Tom Hanks on Nora Ephron and His First Tony Nod

April 30, 2013

Speakeasy chatted with actor Tom Hanks shortly after he received a Tony nomination this morning for his turn as newspaper columnist Mike McAlary in Nora Ephron’s final play, “Lucky Guy.”

“Well here’s Barbara from that muckraking Wall Street Journal,” Hanks joked after we were introduced on the phone. “Going to blow some headlines out of proportion? You gonna shock us?”

“Do you wish we held up the front page of The Wall Street Journal at the beginning of the play?” he asked, referring to the opening of “Lucky Guy,” in which actors introduce newspapers other than The Wall Street Journal. “This is The Wall Street Journal. This is a very serious paper,” he recited.

“Lucky Guy,” written and completed by Ephron before she passed away last June from pneumonia after a battle with acute myeloid leukemia, follows McAlary’s life and career as he went from hungry borough reporter to the highest-paid columnist in New York City, to the winner of the Pulitzer Prize as he was battling colon cancer.

The play received six Tony nominations Tuesday, including Best Play. In considering how Ephron would have received these nominations, Hanks became emotional and paused often as he said:

“I think she would have been in her way, so quietly smiling. I think she would have been so happy for us – without a doubt happy for George, because she and George talked a very secret language for the years that they were working on this. She was nominated for a few other things throughout her career, but I think that because she was at heart perhaps the most quintessential of all New Yorkers, to have this happen in the town that she viewed as her celestial home, that she would have probably been cowed into silence. Which would have been rare for Nora.”

Hanks is a two-time Oscar winner. Below is the edited interview transcript.

Playing Mike McAlary has been your Broadway debut, and now you’ve been nominated for a Tony. How do you feel right now?
We’re giddy. I can’t believe it. There is some combination of multiple physical and mental states that have landed. Here’s the first thought I had: Hey, I have a show to do tonight! [laughs] Wait a minute, I’ve got to make sure that I’m relaxed enough and ready to go tonight. We all wanted the play to be pushed out to the forefront somehow. When the nominations came out, well there we all sort of are, and that’s a thrill and a delight. I’m happy to see my name on there, without a doubt, that’s a cool thing. But there’s 14 of us and we work really hard on this. We weigh everything that we do. I’m thrilled that George and the play and Courtney in particular have been singled out.

It’s interesting that your first thought was about tonight’s show. Now that you’re performing every night, does your whole day become about the show?
Yes, I’ve found that there is a requirement that goes into every day that means that I have to protect a huge part of, literally a corner of my mind and body, in order to draw up the reserves necessary for tonight. I’m looking at a clock right now – it’s 20 minutes after 10. I know that I’m going to have to take care of some business. I know that I’m going to have to get some rest. I’m going to have to stop talking. I’m going to have to then get something in my body three hours before the show. The show’s at 7, that means I’ve got to eat a meal at 4:00. That means I have to be at fight call at 6:20. [laughs] I have this whole long thing that I have to go through, regardless of how many times my name appears in The Wall Street Journal today.

What has been the greatest challenge in inhabiting Mike McAlary?
I think getting into the thought process of a journalist of his type. I understand and have myself, that basic idea of the dream and desire, and a desperation in order to be a part of my chosen profession. I remember and still draw upon the power of wanting to be a part of something. The power of wanting to be an actor and wanting to be involved in telling the story. That’s the same creative DNA but there’s a different tributary, or outlet, that it takes in order to be the reporter that he was. There are all sorts of legendary stories of him going out and getting the story and the indefatigable energy that he has.

But there are moments in the play that have quite frankly been discovered in the performance since we’ve opened. The language that Nora put into it and the ideas the others had have totally popped for me when it comes down to, this is the essence of the journalists of the era. There’s a place early in the play where Mike says that writing a column in New York City is all he ever wanted, because everything else is second place. Now that might be a very particular purview that he has, but if you are the type of person like Nora was, and like a lot of journalists are, that was on display by the likes of Jimmy Breslin and Denis and Pete Hamill, and today’s columnists like Mike Lupica or Rich Cohen, where you look at it and say, is there anything better than writing that perfect 700 or 900 words that encapsulates the story of the day in a very personal and at the same time journalistic way? I think I now began to understand the difference between first and second place as described by Mike McAlary that can only come from, quite frankly, 50 or 60 performances of the play. As an actor, I knew the words and I learned them and said them and we played them out in the scenes. But as we hear them over and over again, and more of the journalistic intent that Nora wrote comes to the forefront, it enters into the DNA which is one of the great things about doing the show eight times a week.

Do you want to perform again on Broadway?
Oh god, yes. [laughs] I had done theater long, long ago. I did it in classical repertory theater. I go to the theater all the time as an audience member. There’s nothing better. There’s nothing better than seeing a great play. When I was a young student, I would go to the theater by myself. It was a social experience. It wasn’t a date. I was going to see plays like “The Master Builder” and “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Iceman Cometh.” I was going up to see anything for the artistic connection that I would have with the production and the playwright and the play. I have to say now, being on this other side of it, having access to the stage door? It is an all-encompassing physical and spiritual experience, the likes of which cannot be had in any other venue. My wife [Rita Wilson], she did “Chicago” on Broadway – I think she would leave me in order to go off and do a long run on Broadway. Anybody I know who’s played it essentially wants to do it again.

Was it intimidating before previews began because it has been your debut?
Not because it was my debut. As soon as you make the decision to do it, you sort of have already faced down those fears and apprehensions. The nervousness and the giddiness all just come out of the great riddle of, can we get through this? Can we make all the connections? Can we be so present in the moment that all the work we’ve done in rehearsal is going to show itself? Or am I going to screw up so badly that I’m going to crawl off the stage and hide in a changing room? That’s what the scary part is. You want to live up to everybody’s expectations and the support of everybody else on stage. That will make you pace faster and faster backstage before your entrance cue.

Before you enter, is it nerve-wracking?
Good god, yes. It’s nerve-wracking and excitingly giddy and petrifyingly scary – and at the same time, I can’t wait to get out there. [laughs] Does that make sense? There’s so many versions of this. Sooner or later you’ve got to get something out on deadline. You’ve got 20 minutes left to do it. What are those 20 minutes like for you? If a baseball player comes up to bat, and there’s two men on and you’re one run down, isn’t that the most exciting place to be? Although if you just pop out to the second baseman, what do you do? You’re just going to have to crawl back to the dugout and hope they give you another chance.

Because there’s no crying in baseball!
There is no crying in baseball!

Is it heartwrenching for you every night when the play ends?
It is a definite voyage that we all go on, without a doubt. It is an experience of trust. I actually sought out other people in the company at the beginning of this, to say “How do you do this, exactly? How do you do it continuously? Help me here.” For instance my fellow nominee, Courtney B. Vance – he has done very long runs of two different plays. I’m talking like 200, 300 performances of “Fences” and “Six Degrees of Separation.” Talking to him about this, he would say, “You will expand the boundaries of your trust by the time all of this is done.” The trust both in yourself and the process that got you there, as well as the trust in the other people that are out there with you. That is I think very particular to being on the stage. Motion pictures, they can just stop and start all over again, and so the nature of trusting there can almost be a very singular thing. You can carry it around in your head and sort of get there on your own, or you can open yourself up to others. But really you can come back and just get there on your own, which is by the way, sometimes not always a pleasant experience. But on stage, you would be amazed at what looking into the eyes, or feeling the presence of those other people on stage, can do for you. You can only get there because you have gone through the wars of rehearsal and performance and you have learned to trust them.

You sound like a total convert. You’re never going to make another film, are you?
[laughs] Well listen, I’m telling you right now, as long as I can get through tonight’s show, everything will be fine.

By Barbara Chai

Source : The Wall Street Journal