Monday, July 15, 2002
Chicago Mention cold-blooded mob killer and Tom Hanks in the same breath, and it doesn't seem to add up. The idiot sage of "Forrest Gump," the merry man-child of "Big" at the dispensing end of a Tommy gun?
Then again, why shouldn't Hanks' title as Hollywood's Everyman extend to icy hit man? He's consistently stretched the boundaries from capricious comedy to heavyweight drama like no other actor of his era.
Who knew the dippy cross-dresser of the TV sitcom "Bosom Buddies" would evolve into a back-to-back Academy Award winner for playing an AIDS-afflicted attorney in "Philadelphia" and the title role in "Gump"?
Who would have guessed the manic mermaid lover of "Splash" could handle the speechless anguish of "Cast Away" or the dutiful restraint of "Saving Private Ryan"?
Hanks has played dark-tinged characters before, but never anything as grave and gloomy as Michael Sullivan, a sullen Depression-era gunman bent on vengeance over the slayings of his wife and youngest son in "Road to Perdition."
"He's probably the most isolated human being I've played," Hanks, 46, said in an interview in Chicago (the movie was shot there and in surrounding towns). "He does the most cruel things."
Oscar's in the wings
Based on a graphic novel, "Road to Perdition" is a simple story elegantly told, with a dream cast that includes Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Stanley Tucci. It's directed by Sam Mendes, an Oscar winner for "American Beauty."
Everything about the movie screams Academy Awards, from the actors to the production design to Mendes' reunion with Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall and Oscar-nominated composer Thomas Newman.
Hanks politely declines to assess the film's awards prospects and his own chances at a sixth best-actor nomination or third win.
Hanks figures that, like awards possibilities, it's out of his hands how audiences will take to him in such an uncommunicative, blackhearted role. "Road to Perdition" does evoke great empathy for Hanks' character, a bad man who maintains a strong sense of family honor and loyalty.
Still, this is Hanks as a murderer.
"The audience will accept anything provided it's the truth, that they recognize as being something that's organically authentic. They don't shy away from any possibility, by and large," Hanks said.
"The same thing can be said for a movie like 'Cast Away.' Who's going to care about you alone on an island with no musical score? We had people say, 'This is crazy, this is just an experimental movie. There's nothing to be gained by doing it. These people aren't going to want to see a guy alone on an island.' But if you get there and it's actually real, and you're actually engaged in some sort of emotional drama, then it all makes perfect sense."
Accessible on screen
The Everyman mantle hung on Hanks seems to fit no matter what the role. "Cast Away" became a smash hit largely because Hanks drew viewers inside his skin and made them live the despondency of a man in absolute isolation.
"Somehow, the camera just unlocks his soul," said "Road to Perdition" director Mendes. "I think there's an unwritten bond, a secret bond between him and the camera. All I can say is I sat next to the camera every day, watching exactly what he was doing with my naked eye, and when I then saw it on film a day later, he was doing things that I had no idea he was doing."
People can see themselves in Hanks' shoes, falling in love with a mermaid in "Splash," or being a child thrust into an adult's body in "Big." They saw their own romantic longings idealized in "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail."
Hanks brought the life of an astronaut down to earth and made it accessible in "Apollo 13." He even humanized an inanimate object as the voice of a plaything in the "Toy Story" movies.
"Tom Hanks reaches people and allows them to not even fantasize but so easily become him and identify with his characters," said Steven Spielberg, who directed Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan" and the upcoming "Catch Me If You Can," due in theaters late this year. "He is accessible. He's like Spencer Tracy was accessible. ... People could say, 'I could more easily become him than I could become Clark Gable."'
In "Catch Me If You Can," Hanks plays an FBI agent pursuing a master con man (Leonardo DiCaprio) who lands on the bureau's most-wanted list.
Along with his "Apollo 13" director Ron Howard, Hanks has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. Hanks brushes off that notion.
"There are some people who would not think that for a moment," Hanks said. "I would like to think I don't suffer fools very easily. So there's all sorts of people out here who are very powerful, that are very famous, that do a lot of good work, but I think they're fools. So I don't think they think I'm a very nice guy."