To this day, Big is still one of the most popular films of the ‘80s and is considered to be one of Tom Hanks’ signature films. The classic comedy paired Hanks with the late Penny Marshall, who helmed the film. Based on the final product, one could assume that Hanks and Marshall were able to work together in harmony but, according to Barry Sonnenfeld, that wasn’t completely the case.
Barry Sonnenfeld stopped by our ReelBlend podcast and shared a number of stories about projects like Men in Black, Get Shorty and A Series of Unfortunate Events. He also talked about working alongside Tom Hanks as the cinematographer on Big, and he had an interesting story to share about Hanks and director Penny Marshall. You can listen to the entire discussion below:
According to Barry Sonnenfeld, Tom Hanks was relatively patient with Penny Marshall, who had a reputation for having a tough demeanor. Aside from asking Hanks to do multiple takes on certain scenes (for unclear reasons), she would also receive massages on set. At one point, Sonnenfeld even served as a go-between for the two:
Tom was an incredibly great actor, and incredibly lovely. And incredibly patient with Penny, who was… you know, she was tough. Because she not only wouldn’t make decisions, but really didn't give direction. I remember one night we were shooting in Tom's loft. And Tom's been on a date with Elizabeth Perkins, and he's in the lower bunk and she's on the top or vice versa. And we were doing 15 takes of just like a Master [shot]. Which is just… you don't want to burn actors out on Master takes, because you're going to use it at the beginning of the scene and at the end of the scene. And Penny was lying on a Gumby chair being massaged while we were doing these takes. Literally. If you mic’d Penny, you would hear [low moaning sound]. Luckily, she was far enough away from the set. And you know, at some point, she would say cut, and then would go, ‘Okay, let's do it again.’ And I go, ‘Well, Pen, is there a reason why you want to go again? We have all this other coverage to get to.’ ‘No, let's go again.’ And she wouldn't even talk to Tom. So I would go to Tom and say, ‘Hey Tom, Penny wants to do it again.’ And Tom would say – which is the right thing to ask Penny – Tom would say, ‘Does she want me to do anything differently? Is there a reason we're going again? What does she want me to do different?’ ‘Hold on, Tom. Hey, Pen. Tom wants to know if you want him to do anything different.’ And Penny would say, ‘No, just tell him do it again.’
Well, you have to admit those are certainly unusual circumstances for a film set. In many cases, a filmmaker likes to work directly with their actors. But then again, Penny Marshall was no typical filmmaker.
The relationship between actor and director can vary based on the people and the project their involved in. For instance, Underwater’s William Eubank forged a great relationship with his lead Kristen Stewart. The Peanut Butter Falcon’s Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz also enjoyed working with Shia LaBeouf.
Conversely, George Clooney didn’t have the best working relationship with director David O. Russell while the two were making Three Kings.
Tom Hanks and Penny Marshall may not have had the easiest relationship, but the success of Big proved the dynamic was effect. Plus, Hanks couldn’t have had too bad a time working with Marshall, since he would later reunite with her for 1992’s A League of Their Own.
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