Tom Hanks is not what anybody would consider a “newbie” in his field. The man has been a professional actor since 1980, and has starred in more than 100 feature films to go along with his years of television work. You’d think that veteran status would mean that he’d be the most confident guy in the world on the first day of production… but it turns out it’s actually the opposite that’s true. As Hanks revealed in an interview earlier this month, he isn’t totally sure what he’s doing with any given performance until about the third day on set of a new project.
The News Of The World star made this admission earlier this month during the press day for his newest film, speaking with journalists – including myself – in a virtual roundtable interview. Discussing the subject of a career that hops from character to character, Tom Hanks disclosed that he has very little awareness of the quality of his work until about halfway through the first week. Said the actor,
Coming into News of the World, it was literally like... I never feel as though I know what I'm doing on a movie until day three of shooting. I wander around in a confused stupor saying, 'Is this any good? Is this right? Does this make any sense? Have we started this right? Are you actually going to use what we shot yesterday? Cause I don't think I had it.'
Tom Hanks was asked by another reporter if his time playing Woody in the Toy Story movies provided any kind of background for his first time making a western, and while the actor firmly said no to that specific idea, he added that his personal process means that any past performance of his has zero impact on his latest. He explained,
No movie translates to the next movie you're making. You start all over from scratch. Now, granted, you know how things work, you know how a set works, you know about base camp, and you know about the difference between shooting on film, and you technique, you learn the technical aspects of making movies. But the movie that you made last year or five years ago, or twenty-five years ago does not impact the emotional journey that you're on. You start all over again from scratch. And that's why so many actors are stark-raving nuts, is because they are always thrown up onto this high wire without a net.
Acting truly is like no other profession on Earth. One month your job is to portray Fred Rogers, and then a few months later you’re a World War II Navy captain. And then a few months after that you’re a Civil War veteran who travels town to town performing staged readings of the news. None of these characters have anything to do with one another, and so Tom Hanks’ approach is to build from the ground up with every role.
Adding to the craziness of all in the worlds of movies and television is the permanence of the material. An actor on a stage can screw up one night, and do better the next, but as soon as a director has called cut on the last take of a particular scene, there is no altering your performance. Tom Hanks continued,
If you make a mistake or you don't get there… let me put it that way, if you, as an artist in a creative entity and an interpreter of somebody else's words, if you don't get there, where you need to be, you will not get there for the rest of time because the movie is locked. It lasts forever, and you can't go back and change it.
That’s a lot for a person to take on, particularly when they are playing the lead role in a movie or show, which Tom Hanks almost always does. So how does he manage?
In order to get there you just have to have some brand of foolhardy faith in your abilities and also trust in everybody else that's there to help you pull along.
One of the great things about Tom Hanks is that he regularly works with some great collaborators, and News of the World is the latest example – reuniting him with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass. The film is arriving in theaters on Christmas Day, a.k.a. this Friday, and will be available in PVOD in January.