Tom Hanks entertains Dalkey with accents, anecdotes and the Irish director who gave him a chance

US actor was speaking at the Dalkey Book Festival and discussed his debut novel The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece

Tom Hanks, sitting in a swivel chair on the altar in a packed Dalkey church, told the “congregation” how he first got into acting because of an Irish director.

“Vincent Dowling of the Abbey Theatre was doing the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival.” Hanks goes into an Irish accent (we can forgive him this).

“‘Tomasheen, I think you could be an actor. I’d like to give you an opportunity in my theatre. The thing I can’t do is pay you any money, but I can give you something more valuable, the experience of professional theatre.’ So a bunch of us bought it, and I’m here today because of Vincent Dowling.”

After weeks of balmy summer, on Bloomsday evening the weather broke, with dribbles of rain, just as Hollywood arrived in the buzzy seaside village for the Dalkey Book Festival.


A stellar screen actor, a writer too, who seems just as nice in this version of reality as most of the characters he plays on screen, he was at the festival to talk about his first novel The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece.

Tickets for Tom Hanks were long sold out (€59 each, including a copy of his book) and not to be had for pleading nor bribery, and the church was dense with people for his conversation with journalist Andrea Catherwood.

That break from Dowling, he told us later, was about three years after leaving high school, where he discovered the drama department, “for those people who could get up in front of people like it was nothing at all, or who wanted to”. He was one of them.

In a lively one hour conversation Hanks was animated and entertaining, gesticulating, going in and out of voices and accents as he told stories about a life in movies, the world in which his first novel is set.

Those accents included Hungarian, as Michael Curtiz, directing Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca, and asking him to look to the side and nod, without knowing where he would use the shot – it later became Rick’s nod to the musicians, to play La Marseillaise (and Hanks sang a few bars of it). The story illustrated the serendipity at the heart of film-making.

Another accent sounded a bit cockney, from the special effects guy during filming Saving Private Ryan years ago in Co Wexford. He told a story about a costar, on his first job out of acting school, who was terrified, couldn’t swim, almost drowned and was fearful of being blinded by a projectile. “A good day’s work on a motion picture.” This was the last time he was in Ireland, having first visited in 1985 on a promo tour for Splash.

Hanks is in love with the world of movies and the many people who make them. Details of many interactions form the backstories for his novel’s multiple characters, such as one based on make-up artist Danny Striepeke, “who made Olivier’s nose in Spartacus, and Elvis Presley’s tan for Viva Las Vegas”.

When a director asks him how he likes to work, his answer is “the way that gives you what you need. With Clint Eastwood you get one take so you have to show what your goods are right off.”

He talked about his love of typewriters – there’s one on a desk on the altar – because what is typewritten “will last a thousand years, if you don’t burn it. It stays forever.” He didn’t write a full proof of his book on a typewriter, but “many notes, and pages and ramblings” that ended up in the novel were stamped out with the typewriter’s hammer.

The three main requirements for acting, he says, are: 1. Show up on time. 2. Know the text, and not just your own part. 3. Have an idea, so you don’t have to ask everything, and “so the director knows they don’t have to worry about you”.

He’s amusing about his unsuccessful battle to wear sunglasses on screen. “Tom Cruise does it.” And no matter how artificial film-making can be, such as in a superhero film, “it comes down to what you are doing in the beat, and in your body, and in the windows of the soul, your eyes.”

Regarding acting “Can you imagine doing anything else?” other than something you love, he asked. Being an actor, the main thing is “you have to be in a place, and your character has to do a thing. And it’s hideous, especially if you’re doing it on the back of a horse, at midnight, with sprinklers raining on you.”

Even with the prevalence of streaming, movies have a future, he says, because of the human need to be part of an audience. The communal experience, whether at a theatre, at a game, in a church, is a requirement. And the “coin of the realm” is “the great story never told before. We need to sit around the fire and hear someone tell us about their day.”

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey

Deirdre Falvey is a features and arts writer at The Irish Times