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Paul Greengrass’ News of the World is a film that delivers on much of what audiences have come to expect when it comes to big screen westerns, but if there’s one particular thing that sets it apart it’s the profession of its protagonist. Tom Hanks stars in the film not as a sheriff, a bounty hunter, or a farmer, but rather as a journalist who travels from town to town delivering staged readings of the national news. It’s a fascinating aspect of the movie and one of its great strengths, as the performances fully capitalize on Hanks’ natural charisma, but what makes them even more interesting is that they were apparently a subject of serious debate between the director and star, who fundamentally disagreed on exactly how the news should be delivered.
Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass have previous work history together, having collaborated on 2013’s Captain Phillips, but they found themselves butting heads over that particular issue in the making of their second movie, as I learned earlier this week during the News of the World’s virtual press day. As captured in the video up top, I asked the star if his experience with the filmmaker was different during the production given that they were making was a totally different kind of feature, and Hanks detailed how they had trouble seeing eye-to-eye over a crucial element of the story.
Talking about the day on set when they shot his character’s first news reading, Tom Hanks said,
We were halfway through the shooting day, and we ended up sitting on the wooden sidewalk of one of our Western towns. And we went at it, he and I, about what these performances of readings of the news meant. And I was hell bent on authenticity and the real news and the real stories, and almost of a dry perspective and presentation of them. And he was bent on the connecting of the audience, of the inspiring of the audience, of the reading of the audience and of the enthrallment of the audience with what this news was.
Considering how significant the news readings are in News Of The World, that was a pretty big issue to be at loggerheads about. And while it doesn’t sound like the two men were exactly ready to start throwing blows, the actor explained that they were seriously staunch in their opinions, and suggested it wasn’t always what one might call friendly.
Emphasizing with his hands, Tom Hanks continued,
We actually went like this for a bit (smashes knuckles together) because he was saying, 'You must understand: you are putting on a show to bring people together.' And I was saying, 'Paul, you've got to understand: I am reading the news to bring people together.' And we had to find this thing that was in there.
What Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass ultimately found, however, was that the conflict was a good thing for the film. Clearly it’s a nice thing when everybody on a set is totally on-board with the way things are happening, but even when that’s not happening that creates the opportunity for constructive conversation. The actor and the director held strong, opposing viewpoints on the way a key piece of News Of The World was handled, but their clash gave them the chance to find a middle ground that made them both satisfied.
When I asked Paul Greengrass about the clash in a one-on-one interview later that day, he described the experience with an apt hiking metaphor, saying,
When you make a film with your leading actor, whether male or female, you're basically in the woods trying to climb a mountain in the middle of the dark knowing that it's going to rain and with gale force winds, and you both share one torch. You start with a kind of a bit of a map called a script, but the script only gets you... it's not the real woods. It's not the forest at night. And somehow you have to get there and over the waterfall and down, and then up the mountain to the summit. And the whole thing is like, 'Well, is it this way? Or is it...' 'No, it's this way!' 'No, that'd be ridiculous. It's that way!’
While a filmmaker can make every possible effort to organize their work in pre-production, there is in truth no way to fully prepare for the on-set experience, as new perspective are constantly earned and offered. As Paul Greengrass explained, however, that’s what makes trust incredibly important, and he definitely trusted Tom Hanks in the making of News Of The World:
That's what making a movie is like, in truth. You trust each other, and you find a way because you're in truth roped together trying to find the way to the finished film. And there's no better person to go on that journey with than Tom [Hanks] because his instincts are so impeccable.
Based on the novel of the same name by Paulette Jiles, News Of The World co-stars Helena Zengel, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Mare Winningham, Thomas Francis Murphy, and Michael Angelo Covino, and will be playing in theaters where available on Christmas Day. We have plenty more coverage coming your way from our interview with Tom Hanks, so be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend.