Tom Hanks reveals the secret of his billion-dollar box-office success
His recent star turn in Captain Phillips is the latest in a long line of iconic performances that have made Tom Hanks one of the world’s most bankable – and watchable – movie stars
You can hear Tom Hanks jollying – and that is the right word – down the hallway for a good long while before he veers into view. Cheery attendants trail his wake as he sweeps into the room where I’m waiting.
“Well, gee, could it be more gloomy in here?” he says as London’s greyest shade of sky starts to spit and drizzle against the window pane. “We’ll just have keep the atmosphere light. Or do something bright with our personalities, right?”
He smiles: “You know me.”
It’s not the only time I hear him use that phrase this afternoon. And he’s right. I kind of do know him. Or at least I think I do. His folksy good manners and easy way of speaking make you think of a lifelong neighbour calling in to borrow some sugar: “Oh, you bet,” he says more than once.
Just to reinforce this idea, he talks about his kids like he’s a distant cousin I’ve bumped into at a wedding: “My daughter is a writer and journalist now. She’s always turning me on to stuff. She studied the Romantics and Byron and all that. That’s her thing.”
Or: “I drive my kids nuts at dinner parties talking about this stuff.”
He can afford to be familiar. Tom Hanks has been a big, looming part of the Hollywood landscape since the mid-1980s. He doesn’t need to contextualise when he talks about Bob “trying to convey all those changes in one movie” – I know he’s talking about Robert Zemeckis and the screenplay for Forrest Gump.
He doesn’t need to tell me who he means when he says “Rita’s always saying . . .”. As I haven’t lived under a rock at the bottom of the ocean for the past 30 or so years, I know he’s referring to Rita Wilson, the actor, singer and producer who has been Mrs Tom Hanks since 1988.
Phew. I’m so glad Tom Hanks has turned out to be like, well, just what you think Tom Hanks is going to be like. A decent-minded fellow, he has invested heavily in electric transport and was a vocal opponent of the 2008 Proposition 8, an amendment to the California constitution that defined marriage as a union only between a man and a woman.
A grandfather to two girls, Tom Hanks looks younger and slimmer now than he has done in recent years. Partly, it’s a response to diabetes Type 2; he announced he had the condition earlier this month on Letterman. He (lightly) shrugs off tabloid speculation that the diabetes is linked to fattening up or slimming down for various roles.
Otherwise, he hardly strikes you as a man who is overly concerned with the ageing process: “I’m older now,” he tells me. “I don’t worry about how long my hair is.”
In recent years, he’s more inclined to wear different hats: as a writer, as a director, as a producer.
“But I don’t wear all those hats at once,” he winks.
Does acting still excite him, I wonder?
“Oh sure. You just keep learning that you don’t know anything. I’ve had three jobs in a row that have completely blown as my expectations and ideas about technique out of the water. The completely immersive method we had doing Cloud Atlas, in which we all played six characters and where every take was impacted by what had just happened before. And then I did a play on Broadway in New York. Every night, we started the story at the beginning and played it through eight times a week. And every night we did it, something new and mysterious came up. Acting is the easiest one of my jobs. All I have to do is pay attention. Well. You’ve still got to show up on time. And you’ve still got to know what your lines are going to b2e.”