person-to-person and idea-to-idea. For me, this movie actually gives a vocabulary to that idea that I found to be quite profound.”

Hanks was born in California, the son of a chef and a hospital worker. His parents divorced when he was young, and the family moved often during a childhood that he has called “fractured.”

Acting filled a void for him, he said.

He made his mark with Splash (1984), which led to films such as Big, A League of Their Own (1992) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Hanks won back-to-back Oscars for his performances in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994).

Almost as impressive as his two Oscars, by Hollywood standards, is his 24-year marriage to actress Rita Wilson. The two married in 1988 and remain together as spouses and as partners in the production company Playtone.

By Cindy Pearlman

Source : New York Times