Tom Hanks won one of his two Oscars for paying the title role in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump," all about a sweet but less-than-brilliant guy who just happens to appear at many of the biggest events of our time. Hanks just happens to have starred in many of the best movies of our time. That's NOT a coincidence. Tracy Smith sat him down for some questions-and-answers:
There are few people more serious about movie making than Tom Hanks, but on the set of his new movie, it was hard to find anyone with a straight face.
The film is "Larry Crowne," co-written, starring and directed by Tom Hanks.
"What's it like directing Tom Hanks, two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks?" Smith asked Hanks.
"Yeah, yeah ... long time ago! So long that the clips aren't even in high def, that's how long ago that was," he replied. "Well, he does show up to work on time. THAT'S a good thing."
It's his second turn as director, and his movie sets are happy by design.
"You wanna make it so that everybody is loose enough that they can follow their instincts and make something happen," he said.
It's a style leading lady Julia Roberts embraced.
"He takes it very seriously, to make sure everyone is enjoying their experience," she told Smith.
"You think you can still get a great performance out of that? 'Cause certainly there are people who think, you know, 'It has to be tough in order for it to be great,'" said Smith.
"Well, and I've worked for those people, and it sucks! A word I tell my kids they're not allowed to say," Roberts laughed, "but it's well-chosen, because it doesn't have to be madness and crazy torture to accomplish those goals. It just doesn't have to be. I have really seen the brutal side of that, and you just suffer. You still get a good result, but you suffer in the midst of it.
"You can get a good result and be joyous throughout," Roberts insisted.
Above: Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne." (Universal Pictures)
But there's nothing particularly joyous about "Larry Crowne"'s subject: Hanks is a middle-aged Navy veteran who loses his job at a big-box store, and reinvents himself as a scooter-riding college student.
"The end result - what is interesting to me is because all of this stuff can really happen," Hanks said. "And that, if you can capture that in the glamorous form of a commercial motion picture that people might pay to go see, well then, you're flirting with a high country, and that interests me on all the creative fronts: Actor, writer, director."
It wasn't so long ago that Hanks would've been happy to be just one of those things.
Born in northern California in 1956, Thomas Jeffrey Hanks first took the stage in high school, and made his professional acting debut doing Shakespeare at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Cleveland. His first film role ever was as a cocky college student in the 1980 horror flick, "He Knows You're Alone."
"Did you know at that point, 'I'm going to be successful'?" asked Smith.
"Oh, hell, no, are you kidding?" Hanks said. "I was overjoyed to get the paycheck for 800 bucks. And no, I was just, I was hoping to make, you know, $8,000 a year. I was hoping to get, you know, have enough weeks of employee at a theater festival in order to collect the unemployment, which I did."
His next move was, well, a drag: He won a spot on the 1980 sitcom, "Bosom Buddies," playing one of two guys who dressed as girls so they could live in a cheap female-only hotel. The show sputtered after two seasons, but Hanks wasn't about to give up without a fight.
In a 1982 guest shot on "Happy Days," Hanks connected with actor/director Ron Howard, who went on to cast him as a man who loved a mermaid, in 1984's "Splash."
For Tom Hanks, "Splash" was the beginning of what would become a cinematic tidal wave. Thirty-plus feature films, two Academy Awards, and a reputation as one of the classiest acts in Hollywood.
"You know, you clearly are a guy who's well-liked," Smith said. "Everybody says how much they like Tom Hanks."
"Not everybody," he inferred.
"Not everybody? Who doesn't like you?"
"You dig a little deeper, you'll find some blood feuds out there," he said.