Mr. Hanks, what kind of film shoots do you hate the most?
The most uncomfortable you can be making a movie, I swear to God, is if you have to shoot a wedding scene for two weeks. A wedding scene is a nightmare. You have to wear a tuxedo every day, and it has to look nice, and they are always combing your hair. It's a drag and every day you have to pretend to be at the wedding for two days. I'd rather do a thing where I get beaten up for a couple of hours every day. It's a more realistic experience.
Well Cast Away, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, Captain Phillips—all those films seem to fall more into that category.
What those films have in common is that they are rooted somehow in a degree of non-fiction. But the facts aren't nearly as important as the behavior we are able to glean from them. All those movies fascinated me before we started making them because there was something about the human behavior you have to get to. The movies are all about what I would do if I was in those same circumstances. If you do it well, you can make a movie that is surprising. That's why I go to the movies—to see something I have never seen before and to be surprised: "Oh I didn't know that." That's what I want to see.
Would you be able to handle such situations?
Don't we all think we could? We all think we can. Man, I hope so. But I'd probably pussy out. I don't know. You'd have to go down deep to figure that out.
You play the good guy in pretty much all of your most beloved roles. How come you don't play the villain more often?
I sometimes have a problem with the logic of bad guys. I'm not interested in playing some evil guy for the sake of evil. There is one of the standard movie formats: You have the incredibly good protagonist and the incredibly evil antagonist. They do battle and guess what? The protagonist always wins. I am not intrigued by that. I want to understand the motivation. I want to know more about each side of that. For example, in Cloud Atlas I had that opportunity. I understood where all these guys were coming from.
Do you ever feel like you're stuck in a routine with your work?
I can. There have been times when work feels like one damn thing after another. Sometimes it is by the nature of what is going on in your life. I have been bogged down and I have not given it a massive amount of support. But a goofy thing happens in film. Periodically, you just do it, you don't know if it's any good and the camera turns it into some magical thing. The editors put it in the absolutely right place and the director realizes that it's part of what the storytelling requires. But making a movie is really long, it's a marathon and I am not above it to say that I have had fatigue.
You recently had your acting debut on Broadway. I would think performing an entire play eight times a week would be more grueling than a film shoot.
You do have to have room for it in your life. It's a six-month undertaking and it's a responsibility that doesn't go away. You have to maintain the tempo and the concentration all day long, eight performances a week. I actually loved that. I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to do that. You get lazy making movies, because when you go to work the only thing that is expected of you is to walk into building in an interesting way or kiss a girl and make it seem like it's real. So the challenge was more than it has ever been, but the result is more dare I say a more natural process than I think it's ever going to be. That's a magnificent life and I hope to do it again.
When was the last time that you felt fatigued by work?
I did three jobs on the last film I directed—I was acting in it, I wrote it, and I directed it. I should have taken out one of those jobs because, frankly, I got fatigued. I don't have instinctive talents for directing, it's stuff that I picked up from watching other people, and I have to learn how to communicate better and I have to learn how to get past that worry of time. The director has to run the cadence of the whole thing. I would like to do it again, but you have to have time for it in your life. Directing a movie is about an 18-month commitment and you can't do anything else at the same time.
Did that fatigue affect your acting in the film?
I couldn't be fatigued as an actor, because the movie would suffer. So the moments I was on camera and interacting with the other cast members—I loved every minute of that. The writing was fun, too. But the directing was a place where I always felt hairy, I always felt pressured by time because I knew the longer we took, the more fatigued I would get. And it's not necessarily a good thing directing a movie and looking at all the actors hanging around: They've got it easy. They look like they are on vacation! If my knees hold up and my Type 2 Diabetes remains in control, I hope to do it again.
Read more of The Talks with Tom Hanks.
• • •
Also on The Talks