After debuting his new movie A Hologram for the King, Tom Hanks capped off his time at the Tribeca Film Festival by sitting down with John Oliver to talk about his lengthy Hollywood career and share a few of his funniest anecdotes.
Over the course of their wide-ranging discussion, Hanks touched on almost every aspect of his unparalleled film career, from the first movie he ever saw in theaters (the horror flick Scream of Fear) to the film he considers to be his personal favorite. “You started your career as an actor,” Oliver told him. “Since then you’ve expanded into writing, producing, directing, and being an American treasure.”
Here are a few of the highlights from Oliver’s conversation with that “American treasure.”
Hanks learned his favorite filmmaking term from Kevin Bacon on the set of Apollo 13.
Hanks said he learned a lot from working on Apollo 13, whether he was talking to actual astronauts or researching the effects of zero gravity, but one thing that particularly stands out is a phrases he overheard Kevin Bacon using.
He recounted the story of how director Ron Howard was fretting about how to frame a shot, and Bacon walked up to him and said, “I don’t want to boss you around, Ron, but I really think the shot should be a B.F.C.U.K.B. right here.” When Howard asked what he meant, Bacon explained that it stood for a “big f—ing close up of Kevin Bacon.”
“Bill Paxton and I went berserk,” Hanks said, laughing. “We were talking in that same acronym for the remainder of the movie. God bless him. God bless Kevin Bacon, man. I use that now all the time.”
He thinks his best movie is probably That Thing You Do! — and Bruce Springstreen agrees.
When Oliver asked if Hanks has a favorite film he’s worked on, Hanks told him that he holds a special fondness for That Thing You Do!, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. “It was really personal and filled with joy,” Hanks said. “It was a great hang, and all we did was laugh.”
Hanks told the audience that he hates watching his own movies because he obsesses over things that went wrong or things he could’ve done differently, but he’s especially proud of the scene in That Thing You Do! where the Oneders hear their song on the radio for the first time. He added that one of his proudest moments was when Bruce Springsteen told him how much he loved that sequence, telling him, “Hey, I like that moment when they heard their record on the radio. Same thing happened to us. We were all in a car, and we pulled over to the side of the road to listen to it.”
His next project is a miniseries about the Eighth Air Force.
Hanks told the crowd that he has a few projects in the pipeline, but he’ll soon be tackling World War II again with a multi-part miniseries about the Eighth Air Force. He added that he loves making movies about that time period not because he’s “enamored with the past,” but “because the times were so vibrant and the people alive did not know whether they were going to live or die.”
“Our job as filmmakers is to make exciting what really happened,” Hanks said. “I drive everybody nuts down at the office because I say, break the myths. Take the myths and the tropes and the things that everybody assumes that they know about the period and blow it out of the water.”
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He’s learned more from his filmmaking failures than his successes.
Even though he has one of the most accomplished resumes in Hollywood, Hanks revealed that he has a hard time predicting what is or isn’t going to be a hit. He ran into that same doubt on the set of Forrest Gump, telling the audience that when he was shooting the iconic bench scene, he asked director Robert Zemeckis, “Is anybody gonna care about this guy, sitting on a park bench?”
“He said, ‘I don’t know, Tom! It’s a minefield! It’s a f—ing minefield!’” Hanks recalled, laughing. “So when it works, you just say, ‘Hey, we dodged all the mines.’ And when it doesn’t, you can go back and say, ‘Oh, you stepped on a mine there, and that blew a leg off.’ You can go back and examine every decision you made or were a part of.”
He’s only been stumped once by someone quoting his own movie lines to him.
Hanks said he’s had plenty of people quote movie lines at him, especially “Wilson!” or “Houston, we have a problem,” but the only one that flummoxed him was when he was driving in Los Angeles, and someone yelled, “Little boat!” Hanks told the crowd that he drove on for miles, completely confused, until he remembered that it was a line from Splash.
“I was sweating bullets,” Hanks said, adding that he was racking his brains to figure out what “little boat” was from. “I almost had to go to IMDb.”