There are some artists, and Tom Hanks is one, who go beyond mere popularity and instead come to embody some part of our shared American story. Ever since the actor broke out from a string of roles as a goofy, lovelorn leading man via the complicated innocence of his work in “Big” (1988), Hanks has gradually become an avatar of American goodness. Over the course of his long career, he has found clever ways to convey a fundamental and aspirational decency. He has played honorable men on society’s then-margins (the discriminated-against gay lawyer of “Philadelphia”) and at the center of our history (“Forrest Gump”; “Apollo 13”). At other times, he has found ways to imbue with can-do optimism characters who are caught in the middle of seemingly unbearable situations, whether they’re alone (“Cast Away”) or surrounded by enemies (“Saving Private Ryan”). Such is the malleability of his gift that he has created trustworthy portraits of real-life characters (the heroic airline and cargo-ship captains of, respectively, “Sully” and “Captain Phillips”), cartoons (Woody the cowboy from the “Toy Story” films) and real-life characters who easily could have come off like cartoons (as Fred Rogers in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”).
Is it telling, then, that in this time of declining trust in our institutions and one another, Tom Hanks is now playing a bad guy? One with a hand in the downfall of another American icon and myth maker? But in true Hanksian fashion he finds something unexpectedly hopeful even in this character. “I’m not interested in malevolence; I’m interested in motivation,” Hanks says about his role as the shadowy talent manager, Col. Tom Parker, in the director Baz Luhrmann’s biopic “Elvis,” which premieres June 24. “All you can say is that he’s wrong,” he adds, “not evil.” There’s a useful lesson there. With Hanks, there often is.
Tom Parker was a Dutch guy who passed himself off as a Southern colonel.1 Elvis was a poor kid from Tupelo who turned himself into a superhero. Both were careful to present very specific versions of themselves to the public. What might a movie star like you know about what’s underneath that kind of self-presentation that the rest of us don’t? Well, I don’t think in show business there were more authentic-to-themselves personalities than those two. Elvis dressed the way he dressed because he had to. He felt he looked good. Onstage, he wasn’t wiggling to say, “Hey, time to turn on the sex appeal.” It was instinct. Col. Tom Parker was the same exact type of thing on a crass, nonartistic level. I heard a story: When he was a carny, he had a dime welded to his ring. He’d say: “That cost 90 cents and you gave me two dollars. I owe you a dollar 10.” He would then take the customer’s hand, put the change in, close it up, say “Thank you very much” and cheat people out of that dime. He got the same pleasure from that as he did signing a deal for Elvis with the International Hotel in Las Vegas for millions of dollars. That’s got nothing to do with power, nothing to do with influence. It is a dispassionate desire to always get this other thing. That was the secret sauce of living for Col. Tom Parker, the same way that his hair and clothes and the music he loved was the secret sauce for Elvis.
That’s them. I’m asking about you. What do you know about the performance of authenticity? Me? You mean career-wise?
However you want to take it. You know, I was not an overnight sensation. I had been in movies for a long time until I had enough opportunities and experience to realize that I don’t have to say yes to everything just because they’re offering me the gig. Some of that was, What am I going to do instead? Wait for the phone to ring? The phone rang! I said yes! But I was fortunate in that my sense of self and artistic thirst grew at the same time. I had done enough romantic leads in enough movies and had experienced enough compromise to say, “I’m not even going to read those scripts anymore.” So then you hold out for something that represents more of the artist you want to be. When Penny Marshall came to me on “A League of Their Own,” I said: “Penny, this is written for a guy who’s older than I am. The character is in his 40s and washed up.” She said: “That’s why I want you. Because this guy should have been great until he was 40 and wasn’t.” I went Aaaah. Before that a director had never said something to me like, “Come up with a reason why you’re 36, broken down and managing a woman’s baseball team.” Then it was, Katie, bar the door! I was looking for more of that from then on. The other thing that happened in the ’90s was when Richard Lovett2 at C.A.A. said, “What do you want to do?” No one had asked me that question, either. People always said: “What do you want to do with this opportunity?” But what do you want to do? I said I’d like to make a movie about Apollo 13. That was the first time where I was saying, “This is the type of artist who I want to be.” But if you look at anybody’s career, there’s hits and misses. There’s movies that simply don’t work, and if something not working is debilitating to you, you’re toast. [More at Source]
Written by Mouza on June 18
Written by Mouza on December 29
Tom was on the Graham Norton show last week with his co-star Matthew Rhys where they talked about “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood”. Check out the released video clips and head to the gallery for the photo coverage.
Written by Mouza on November 16
What was the typical response, early on, when you would tell people you were doing this movie?
Rhys: It was split for me because if I told people at home [in Wales] that I was doing a Mister Rogers film, they go, “Who’s Mister Rogers? Is it about that football player Aaron Rodgers?”
Hanks: Is that right?
Rhys: Yeah. Because that was the closest reference they have. The football player?
Hanks: The quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
Rhys: They’d be like: “Do you play a linebacker of sorts?” I’d go, “No.” But, no, then you say, “With Tom Hanks.” They understand that reference. In this country, you say you’re doing a movie about Mister Rogers with Mr. Hanks and it elicits quite an emotive response for many reasons.
People just melt.
Rhys: Yes. But you can understand. I mean, the pairing of those two, Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers, is pretty remarkable.
Hanks: Most people thought it was a biopic. They thought, “Oh, a grand history of Mister Rogers.” When I read Tom Junod’s article, and I realized, “Oh, Tom was that journalist, oh, dear, oh, that’s really different” … At the end of the day, man, you just hope you can surprise this audience somehow because they’re getting this [points to Matthew] and they’re getting this [points to himself]. If there’s not a surprise in there, we’re just absolutely doomed. Hopefully, there’ll be something in there that [the audience] didn’t expect as opposed to just an ongoing [begins singing]: “Sometimes people are sad…”
What were your perceptions of Fred Rogers before you started and how did that change? There’s this idea that he is this saint-like figure, and then you have others that view him as this fraud.
Hanks: There’s an old story that he actually has a bunch of tattoos because he was a Navy SEAL during Vietnam.
Rhys: I love that one.
Hanks: Wouldn’t that be a great thing? I would have said, “Yes, of course, I was. I killed a VC with my bare hands.” But in terms of who he was, you have to go, I think, to the show itself. The show itself is very easy to treat as an acid trip by way of … What is he trying to do? Is there a mind game that’s going on? Is it just a big, huge, tremendous feint? [Matt], did you watch a lot of the shows just in order to get an idea?
Rhys: Yeah. Tons, tons, tons.
Hanks: I watched a ton. Hours and hours. Look, the show was on when I was maybe 11, 12, 13 years old. I just thought it was odd. The puppets, their mouths didn’t move. What are these odd songs he keeps trying to sing all the time? I was probably more in tune with all the imitations of him, the comedy bits about him. [More at Source]