Tom Hanks on the Rewards and “Vicious Reality” of Making Movies

Here is a brief excerpt from an interview of Tom Hanks by for The New Yorker. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Credit: Lloyd Bishop / NBC / Getty 

* * *

The actor and first-time novelist discusses his new book, shooting the park-bench scenes in “Forrest Gump,” and the impossibility of predicting how a film will turn out.

Not long ago, I was preparing to interview Tom Hanks at Symphony Space, a theatre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for an audience of seven hundred-plus people at The New Yorker Live. Hanks had just published a novel called “The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece,” and he was hitting the road for a while. Symphony Space was the first stop on the tour. Someone from Knopf, his publisher, let me know that I would embarrass Hanks if, in my introduction, I went through the litany of movies he has starred in since the early eighties. In fact, if I had, that would have been the whole evening. The list is long and shimmery. Hanks is that rare thing, a real movie star who has sustained a four-decades-and-counting career. It’s not just that he has won two Oscars in a row (for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump”) or made box-office hits including “Splash,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and Steven Spielberg’s most enjoyable film, “Catch Me If You Can.” He’s also capable of taking on a predictable vehicle, such as the recent feature “A Man Called Otto,” and pumping some life into it while attracting a sizable audience.

What surprised me is the degree to which Hanks, particularly in front of a live crowd, in no way resembles Jimmy Stewart, the laconic Hollywood icon to whom he’s most often, and most lazily, compared. When we met beforehand, then onstage for an hour and a half, and, finally, over a long dinner at a local Greek restaurant, Hanks was about as laconic as Muhammad Ali. Or a hand grenade. He is funny, sarcastic, self-knowing, and a tireless raconteur, particularly about his day job. In our interview, he sometimes answered questions as he might in a more private setting than Symphony Space; far more often, he took some element of the question as a cue for a prolonged, well-polished anecdote, performed at the edge of his seat. Hanks’s novel is all over the place at times, undisciplined and overstuffed, but it contains extended passages and set pieces describing how movies are made that are entirely worth the ticket.

As an editor, I’ve always been frustrated by the degree to which the gatekeepers of the Entertainment Industrial Complex, as Hanks calls it, bar reporters from watching how a film gets made, limiting inquisitive journalists to a few distant glimpses of the process and then a concocted interchange on the official press junkets. And so I began our conversation at Symphony Space, which was recorded for The New Yorker Radio Hour and is published here in edited form, with my parochial complaint and a discussion of how Hanks sees things from inside.

Tom, I want to start with your novel, “The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece.” I have a question, and of course it comes in the form of a complaint. In 1952, The New Yorker assigned Lillian Ross to write about the making of “The Red Badge of Courage,” a film by John Huston.

Starring Audie Murphy.

And it wasn’t until almost forty years later that another journalist, Julie Salamon, got similar access to the making of another film, which you were in, “Bonfire of the Vanities,” for her book—

Why do the makers of movies make it so mysterious to the rest of us how movies really get made, which I suspect is something that’s behind this novel?

Well, it’s not a conspiracy. No one is hiding anything. If anybody who is what we call a “noncombatant” or a “civilian” wants to visit the making of a motion picture, they’ll be bored out of their skull. Nowadays, you’ll go onto a soundstage, and there’ll be a blue screen, and there will be guys up on a cherry picker moving some cables around. And you’ll think, Is that it? And the answer is . . . yeah. Because they have to move those cables around, and because somewhere somebody is being put into a harness, and they’re going to be dangled above an air mattress, and they’re going to have to make out with somebody else. And you’ll wonder, What’s going on in this movie? And then, when you see that moment from the movie, it’ll turn out it’s the most passionate, important beat in the film. And you were there!

* * *

Here is a direct link to the complete interview.

David Remnick has been the editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of seven books; the most recent is “Holding the Note,” a collection of his profiles of musicians.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.