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Tom Hanks Explains How A Bruce Springsteen Song Helped A Throwaway Scene In Philadelphia Become Iconic

Movies are made in segments. This might sound very obvious to you. And yes, it’s true that some directors film in a relative form of order, so that the cast maintains their momentum and stays in the story. But other times, situations dictate that you film what you can, when you can, and you hope that you are able to use the footage later. When it works, magic happens. And some of that magic apparently happened on Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia, which he filmed back in 1992 with Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. 

The film stars Tom Hanks as a lawyer who is seeking legal help himself to sue his former employers, who he claims fired him once they found out he had AIDS. Hanks’ character, Andrew Beckett, turns to Denzel Washington’s character, Joe Miller, and eventually finds an ally in a battle against discrimination. Hanks recently talked about playing a gay man on screen, and whether the part should have gone to a gay actor at the time. But when the actor sat down with CinemaBlend’s ReelBlend podcast, he opened up more about the craft of shooting Philadelphia, and how a routine shot became an iconic sequence. 

The way that Tom Hanks tells it:

The power of cinema doesn’t happen until everything is unified. And I don’t just mean the sound and the score, but also everything that happened prior to the movie occurred, and then everything that happens after the movie. And I’ll tell you one of the places where I get that, over and over and over again — all I did was walk out of the door, look up and down the street, and walk away. That’s all I did that day. And it’s the moment where I leave Denzel Washington’s office in Philadelphia, and the Bruce Springsteen song kicks in, and you know that this guy can not get a lawyer, and he’s dying of AIDS, and he’s all on his own.

So much is conveyed through what could be thought of as a throwaway shot, a simple set up of Tom Hanks leaving an office and looking up and down the street. The genius of the late Jonathan Demme is that he understood the humanity and the emotional toll that was being sold in that moment. And so did Hanks, even if it didn’t really hit home until later. As he went on to tell ReelBlend:

Now, when we’re shooting that on a day in Philadelphia that’s kinda cold, and they are just trying to get it, they’re trying to hold the traffic the right way and talk to Jonathan Demme at the time, and I said, ‘Oh no, I know what’s going on here, I’m good.’ But the reality of it is, it takes place in real time, and it’s done in 15 seconds. That’s all it is. That’s the undeniable quality of lightning striking in a motion picture.

Tom Hanks is a masterful storyteller, with an incredible career filled with staggering stories. Think how hard it was for us to put together this list of the best Tom Hanks movies. You need to listen to the full interview here:

The interview was conducted on behalf of the new film Elvis, in which Tom Hanks plays the singer’s manager Col. Tom Parker. Some of the awful things that Parker did to Elvis were left out of the movie, but audiences are still responding in kind, helping the biopic to win the box office weekend by holding off Tom Cruise’s juggernaut, Top Gun: Maverick. Also, the movie has received the full support of the Presley family, which should be the only review that you need to hear. Elvis is in theaters as we speak, so grab tickets and go.

Sean O'Connell
Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.