Tom Hanks is hands-down one of my favorite actors and I think I’m in good company when I say that. The guy is so dang likable. He’s handsome, but not in a pretty-boy Hollywood sort of way. He is funny but not in a “look at me tell jokes” sort of way. He is talented but not in an “I can cry on cue” sort of way. I like him because he comes across as someone I could enjoy a beer with. He is everyman.
Like Jimmy Stewart before him, Tom Hanks has built a career playing the everyman.
Money Pit – A new husband overwhelmed by a home in disrepair
Big - A kid who wants to be an adult
The Burbs – A suburban guy with suspicious neighbors
Turner & Hooch – A man and his dog
Joe vs. The Volcano – A guy who loathes his job and seeks adventure
A League of Their Own – An exasperated baseball coach
Sleepless in Seattle – A widower looking for companionship
Forest Gump – A endearing man with below average intelligence
Saving Private Ryan – A teacher from Pennsylvania
I could go on and it would be well worth it. A trip down Tom Hanks lane and you’ll be stopping to look in every window.
But I’ve noticed in recent years Hanks has been playing more and more “real” everyman: Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips), Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks), James B. Donovan (Bridge of Spies), Chesley Sullenberger (Sully). That’s four films in the past three years in which he has played a biographical character.
One could argue that Walt Disney is not an everyman, but when Tom Hanks plays him, Walt becomes one. He is a guy trying to keep a promise to his daughters, who tells stories about growing up in Missouri to make a point.
After seeing Sully this weekend, I pondered why an actor would choose to play so many biographical characters. Isn't it risky? Would it not limit the creative choices you have as an actor? I can only speculate. It could be as simple as Hanks wanting to make a movie with Clint Eastwood.
Or maybe it is because we lean forward when we hear a true story. When the everyman isn’t just a person, but that person. The story isn’t “What if” but “Here’s how.” We love stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. We love even more the stories of real people in extraordinary circumstances.
In each of the four biopic films Hanks played characters who, when the stakes were high, did their job to the best of their ability and because they did, they saved lives or in a way changed the world.
Isn’t that what we all want? We are all ordinary people who hope that when the moment comes we prove extraordinary. We want to be the everyman who is not everyman. We want to be like Tom Hanks.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES