In many respects, Thomas Jeffrey Hanks is Mr Hollywood. He has starred in some of the most critically acclaimed films of the last 25 years, bagging a couple of Oscars along the way. Beyond his acting work he’s also earned a reputation as being a thoroughly nice chap, and now occupies a revered position amongst Hollywood’s elite. In recent times, he has been likened to a latter-day James Stewart and is currently gracing cinema screens the world over in his fourth film collaboration with Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies. Let’s take a moment to reflect on Mr Hanks’ career to date.
Part of the appeal of Tom Hanks as an actor is his ability to portray ordinary people, a quality which came to the world’s attention in Big (1988). In a role which earned him his first Oscar nomination, Hanks portrayed a 12-year-old boy who makes a wish and wakes up the following day as a 30-year-old man. The early 1990s saw Hanks move into more serious dramatic roles. First came a charming performance opposite Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), then a career-defining turn in Philadelphia (1993) which won him his first Academy Award.
The following year, Hanks starred in the film for which he is perhaps best known. Forrest Gump (1994) was described by Hanks as a throwback to the films of yesteryear, which fill audiences with hope. Here, Hanks’ ability to tap into the everyman was at its peak. In the hands of another actor, the childlike innocence, which Hanks captures with consummate ease, may have been missed. Thankfully it wasn’t, and a modern-day classic was born, with Hanks claiming his second Oscar in a row.
A more recent, but nonetheless potent, example of Hanks’ everyman quality came in 2013 when he starred as the eponymous Captain Phillips, whose cargo ship is boarded by Somali pirates. There is barely a frame of this film in which Hanks does not feature and the final scene when his character begins to come to terms with what has happened is deserving of an Oscar nomination in and of itself.
All this talk of playing regular guys might give the impression that Hanks has never taken any risks with the roles he’s played. But this would be doing the man a grave disservice. His career to date is dotted with interesting and often daring decisions.
In Philadelphia, Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer with AIDS who sues his former employer on discrimination charges. In preparing to play an AIDS sufferer, Hanks underwent probably his most gruelling physical transformation, thinning his hair and shrinking 35 pounds. For his performance, he was rewarded with his second Oscar nomination and deservedly took home the grand prize.
He was presented with a different sort of challenge in Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away (2000), in which Hanks is quite literally the entire film. Cast Away lives and dies on the strength of Hanks’ performance – something he would have been acutely aware of when signing on the dotted line. It is testament to his versatility that he not only pulls it off, but excels.
In Bridge of Spies, Hanks reunites with frequent collaborator and long-time friend, Steven Spielberg. First working together on Saving Private Ryan (1998), the pair have since brought us Catch Me If You Can (2002) and The Terminal (2004). But it’s not just as a director-actor partnership that the two have thrived. Following the success of Saving Private Ryan, the duo teamed up to bring Stephen E. Ambrose’s Band of Brothers to life on the small screen.
Hanks was an integral part of the project, taking on writer, producer and occasional director duties. Prior to this, and off the back of Apollo 13, Hanks had worked with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to produce A Man on the Moon, a miniseries charting the journeys of astronauts on the Apollo 8 to 17 missions, which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries.
In 2010, Hanks would return to the subject of World War Two, but this time on the conflict with Japan. Designed as a double act with Band of Brothers, The Pacific, produced by Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, focuses on the experiences of three Marines deployed in the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Like Band of Brothers before it, The Pacific won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Miniseries.
For all his versatility, it is his ability to convey relatable characters that is Tom Hanks’ greatest asset as an actor. That Hanks has become adept at playing the everyman is in no way disconnected from the man himself. With every passing appearance on a TV talk show, Hanks reinforces his justified reputation as a thoroughly down-to-earth and likeable chap. A quick search of the internet will yield countless examples of people encountering Hanks doing utterly ‘normal’ things which seem out of sync with what we would stereotypically expect from your average Hollywood A-lister. In his new film, Bridge of Spies, director Steven Spielberg has praised Hanks’s fluidity and ability to deliver dialogue in a way which seems perfectly natural and belies the amount of time spent poring over the script in pre-production. He is a director’s dream. Long may he continue to portray ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations.
Top 5 Tom Hanks Films:
Road to Perdition (2002) – Playing against type, Hanks stars alongside Paul Newman and Daniel Craig as an antihero hitman bent on exacting revenge for the murder of his wife and son. Hanks adeptly portrays a character struggling with the consequences of the violence he dishes out.
Toy Story (1995) – In Pixar’s first computer-animated feature (which, incidentally, we adore) Hanks plays Woody, a role which cemented his voice in the hearts and minds of children the world over. After twice reprising the role to complete the perfect trilogy, he’s now lending his talents to the fourth instalment, due for release in 2018.
Catch Me If You Can (2002) – Hanks’ second film collaboration with Spielberg seems him play another regular, earnest character, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio’s flamboyant and charismatic conman. Though understated, this performance is one of the man’s finest.
Forrest Gump (1994) – The role that launched a thousand impersonations, and also secured his second Academy Award. A timeless tale of hope, which in the hands of a less empathetic leading man could have gone down an entirely different path.
Captain Phillips (2013) – One of the great leading performances of recent years and one which reminds us of the depth Hanks can bring to a role. Criminally overlooked at the Oscars, Hanks is at his everyman best in Paul Greengrass’ nail-biting thriller.