Chapter 08 - New Challenges

2000 - 2002

Entering the new millennium, Tom Hanks collaborated with Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis for Cast Away (2000), a modern Robinson Crusoe story. The idea of making such an unusual movie, with so few dialogues, came from Tom Hanks himself. In 1994, as he was watching an interview of a soldier who was cast away on a deserted Pacific island during the Second World War and who told the journalist what a hell it was to be isolated, Tom Hanks realized this might be the beginning of a possible storyline. He shared his idea with William Broyle Jr (the writer of Apollo 13) who isolated himself voluntarily on a island away from the Mexican coast to write a first draft.

“When we started working on Cast Away, I just though it would be a funny, unique movie about a guy who spends four years alone on an island. I didn’t realize that it would also be an examination of what solitude can do to you and why I’m overjoyed to have a wife and four kids.” 1

He worked with writer William Broyles for five years before Robert Zemeckis came along and brought the idea of ‘Wilson’, the volley-ball, which then became one of the most remembered element of the movie. Cast Away was also the first movie produced by Tom Hanks’s production company, Playtone.
Tom Hanks took the unusual step of interrupting filming for a year to drop the 60 pounds he had gained and to let grow his hair and beard in order to play a Federal Express employee who gets trapped on a deserted island after a plane crash.

His exceptional performance, being alone on-screen for nearly two-thirds of the film, without any music nor dialogue, brought him renewed critical acclaim and his fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. As a result, he was handed an Online Film Critics Society Award, a New York Film Critics Award, a Golden Globe and a Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, and the film itself topped the holiday box office.

Tom Hanks and Spielberg joined forces to executive produce the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers (2001), adapted from historian Stephen Ambrose's book, which followed the soldiers in the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from their training in Georgia in 1942 through their participation in the invasion of Normandy. Tom Hanks was back behind the camera for an episode and wrote a few other episodes.
Their efforts again gathered praise from critics and the veterans. The miniseries was awarded with a Golden Globe for Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television, an American Film Institute for Movie or Mini-Series of the Year, a PGA Golden Laurel for Television Producer of the Year and an Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special, among others.

Tom Hanks returned to film with an atypical role in 2002 in Road to Perdition, where he was cast as Michael Sullivan, a 1930s Chicago gangster seeking revenge for the death of family members, and co-starred with legend Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Jude Law, under the direction of Sam Mendes. Tom Hanks definitely gave one of the best performances of his career. On the DVD’s commentary, Sam Mendes even explained that “this bit of sweat that’s rolling down Tom’s face his, amazingly, his own sweat. He can even sweat on cue. That’s the kind of actor he is.”

The following year, Tom Hanks reunited with Steven Spielberg for Catch Me If You Can (2002) opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. Equal parts downtrodden and dogged, Hanratty was one of Tom Hanks’s most distinctive onscreen creations and stood in perfect contrast to DiCaprio's glamorous, happy-go-lucky Abagnale.

Meanwhile, Tom Hanks the movie producer met mega-success with the unexpectedly popular comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), which Tom's part-Greek wife Rita Wilson had discovered when it was a one-woman show created by Nia Vardalos.

The same year, in 2002, Tom Hanks became the youngest actor ever to be honored by the American Film Institute with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Many friends and co-stars were present to pay tribute to his work, as well as astronaut Jim Lovell and two veterans from the Easy Company, portrayed in Band of Brothers

1 : Esquire, June 2006