Life has been like a box of chocolates for this popular actor. and you never know what you’ll get next when he hits the big screen.
In his latest film, A Hologram for a King, Tom Hanks plays a desperate American salesman, ravaged by the effects of the economic downturn, who travels to Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government.
A two time Oscar winner and four time Globe winner, not to mention a slew of Emmy’s, BAFTA’s, SAG’s and more, Hanks is a titan of modern cinema. His films have grossed more than $8.5billion at the box office, making him the fourth highest grossing actor of all time – behind Morgan Freeman and Harrison Ford.
In a career spanning four decades, he’s enchanted audiences with early performances in Splash and Big; charmed in Sleepless in Seattle and Forrest Gump; riveted in Philadelphia and Castaway and become an icon of our time thanks to vocal duties in the Toy Story fantasy.
And for the actor who’s done it all, what attracts him to a project at this stage in his career?
In Hologram, it was the chance to work with his Cloud Atlas collaborator, Tommy Tykwer, and the opportunity to adapt a Dave Eggers novel [which he’ll do again in upcoming film, The Circle].
And for Hanks, it’s all about risk. Like his character, Alan Clay, he reflects the adage – ‘without risk, there is no life.’
Married to Rita Wilson for nearly 30 years, they share two children, Chet, 26, and Truman, 21. He also has two older kids, Colin, 39, and Elizabeth, 34, from his first marriage to Samantha Lewes.
In friendly, though relatively guarded humour, he talks of his attraction to Eggers’ book and why shooting in the Sahara is a treasured moment.
Hanks also talks of his early career, his self-doubts and why turning 60 is no big deal.
Q: The chance to work with Tommy Tykwer again after Cloud Atlas must have been the clincher for you here?
HANKS: While we were doing promotion for Cloud Atlas, we all sat, Tommy, Dave [Eggers] and I and Tommy says, “This is you all over every page. You have to do this because you haven’t done this before.”
Reading it, I knew I wanted to play Alan Clay.
Q: The trailer is actually quite an inaccurate portrayal of the film. Did that trouble you?
HANKS: This story is about breaking down barriers, perceptions, stereotypes; it’s a love story. It’s a buddy comedy. It’s strange; it’s warm. It deals with issues from another diametric. It’s a love story, an adventure, a thriller, a romance, a comedy, so the marketing people can only sell those types of films. And that’s what happened with the trailer, at least the American, one which missed the tone.
There’s a sense the book is dramatic, dark – there’s a sense where we’re in a very intricate era and period, it’s not a local businessman in the global economy, who’s not used to that arena. He’s trying to sell something that’s not really there to someone who’s never really there, it’s all so complicated.
Q: You shot in Morocco, but was there ever any potential to shoot in Saudi Arabia?
HANKS: I don’t think any film has ever filmed in Saudi Arabia, can you film there? I don’t think so. The rules, the governance of the place is almost incomprehensible, it has to be approved by the ministry of so and so, and they did not approve. They didn’t approve of Dave’s book, or the script we wrote. There were certain things in there like showing a doctor who’s not allowed to drive. They didn’t approve of that so no, we couldn’t shoot there.
Like Alan experiences, it’s a window into how another culture does business, and they do big business over there. A lot of it is done over tea, discussing many things. You pass by the actual subject you wanted to talk about and you say “you’ll talk about it again”. And then you come back, you have tea and you eventually get to the business.
Q: This film is all about gambling and taking risk; are you a risk taker?
HANKS: Yeah, I am.
Q: Where do you take these risks?
HANKS: Every time I make a movie. Every time, it’s a risk, and I fully appreciate and fear that. It’s this enjoyable, nauseous balance and you have to convince everyone that’s it’s a great idea.
I did a movie called Larry Crowne that I acted in, directed and produced and I thought it was a great idea but nobody else did [laughs]. It was a risk and sometimes risks don’t always succeed. When it does succeed, it’s powerful.
In order to create work as an artist, I look for something with danger. That can take time to find. And when you do find it, you ask yourself, “Will anyone go see it if we make it?” It’s like with this film, Tom saying to me, “Will anyone understand this and what we’re trying to do here?”
I said the same to Bob Zemeckis while we were shooting Forrest Gump, I said, “Bob, will anyone see this?” And he says, “It’s a minefield Tom, it’s a minefield.” You gotta have faith in your instincts.
Q: You’re turning 60 this year, how do you feel about that milestone?
HANKS: It’s just a number [laughs}. I still feel the same as I did at 40, at 35. After 25, it’s just a reason to get together with friends, have a few drinks, nothing’s going to change.