January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Pairing America’s favorite actor with America’s most twisted author could be the year’s weirdest combo. But starring in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Green Mile, Tom Hanks remains ”a very nice family man,” says director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption). Based on the 1996 King page-turner, the film has Hanks, 42, playing a prison guard who befriends death-row inmate Michael Clarke Duncan (Armageddon) — only the con is not what he seems. Hanks, on the other hand, was always himself: He’s ”a true gentleman,” says Darabont. ”I didn’t have an 800-pound gorilla on the set questioning me; instead, I had an 800-pound gorilla who didn’t act like one.” Anything less would be a horror.

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