By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated December 24, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

He slept with seafood in Splash, partnered a pooch in Turner &Hooch, and played the field with Madonna in A League of TheirOwn. But in 1993, Tom Hanks did something completelydifferent — he grew up.

Over the past decade, Hanks, 37, has made a career out ofportraying boys trapped in men’s bodies — sometimes literally(see Big), sometimes figuratively (see virtually everythingelse). The results have been decidedly mixed, with the actorfrequently using his formidable reserves of charm to coastthrough material far beneath his abilities (Joe Versus theVolcano, The Money Pit, Dragnet). This year, though, Hankssealed his reputation as one of America’s most vital youngactors by putting away childish things.

”There you have it — that was my attraction to Sleepless inSeattle,” he says of his starring role in this summer’s $125million-grossing romantic comedy. ”It was so different fromanything I’d done. My character had a past. He had burdens. Hewasn’t some wuss at the mercy of extraordinary circumstances.More than anything else, he was a grown man.”

The ex-Bosom Buddy takes an even more dramatic leap this monthwith a starring role in Jonathan Demme’s AIDS melodrama,Philadelphia. His performance as a gay corporate attorney wholoses his job after his employers learn he has the disease (hedropped 30 pounds and shaved his head for the part) has made himan early Oscar contender, although he isn’t dusting off his mantelpiece just yet. ”I’ve been there before,” he says. ”I rememberstanding in the auditorium where the Academy Awards were held [in1989, when he was nominated for Big] and these guys were stickin’mikes at me, saying, ‘You’re not gonna win.”’ In Hollywood, heobserves, the only truth is that ”nobody knows anything.”

How will Hanks grow up in 1994? Directing is unlikely: He did anadaptation of a Raymond Chandler story for Showtime’s neo-noirdetective series, Fallen Angels, but finds working behind thecamera ”a big pain in the ass.” Right now, he’s wrapping work onRobert Zemeckis’ gentle fantasy Forrest Gump, due next summer,adapted from Winston Groom’s book about a Vietnam vet who getssent to (no joke) Mars. And in the unlikely event that Hanksfinds himself with time off, there’s always the talk-showcircuit, where he won hands down as 1993’s best guest. (His Stopbending the shafts! Slappy White homage on Letterman’s last NBCshow in June was a classic TV moment.) In any case, the nextphase of Hanks’ career already looks full of promise; now thathe’s finally gotten in touch with his inner adult, he could beeven bigger than Big.

— Benjamin Svetkey

With roles as a grieving dad and a dying lawyer, the Big boybecame a leading man


With roles as a grieving dad and a dying lawyer, the Big boybecame a leading man