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Tom Hanks Is An Acting Great, But He’s Still Recalling Everything He Learned From Denzel Washington

It’s not exactly a controversial statement to say that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest living actors we have. The man is an incredible talent who has the stardom and the shelf full of awards to prove it. By the time of his first Academy Award win of Philadelphia it was already clear that Tom Hanks was great, but when he reflects on that movie he only sings the praises of his co-star Denzel Washington. 

In a profile of Denzel Washington in the Irish Times, ahead of the release of Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Tom Hanks talks about what he learned watching Denzel Washington perform while doing nothing but sitting next to him and being able to just watch. He called the experience an “acting class” saying... 

I sat beside him for three weeks shooting the trial. I had no dialogue. It was a thriller of an acting class. He follows no rules but pursues the moment. No nonsense, but a looseness that can’t be faked. A one-on-one scene with him is a game of hardball catch – he is both daring you to keep up and propelling you to do more.

Philadelphia follows Tom Hanks character, who files a lawsuit against his former employer after being fired for being gay and contracting HIV. Denzel Washington is the lawyer enlisted to fight on his behalf. Tom Hanks was the one who won the Oscar coming off of Philadelphia, so it would be easy to assume there was nothing the actor needed to learn. But Hanks says he learned quite a bit both performing opposite him and by just watching him.

But Tom Hanks doesn’t just stop at calling Denzel Washington a great actor. He thinks he is the great actor of our era. Hanks compares Washington to Brando or Sir Lawrence Olivier, which is about as high as the praise can get. And yet, while Washington is the best, he’s also been through the tough parts of being an actor, something he and Tom Hanks had in common. He continues... 

He is our Brando. Nicholson. Olivier. And, like me, he steals office supplies and notebooks from the set dressing. We were talking about our New York City days as broke actors – about the same age, peers, trying to learn craft and get work. I noted that we were in the same boat at the same time. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘But you could catch a cab in Manhattan.’

There’s certainly no argument that Denzel Washington is one of the greatest actors of this, or any generation, and if you think he’s the absolute cream of the crop, it’s going to be difficult to make any argument against that. Denzel will be seen in The Tragedy of Macbeth and the end of December and he’s behind the camera directing A Journal for Jordan which comes out on Christmas Day. 

Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.