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TOM HANKS - SULLY

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TOM HANKS - SULLY

“I’ve got 40 years in the air, but in the end, I’m going to be judged on 208 seconds.”  
(from the movie, “Sully”)

Tom Hanks is considered Hollywood royalty, as the youngest person to have ever received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 2002. What some people may not know is that the 56-year-old actor/director is related to one of America’s greatest presidents—Abraham Lincoln. Genealogists confirmed that indeed he is a descendant, as third cousin, four times removed, from Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks. Upon Hanks announcement of the compelling news of his ancestry, it was only fitting that he narrate the film, Killing Lincoln.

Hank’s resemblance to Lincoln is quite intriguing, adding further credence to the actor’s history of dedicated work in the film industry. His willingness to do whatever it takes to convey the perfect image of a character has been seen over and over again—gaining 30 pounds for his role in 1992’s A League of Their Own; losing 35 pounds and even thinning his hair for the role of a gay lawyer with AIDS in 1993’s Philadelphia; and drastically altering his weight up and down for his role in the 2000 film, Cast Away, which he both gained weight for and later lost 55 pounds.

The committed actor won the 1993 Best Actor Academy Award for his role in Philadelphia, only to be followed up the next year with yet another Oscar for Best Actor for his role in enormous box office hit film, Forrest Gump, making Hanks only the second actor to have won consecutive Best Actor Awards from the Academy (the first being Spencer Tracy). Interestingly, the two talented actors were the exact same age when they received their consecutive awards from Hollywood.

Hanks is not only a father of four: two from previous wife Samantha Lewes, (his first son and now popular actor, Colin Hanks and Elizabeth Hanks); and two with his true love, actress Rita Wilson, (sons Chet and Truman Theodore). Hanks is also grandfather to Colin’s two daughters: five-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Charlotte.

Opening up in his interview with us, Hanks revealed how truly infected he became by the movie “bug” of reading an exceptional screenplay and the overwhelming drive to do his most recent film, Sully. The multi-talented man who has effortlessly bridged the genres of comedy and drama put a hold on his life, once again, as he says commonly happens in Hollywood, in order to take on the role of real-life famous airline pilot, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, in the new Clint Eastwood directed film, Sully. It’s the story of a man who acted heroically in the moment of crisis, aborting a flight mid-air on Jan. 15, 2009. Flying out of New York’s LaGuardia airport, the airplane hit a flock of geese, causing the loss of both engines at the lowest altitude recorded in history. In the flight, which only lasted 208 seconds, Capt. Sullenberger made an unprecedented landing on the Hudson River, saving all 155 passengers and its crew, and was touted in the news as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The controversial screenplay written by Todd Komarnicki has ruffled some feathers, depicting the 18-month investigation by the government’s NTSB to be possibly overly accusatory of the heroic pilot. But let us remember, it’s a movie, and certainly some creative license comes along with that.

STRIPLV: So you were in the middle of planning a well-deserved vacation right when the screenplay, Sully, crossed your path?
HANKS: (laughter) Yeah, yeah! Show business all the way! Show business gets in the way of everything... Pregnancies... You know, I could go through and tell you like, in one movie: “Here, I only have three kids, and in this next scene, I now I have (snaps fingers) four kids,” ‘cause one was born, you know, in between shooting one thing or another. Life gets in the way. I had worked, you know, I had put my head down and plowed through an awful lot of great stuff. And I’m certainly not complaining. But I knew that I was tired, and had in my head a period of non-activity. But, as is often the case, something comes along, and it’s just… It’s not… None of it is about business reasons. That’s not what you work through. The fact is I read the screenplay, written by Todd, and I read it in seventeen minutes. And I was infected with, you know, the “bug” of imagining the story. And once that happens, you’re doomed. The only thing you can do is hope that it works out schedule-wise. And I talked to Clint. We know each other enough in order that the pleasantries didn’t go on for very long. I met him before (mimes a phone conversation from one ear to the other) He said: “Hi. Where are ya?” “I’m in the car.” “Oh, where are ya?” “I’m driving into L.A.” “Oh, okay. Well, I’m in Budapest.” and “Hey, this is great!” “Yeah, it is great.” “When do you want to start?” “Well, I think we have to start in October because we need the Hudson River...” Alright, well…” And then, that’s all it was. It’s just the logistics on the calendar.
STRIPLV: Having never worked with Clint before, although knowing him, how did you find the experience, having both of you with these incredible careers?
HANKS: Well, it’s a two-fold thing. One is: Look, I’ve seen all the movies of Clint Eastwood, and the ones that are amazing are super amazing, you know? Oh, my gosh! I mean, you just run down this list. I know how movies are made. So when I see them, and I see what Clint has done with a minimum amount of fuss, and yet at the same time with every cinematic trick that exists—it’s quite astounding—just from a fan of him making movies. Then, him as an actor, I mean, you know, geez, he’s got some pretty iconic graphic performances in films. That’s one side of it. So, fan, and co-worker—that’s one aspect of it. The other side is: I made a survey of people who have worked with Clint. “So, what’s the deal? Are the stories true? Do you only get one take? Do you not know sometimes when the camera’s rolling?” And they all said, and rightly so, they said: “You know, it’s not a lot of takes, but there’s a lot of coverage—which means that you have seven, eight, nine, maybe even more opportunities to do what you want to do in a scene. And I, to back that up leaving this, I never felt as though we missed, [or] we left something on the table in the time that we were shooting it. And sometimes just the opposite—I felt as though because he moves so fast, we were able to go on and find other aspects of the scenes that only came out because we had big momentum going with us.  
STRIPLV: You spent time with the real Sully.  
HANKS: The real Sully Sullenberger.
STRIPLV: What resonated with you about this man, that became very important?
HANKS: You don’t want to screw up somebody’s life, for one thing. And I do not ever want to project upon them some editorial aspect of their behavior. They behaved as they behaved. What happened to them happened. And the results are completely subjective to themselves. I want to be authentic to all those things. I want to be accurate to all those things, even though in a movie, I will say things they never said, and be in places they never were. I will be interpreting moments that are nothing like what actually happened, but I want to do all those armed with as much authenticity as possible. Part of that is, you know, a guy like Sully, he walked me through the script. He had a big, dog-eared, notated version of one of the early drafts, and he was going through it—even scenes I’m not in: “…because I know you’re not in this, Tom. But I want you to know,” as though it were the Gutenberg bible. And on one hand, I said: “Look, that’s easy to change, Sully, you know? We can change these names and any verbiage in there can be altered. But what’s the other aspect of it? What is the stuff in here that is editorial?” Or what’s the word I’m looking for is: Is it an objective or a subjective moment examination of went on? That’s the stuff that’s more important. Now, oddly enough, there was procedure that was in the screenplay that, by altering it, became more emotionally authentic to what went on. There were other things to it that were just slapped in for the sake of it. Like, for example, Jeff Skiles has never had a drink in his life. And there was an early draft of the screenplay, and they said: “Do you drink?” And he said, “Oh, I haven’t had a drink for eight years,” meaning that he had been an alcoholic? No, he hadn’t. And Sully was like, “You can’t say…that Skiles was ever…” And so, well then, it’s out. And he goes, “Oh, alright.” (chuckling) So, knowing how it works and knowing what we’re gonna have to do sooner or later—I felt that was my job, in order to weigh the differences in between with him and Sully. And there was some stuff. I said, “Well, you might have to fight Clint on that,” or “I don’t know how key that is to what Todd wrote.” But by and large, all of it was in order to get to this place in the film, in the relationship that I had with Sully, me and him. I wanted the jungle drums to be beating. I wanted to hear the same drums that he heard. And whether we did that or not is open to interpretation. But, you know, between his book, you’d have to ask him, “How authentic?” I don’t know if we did everything exactly perfect, but… The big aspect is his book does not have the period of time of waiting for the NTSB hearing, and hearing the results of it. I said, “Why isn’t it in the book?” He said, “Because it hadn’t happened yet.” (chuckling) He had written the book before that happened. So finding out about the pressure of that, this could have been a screenplay in which that was truly fake, and just ratcheted up because you’ve gotta make a movie about it. And it turned out to be the opposite. It was actually much more emotional for Sully. The 18 months that he spent. The only thing we did is we compressed it. So you don’t really know how much time went between the two. But that ended up being even more so than what Todd wrote. But the good news about that is that you carry that around in your head. It’s not something that, you know, you don’t place placards right next to it. You just do it.
STRIPLV: Why do you think that the events of that flight on January 15, 2009 were so remarkable?
HANKS: My philosophy is this: It’s because of what didn’t happen. We’d gone through 9/11. The last thing the world needed to see and the last thing New York City wanted to experience was a bunch of dead people against the skyline of New York City. They did not need to see more wreckage, more flames on the water. They did not want to experience a moment where, guess what? Everything fell apart one more time. The opposite happened, (chuckles) which on one hand is something to celebrate. But the bullet dodged, I think, is why it has this emotional resonance. Can you imagine what the next 10 days would’ve been like in New York City, with the river right there, with the bodies that would have to have been pulled out of the water? And all the stories… The New York Times would have run that same story of all the little pictures of all the people that had been lost, and in that picture you would have seen some sense of what America is, the different fabric—regular, ordinary lives of people in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina, the crew. You would have seen it all again. And it would have been a massive, long moment of national mourning. And instead what happened was, our institutions proved worthwhile—the people were prepared, the professionals actually did their job. And guess what? We all survived what seemed to be an act of God—by way of a flock of Canadian geese, flying. Now, I think that’s why… You can celebrate what Sully did and his instincts, and all that stuff, by all means. But I think that the resonance that I felt… this is what I felt when I read the screenplay—because it had even more moments in it of people who are in New York City who are looking out. You know what they were seeing? Another low-flying passenger airplane, you know, coming in (holding his hands over his face in panic), coming in, at the level of the buildings of New York City. No one wanted to see that. No one wanted to see that again! And they did, and it turned out to be one of the best news stories of the decade. So I think that’s what it is.

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