We cheered the guy when he got the mermaid, and the romantic hero who got Meg Ryan twice. We rooted for the ex-drunk when he tried to manage an all-girls’ baseball team to redeem himself. We opened our hearts to the lovable, slow-witted man with the extraordinary life; the hearts which broke for the gay lawyer with AIDS. We held our breath for the astronaut in jeopardy and the FedEx delivery man struggling to stay live. We fell in love with the cartoon cowboy, laughed at the criminal mastermind thwarted by an old woman, and twice filled the coffers of the box office following the adventures of the Harvard professor who chased the Holy Grail. His legions of fans don’t need the titles of his movies to recognize these characters brought indelibly to life by Tom Hanks over the course of a remarkable career.
This year, cinema’s Everyman, our latter-day Jimmy Stewart, the actor who excels in portraying decent, ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances, is once again, for the eighth time, nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Captain Phillips.
Nora Ephron once said of Tom Hanks, “You don’t direct him. You just sit there getting lucky.” The lucky ones this time around are Paul Greengrass and John Lee Hancock. Hanks plays the title character in Greengrass’ Phillips, the captain whose ship was hijacked by Somali pirates on the high seas who volunteers to be taken by the pirates in exchange for the safety of his crew. In Hancock’s Banks, Hanks plays Walt Disney in the story of how Disney pursued and persuaded author P.L. Travers into giving him the rights to her beloved book Mary Poppins. The buttoned-up spinster lady had battles royal with Disney, resisting till the last minute all attempts to turn her book into a musical, and the film movingly shows flashbacks of Travers’ youth and her relationship with her father on whom she based the character of Mr. Banks.
In typical modest fashion Hanks explains to the HFPA how they got the infirmary scene in Phillips, the one at the end of the film where there was not a dry eye in the audience. “It’s a moment like I have never had making films. It’s not on the page at all. We had shot another scene that was supposed to be the last scene in the film. We had a scene, it was okay, it kind of worked fine, and we were on schedule. But we had the actual captain of the Bainbridge with us when we were shooting, and Paul said, ‘what did you do with Phillips when you first got him on board?’ And the captain said, ‘well, he was a mess, the first thing we did, we took him to the infirmary.’ And Paul said, ‘well, why don’t we have a look at the infirmary?’ And we had never been there, it was not on the schedule, and we scouted it, it wasn’t lit, but we went down there. And Paul said ‘well, should we give it a try?’ We did it five or six times and all I can say is that it worked. And it took about an hour. Just the freedom to give it a shot was so liberating, and everyone was up for it, so it really made itself.”
Aside from the 45 or so films Hanks has made, his producing credits include the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon in 1998, Band of Brothers in 2001, and John Adams in 2008. He has also directed two movies and several episodes of the miniseries he produced, and appeared on Broadway last year in Ephron’s Lucky Guy. So far, his films have made $8.3 billion in international box office, making him the highest grossing actor in the world.