Here is a list of stories about Tom Hanks that I’ve heard over the past few miserable months, when education, citizenship, and good manners seemed to be in danger of extinction in America.
Once in 2008 when I was filming Angels and Demons In Rome near the Pantheon, a bride and her father were unable to approach the chapel due to the tumult, so Hanks stopped filming to escort them to the altar.
On one occasion in 2015, he stopped at a girl scout cookie table and bought some boxes, donated an additional $ 20, then offered to take selfies with those who passed by to induce them to shop. That same year, he found a young girl’s student ID in a park and used his adorable Twitter account, which is full of found articles, to return it to its owner.
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On another occasion, in 1997, before filming Saving Private RyanSteven Spielberg sent Hanks and other cast members for military training by a retired sailor in the woods. After spending time in the rain, everyone voted to leave the exercise, except Hanks, who chose to dutifully do the job he was hired for and motivated the other men to finish it too.
They are the acts of kindness that are normal in a person who is responsible for representing the common man in our culture of movie stars. But lately, they have meant more than just good deeds. They are a kind of personification of the ideal of integrity and responsibility, which has not only disappeared from the culture in general, but now seems like a parody.
And there is more. Spielberg once said of him: “If Norman Rockwell were alive, he would paint a portrait of Tom.”
Think fast, who is your favorite American president? Is it Abraham Lincoln? Well, you will never believe this, but Tom Hanks is his relative. The maiden name of Nancy, Lincoln’s mother, was Hanks and yes, it is the same Hanks family.
Quick, who is your second favorite American President? If it’s Barack Obama, at the 2014 Kennedy Center Awards reception, the former president said of Hanks, who is his friend in real life, that: “People have said that Tom is the common man of Hollywood, who is Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper of this generation. But he is just Tom Hanks. And that is enough. That is more than enough”. Two years later, Obama granted him the Presidential Medal of the Freedom.
The day after the September release of Hanks’ new movie, A beautiful day in the neighborhood, who stars in the role of Mister Rogers, at the Toronto International Film Festival, he was sitting on a bench in a corridor outside a conference room and joking with a group of advertisers while waiting for me, having arrived before agreed time. That never happens: an actor waits for me before the agreed time, when the normal thing is that they make me wait two hours. “A long time ago I learned how important it is to get there a little earlier,” Hanks told me. “Be ready for anything, you know? And respect the entire process, even though the other person does not. ”
So Tom Hanks is as personable as you think he is and exactly what you expect him to be, which is great, unless you’re trying to tell a good story about him, with elements of conflict and narrative tension. “The holy actor who plays the holy host of a children’s open television program. Mister Rogers is a saint, ”doesn’t sound like a great story. But what can I do? He sat across from me, happy, focused, and willing. Maybe this could be a story that just makes you feel better.
An hour later he was sitting on a panel with the filmmakers and other actors, all of whom seemed excited to present the world with a film about Mister Rogers, telling all the stories they had heard about him. Tom Junod who wrote The 1998 Esquire article on which the film is based would speak of how her interactions with Fred Rogers changed her life. As you sit there and listen to them, it’s hard to believe that those stories are real.
In our first Toronto interview, Hanks leaned back in a chair with his left ankle over the top of his right kneecap. He was wearing glasses with a clear plastic frame and had grown a beard to film News of the World, which is set in the post-Civil War era of the United States. In our interviews, he says, “Oh dear,” “Jesus,” and “For heaven’s sake.” He is an enthusiast of history. He is an information enthusiast. He is an enthusiast of enthusiasm. At one point, I don’t know why, he recited the preamble to the Constitution.
On the post-premiere panels, some of the questions seemed to be based on the assumption that Tom Hanks is so wonderful and so similar to Mister Rogers that he just had to come up and read a few dialogues because they are both essentially the same : nice and calm men with graying hair.
This created the closest thing to a crisis the people who made this movie could experience: it’s been 24 years since Hanks won an Oscar (two in a row for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump); 18 years have passed since he was nominated, although he has had an unforgiving career as a protagonist that includes the last and devastating three minutes of Captain Phillips. So while other films this year were released with public relations disasters linked to off-set behavior from their stars, directors or producers, the problem that the A beautiful day in the neighborhood I felt I had to face was the idea that Hanks was not acting when playing Mister Rogers.
On the panel, a journalist hinted that he was actually playing Tom Hanks, but simply “slower.” However, Fred Rogers’ slowness – simplicity and naturalness, considered slowness – was difficult to interpret, Hanks said. He felt ridiculous when he first tried it. He studied hours of recordings, because sometimes he could not imagine that he should go so slow. “When you get past that, there is a point where you just say, ‘Oh dear, this just has to be slower, not dumber.’ It is a combination of procedure and behavior that uniquely represented Fred Rogers. ”
Although, it wasn’t about rhythm. It was about the specificity of the cadence, and an intention. When Hanks saw these recordings, he observed that Mister Rogers “always spoke to a single child, a single person half a meter from the screen on the other side of the camera. When you talked to Fred, you felt like you were the only person in the world who cared. “
Regardless of acting, it’s not difficult to see why the director Marielle Heller wanted Hanks to play that role so badly. He has a physical resemblance to Rogers, which was a good start. He often brings to life characters who require what Robert Zemeckis (who directed Forrest Gump, among other Hanks movies) calls “that quality of the classic common man.” During my research, many, many people mentioned how well he plays the common man.
However, Mister Rogers was not an ordinary man. It also doesn’t hurt that while Mister Rogers was the closest thing to a living saint my generation had (even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, in the end, Tom Hanks was the closest thing we had to Mister Rogers: an apparently uncomplicated man, free of scandals, with a long career and who never had to issue a public statement that included the phrase “it was another time.” In other words, having Hanks play Mister Rogers removes a suspension layer of disbelief that is often a burden for real-life films about people.
Hanks had read the script years ago, but although Mister Rogers was the hero of the story, he was not necessarily the protagonist, giving the impression of being yet another movie about the midlife crisis of a man dealing with a strained relationship with his father. However, by the time he read a revised script, circumstances had changed. In 2015 Hanks read an article about film directors in The New York Times Magazine and she had decided she wanted to make an effort to work with some of them. That week, at her granddaughter’s birthday party, she met Heller, one of the directors mentioned in the article. He went home, saw his first movie, Diary of a Teen Girl, and said he wanted to try something. A few years later, already involved in A beautiful day in the neighborhood, Heller sent him the script and here we are.
A week after our first interview, a member of the Hanks team called to plan our second interview and mention, as in passing, that he actually did. acted like Mister Rogers and yes, he was kind but he was much more than that and please, maybe I shouldn’t write another story in which Tom Hanks is just kind. And then she told me an anecdote about when they were going to the airport and she felt nauseous in the car. She tried not to notice him but she noticed and changed the seat so that she felt better. (So I told her about when I interviewed an actor in a hotel lobby and she was so sick that someone from the hotel came to ask me if I needed to take painkillers or a doctor and the actor not only did not notice but continued to be unaware even after of the incident). What she wanted to tell me is that playing any role successfully takes talent and work. What he also said is that being nice is a choice.
In the magazine article on which it is based A beautiful day in the neighborhood, writer Tom Jundo follows Fred Rogers as he interacts with children and performs acts of kindness and empathy that are simple and yet totally amazing. But the protagonist of the film is not called Tom Junod, he is called Lloyd Vogel. In the film, Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) is an ill-reputed Esquire writer whose disastrous relationships with his father and newborn son have led to anger and hopelessness. His editor asks for a short story about Mister Rogers that changes his life. (The film takes a science fiction turn when the editor-in-chief turns out to be a woman and Esquire’s 90s newsroom is full of people of color.)
In the last part of the article, Junod prays with Fred Rogers at Rogers’ urging and writes that his “heart felt like a stake and then, in that room, it opened up and felt like an umbrella.” He writes that just being around Rogers was enough to see the world differently, and then feeling his affection was enough to make him a completely different type of journalist and person.
But neither the movie nor the magazine article tells the story behind the encounter: Junod (who is a friend of mine) profiled Fred Rogers after writing an article in 1997 in which he actually pulled Kevin Spacey out of the closet (who by the way , only revealed that he is gay after a #MeToo scandal). The article briefly made Jundo an outcast in Hollywood and launched him to examine what kind of writer he wanted to be. He had been ruthless, he told me in Toronto. He no longer wanted to be ruthless.
It was then that he met Mister Rogers, who prayed for him and his family on a daily basis and preserved a file on Junod that screenwriters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster found among Rogers’ things in Pittsburgh. In this file, he established four pillars of journalism that he hoped Junod would respect: 1. Journalists are human beings and not stenographers, human beings, not automata. 2. Point out the injustice when you must. 3. Point out the beauty when you can. 4. Be aware of celebrating the wonders of creation.
It’s been a long time since a celebrity magazine article has helped sell movie tickets. But Hanks doesn’t mind being interviewed – “I hate the fake press, those kinds of interviews where you basically have to act all the time” – although he can already spot the ones that are just trying to get an incendiary line for their headlines right now. . Those in which the writer would say something like: “Tell me about that divorce.” In 1985, Hanks and his first wife, Samantha Lewes, the mother of his son Colin and daughter Elizabeth, separated. Hanks later married Rita Wilson, his co-star in Volunteers. They have been married since 1988 and have two children together, Chester and Truman. There isn’t much drama regarding their marriages, so Hanks would reply, “What do you want me to tell you? We divorced!”.
What happens next puzzles him the most. “So they say, ‘Why doesn’t this guy let me know him well?’ It is because we are only going to have two hours, out of the 63 years I have lived on this planet, to get to know each other. ”
I myself am guilty of having incurred something like that kind of heinous journalism when I asked him if he had a dark side. He replied, “Yes, and I’m finally going to be able to tell The New York Times.”
In our interviews, Hanks does not evade any questions, but neither does he speak more than he should. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to be known to his audience, but at the same time, he doesn’t show the same kind of contempt for journalists that I’ve seen in other movie stars. Perhaps it is because he has never really been betrayed by anyone, but it is also very possible that he believes in the truth. “The best published articles I have read have been a true reflection of the time I spent with that journalist,” he says.
That night, in my hotel room, I saw the 2014 Kennedy Center Awards. There is a moment in the evening when the a cappella group Pentatonix sings “That Thing You Do! ”, The title track of the movie Hanks directed and starred in about a youth band, which is packed with the kind of upright, courteous, charming, and funny characters he often prefers. At the ceremony, as the group sings, Hanks is sitting in the box with Wilson right behind him, shaking his head in a light-hearted, relaxed rhythm. For a span of about two seconds, a second camera targets Hanks’ grown children in the audience, singing and shaking their heads. Colin is an actor and he also owns a scarf company called, uh, Hanks Kerchiefs (for “handkerchiefHandkerchief in English). Elizabeth is a writer. Chester has pursued a career in rap (with its respective controversy) and now plays a rapper in “Empire.” Truman is working on film sets, and his father tells me he has a degree in mathematics from Stanford. I saw those two seconds of the Kennedy Center Awards maybe 10 or 12 times.
Tom Hanks had his first typewriter when he was 19 years old. He told me this at our second meeting, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was filming News of the World. It was Sunday and Hanks came to see Ad Astra with her youngest son, Truman.
He had altered his schedule that day for me. Santa Fe is more than two thousand meters high and I had woken up breathless and had gone to an urgent care center to receive oxygen that morning. So after going to a movie earlier than they had planned, he met me in a conference room at a hotel earlier than scheduled so that I could get out of town earlier than I had planned. He came in with a big straw hat and the same beard he had in Canada. Once, a person I was interviewing showed up four hours late for our interview to start at 11 p.m.
Hanks grew up in Northern California, in the era of the Zodiac killer, Patty Hearst, the Black Panthers, and the People’s Park riots. He was five years old when his parents divorced and he, along with his older brother and sister, went to live with his father, while another brother went with his mother. Both parents were in a bad time, trying hard to survive. Her father worked in a variety of small restaurants and remarried several times. They moved every few months.
He and his brothers took care of the house while his father worked. They did not eat the frozen vegetables that he brought home and they knew the time thanks to what was on television. “No one told me how to brush my teeth,” he said. “I never flossed until after high school, because dental hygiene was a movie we saw in second grade that actually said,” Try to eat apple because it cleans your teeth. So, hey, I had an apple last week so my teeth are half clean. ”
Hanks was never mad at his parents; it is not yet. He saw how difficult it was for them to be functional. They never explained anything to him. Now he understands it, “it’s because they didn’t have the verbiage. They did not have the vocabulary. And they were so haunted by self-loathing and guilt and all the things that happened, and we were four, for the love of God, and they just, you know, couldn’t do it. Now I am the one with four children and when you start having your own children you say: ‘Oh, now I understand it.’ ”
Hanks recalls that Oprah once asked him on his show about the dysfunctional family he grew up in, and he thought, “What? Oh, he means us. ” He had never thought of his family that way. Deep down, though, Hanks must have known something was wrong, because he had already started the rare habit of piling up a bunch of typewriters. Hundreds of them. It had something to do with the fact that he was never able to keep the things he loved due to his family’s continual moves. Now that he is 63 years old and has been able to think a lot about it, he realizes that when he was young, he often had to move without notice and, not being in charge of the packaging, he regularly lost things that were important to him. “I’ve never had anything, in fact, that has been with me all my life. I have nothing from when I was 5 years old. I don’t have anything from when I was 3 ”.
As I already mentioned, Hanks was 19 when he had his first typewriter. A friend gave it to him, “it was a piece of garbage, a toy,” he says. Hanks took it to repair and the technician said: “This is a toy. Why are you using a toy? ” That man sold her a Hermes 2000, which she lost over time. So he invested in another. “I said to myself:‘ Oh yes, this is going to stay with me for a while, and it relaxes me. It relaxes me to have her. It relaxes me knowing that I can take her anywhere with me. ’”
Everyone I spoke to about Hanks told a story about the notes they received from one of their typewriters. Sally Field recently received a note from Hanks expressing how moved he was by his 2018 autobiography, In Pieces Field was embarrassed because she hadn’t yet told Hanks how much she had enjoyed her storybook, Singular types, which he had read the previous year (he also told me about the weekly newsletter Hanks wrote, on a laptop, on the set of Forrest Gump, recounting what was happening between the cast and the production team. A weekly newsletter).
He loves typewriters because, in his words: “They are extraordinary combinations of art and engineering; but of art, engineering and purpose. Each machine is as individual as a set of fingerprints. So every time you type something into a typewriter, it is a one-of-a-kind work of art. ” He even created a cute application called Hanx Writer that allows you to write and send a message reproduced in the style of a typewriter.
Lately, he’s been giving away his typewriters. Now that you’ve had a home for so many years, and stability, and A wife who sings to him and his children who bring their three granddaughters to visit them regularly wants to start breaking free of various objects. Now he has 120 left. Someday he will have only one. He will keep the Olivetti Lettera 22, the same model they have at MoMA. I told him that I make too many mistakes to work with a typewriter, but Hanks is more optimistic than I am.
That optimism was what I hoped to capture when I started this article; an optimism that I hoped to soak up to feel a little better about the world for a couple of hours a day and a few weeks. Recently, I had been depressed and the time you have to spend researching a profile (reading old articles, re-watching the movies) would help me avoid any kind of subversion. However, my story would be boring. Okay, I said. Some items are boring.
And maybe it was because, as a good example of professionalism, I spent half the interview crying, or maybe because Hanks was saddened by the altitude sickness that I was suffering, or maybe he did it because that’s what it means to be kind , but he said the following:
“Let’s not say it is a dark side, but I have realized something. And it’s one thing that I used over and over again, it’s about the ability to seduce a room, seduce a group of people, and that started when I was very young as a defense mechanism, but then it ended up being a kind of manipulative skill Because I didn’t realize how good it was for that. That happened in part because I am not malicious. I am not mysterious. You’re not going to get huge anger from me, or anything like that. I do not enter in order to dominate a room, but I enter to seduce it in some way ”.
Kindness is seduction; it is what he can do better than anyone but, he said, it also helped him hide. “I thought what I should do was master the moment rather than execute an idea. I would come to a meeting and someone would say, “I understand that you have problems with the script corrections.” And I would answer: ‘No, no, no, by God, we can make it work.’ That’s cowardice, and that’s me willing to seduce whoever is across the room. So I imply something like: ‘Ah look, he has no problem, he can make it work, he’s a good guy with whom you can work’, etcetera, etcetera ”.
It’s not a very dark side and the only thing that really shows is that Tom Hanks is an even better person than I thought: he wants to prevent my article from being boring.
I could do that alone. I could conceive of a compelling argument that being a good person, live art (from your acts in public to the choice of altruistic and heroic characters) is a way to hide and avoid expanding your reach. You could ask questions about that strange one-sided lawsuit with Henry Winkler, who was fired from the direction of Turner & Hooch after thirteen days and who recently told Andy Cohen that “he got along wonderfully (wonderfully) with that rascal.” You could call your former assistants to try to find out what it was like back then, since the most recent ones I have spoken to spoke fondly of how wonderful it is.
However, if I had that instinct I would have been exhausted during the following weeks in which I spent hours on the phone with people who know him well. What they said about him was exceptional and not so exceptional; Heller defined him as “a human being” who “treats everyone as a person”. Meg Ryan, who starred with him Tuning of love and other films, he commented that he had an “astronomical” curiosity. Peter Scolari, who starred alongside him in the sitcom Bosom Buddies and later Lucky guy On Broadway, he claimed that he is a “man so special that he is touched by God.” Sally Field told me that Hanks is so good that it actually makes her feel bad. He calls it: “A unique Tom in life.”
Hearing all of that made me think of something Tom Junod told me in Toronto about how he had started the Mister Rogers article wanting to find out who Fred was, but ended up knowing only what he already knew. He stared at his entire article for a long time before realizing that stocks are what we should pay attention to. “I don’t know if Fred was the mask or the mask was Fred,” he said. “But in the end, does it matter?”
I don’t know where we got the concept of an ordinary man, but Tom Hanks isn’t really. I don’t know other people who have hundreds of typewriters. He is the platonic ideal of a man, a projection of what we want to be or, more worrying still, a theory of who we really are, and, well, have you read the other pages of this newspaper?
I am too old for Mister Rogers. My children are too old for Mister Rogers too. So I better show you Splash and later Forrest Gump and later I would like to be big and later A very special team. I showed them That Thing You Do and pieces of Castaway. I told them about the man who heard I was not feeling well and changed his schedule for me. I told them that it doesn’t matter why you do kind things and that all that matters is doing them. And one day, something changed. I had just finished watching Toy Story 4 And suddenly all my algorithms recommended me hero movies and good values and I understood that I had started to feel better. My heart was never a stake, it was always an umbrella, but sometimes it opened upside down during a storm. That day I recalibrated and suddenly my umbrella was upright again and again I was able to protect myself from bad weather. It was enough. It was more than enough. This is an accurate reflection of the time that Tom Hanks spent with a journalist.