Tom Hanks on his novel approach to movies
Just another ho-hum day in Hollywood: a tour of Paramount Studios with Tom Hanks. "We are on about as famous a back lot as you're going to get," said the two-time Academy Award-winner.
"It looks real," said Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. "It's impossible to believe that these aren't real."
"Take your hands and just block off the sky, you know? And honestly, that's a city street," Hanks said.
Today, he revealed some show business truths: "Once you're on the lot, you can walk around. I'm gonna tell ya' something right now, and don't put this on. (Of course, keep it on!) There are signs that are always around sound stages, 'This is a closed set.' Nonsense! Anybody can walk onto any set anytime they want to. No one is gonna say, 'Hey, you! Come back here!'"
Hanks took us to sound stage 25, which looms large in his history. It's where he taped the sitcom "Bosum Buddies" with co-star Peter Scolari. The show ran just two seasons.
"'Bosom Buddies' going off the air was not because you were going on to bigger and better things yet?" asked Mankiewicz.
"No, no," Hanks replied. "We got fired!"
Since losing that gig, things have improved. He's now a two-time best actor Oscar-winner, a producer, director … one of the two or three defining stars of his era. And 43 years after his first film, he knows the audience. "Movies have this one-on-one relationship," he said. "Movies are made for one person and one person only, and that's the person that is viewing that. We all have our own memories that are connected to a specific film, that if we think about it, we can remember where we were, what theater we saw it in, or maybe what weekend it was when we happened to see them on TV. It's, like, as personal as reading a book."
Now, Hanks is combining the two, with his first novel, out this week: "The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece." It's the story of the process — often spectacularly messy — of bringing a movie from the page to the screen.
Hanks said, "I had never read a book that captured the movie-making experience as I experienced making a movie."
Hanks' novel tells an epic story, from actors and agents to Teamsters and gaffers. "I think anybody who works in an office, or on a construction site, even just a supermarket, might think that the efforts that they put into their job are far removed from what goes into the making of a motion picture," he said. "It's actually much the same. Who causes a problem? Who's got an interesting idea? Who can make things happen a little faster? The end result is just different, because you get a movie at the end of it."
Getting a movie completed well, said Hanks, means following the text, which is much more than merely a script. "And by 'text,' I don't mean just your dialogue, but the entire movie," he said. "'Cause actors always gotta, 'Well, you gotta be in here, you gotta get a shot. Where's the camera gonna be? What's the shot gonna be?' Yo, Dude, just behave, all right? And everybody else will make that happen.'
"Because otherwise, all of your performances end up looking something like this: "
"It's like, 'Dude, no one turns and looks that way at the horizon. No, no, no, no.' No, this is what I used to do: I'd go in the mirror, and I'd say, 'Well, here's what I want to do, here's what I want to do with this scene: I want to go like this... "
"Oh, my God, could something be more artificial?" he laughed.
Mankiewicz said, "No, but I tell you, I'm sitting here next to him, like, 'That was pretty good!'"
The novel is, of course, a work of fiction. But the stories are inspired by Hanks' experiences on roughly 100 movies, including an early hit, "Splash," directed by Ron Howard.
Hanks said, "I was incredibly intimidated, because I'd been on two years doing 'Bosom Buddies,' in which our whole job was to be funny. Our whole job was to be flashy, say funny things in a funny way."
Hanks' co-stars on "Splash" included two legendarily funny cast members: Eugene Levy and John Candy. "I operated from a place of, 'Here's what my job is, to be as funny as these guys.' And it was not a great read-through. And Ron Howard, my boss, came up to me and he said, 'I know what you're trying to do. I know what you're trying to do. And you can't. You can't do that, Tom. We won't have a m' – he literally said – 'We won't have a movie if you do that.' And I thought I was gonna get fired then. But he said, 'Your job is not to be as funny as Johnny or Gene. Your job is to love the girl.' All right."
"And that penetrated? Like, you heard that?" asked Mankiewicz.
"Oh, dear. It ended up being part of the first lesson in an ongoing doctorate in understanding what the movie is, knowing the text."
Everybody involved in a movie, from the director to production assistants, has a job. As an art form, it's entirely collaborative … a word that gets Hanks thinking about his old friend Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed "Sleepless in Seattle."
"I was cranky," said Hanks.
Why? "Without realizing it, I was cranky because she was a woman writing for a man. Now, how often has that been the opposite, a man writing for a woman? You know, millions of times. Eventually I came around, 'The problem with this, Nora, is that you're a chick, and I'm a dude, and dudes don't think that way under these circumstances.' And she says, 'Well, how do men think in that circumstance, then?' I said, 'He wouldn't say that. He'd say, Diddly-beep-bop, diddly-did-dot, dah, dah, dah, BAH-dah-dah!' And she said, 'Well, let's put that in the movie, then.' And that had never happened. It happened in ways, but never as specific as this, 'cause she and Delia [Ephron, the associate producer] literally took what I said and put it in the movie.
"And then afterwards I said, 'That actually worked out great.' She says, 'Well, you wrote that.' 'No, I didn't write that. I just complained, and you guys wrote it down.'
"She says, 'That's what writing is.'"
So, what of motion pictures? Does this novel mean we'll be seeing less of Tom Hanks, movie star? Is there a scenario where he might think, "I gonna basically stop acting, I'm just gonna write"?
"No! Dear God, no!" Hanks said. "There is an aspect of how long you can actually, I think, do it and be part of the cultural zeitgeist. Does that make sense? Where you become too familiar or the countenance has become so overbearing? But there is nothing that is more fun. Coming to work and putting on clothes and pretending to be somebody else for a living? That's a blast!"
READ AN EXCERPT: "The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece" by Tom Hanks
For more info:
- "The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece" by Tom Hanks (Knopf), in Hardcover, Large Print, eBook and Audio formats, available May 9 via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
- Follow Tom Hanks on Instagram
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: George Pozderec.
- Tom Hanks: Actor, typist ("Sunday Morning")
- Tom Hanks says playing Mister Rogers was "terrifying" ("CBS This Morning")
for more features.