Tom Hanks talks about viruses and victories at sea
It takes a while to go through the filmography of Tom Hanks, and the roles he’s chosen are as varied as imaginable: The lovelorn fruit man in “Splash,” the boy in a man’s body in “Big,” the cranky team manager in “A League of Their Own,” the fellow known as Forrest Gump, Woody in “Toy Story,” and most recently, Mister Rogers. But packed neatly in between those and so many other roles, Hanks has often been cast to play a man in charge, a man you could trust, someone who was up to making difficult decisions. And we would always be rooting for him. His Jim Lovell helped avert disaster in “Apollo 13.” His Captain Miller saved Private Ryan. His Captain Phillips stood up to Somali pirates in “Captain Phillips.” His Sully Sullenberger worked a miracle in “Sully.”
No doubt, Tom Hanks knows how to play a good man in a tight corner. In his newest film, “Greyhound,” for which he also adapted the screenplay from C.S. Forester’s 1955 WWII novel “The Good Shepherd,” Hanks plays Captain Ernie Krause, taking on his first command on the destroyer Greyhound, leading a convoy of ships across an unprotected stretch of the Atlantic Ocean, under constant attack by German U-Boats.
Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson recently recovered after a brush with COVID-19 while in Australia where he was scheduled to play Colonel Tom Parker in a new Elvis Presley film. Hanks spoke about “Greyhound” and the virus during a Webex video call.
Q: How are you feeling?
A: As the canaries in the coal mine for the COVID-19 experience, we had about 10 days of very uncomfortable symptoms. We were isolated in order to keep an eye on ourselves, because if any number of things went wrong with us, we would have needed expert medical care, but we didn’t. I guess we were model recoverers from COVID-19. But we were also isolated so that we would not give it to anybody else. Since then we’ve been doing the same isolating and social distancing that is being asked of the world. So, we are fine.
Q: Before we talk about the film, is there anything you’d like to say to your public about how to deal with the virus?
A: All we can really do is our part, the same as all those guys onboard Greyhound. All they can do is what’s expected of them, and hope for some combination of providence and serendipity to see them through. There’s really only three things we can do, in order to get to tomorrow: Wear a mask, social distance, wash our hands. If anybody cannot find it in themselves to practice those three very basic things, I just think, “Shame on you. Get on with it. Do your part.” Nobody has the answers to any of this. But everybody has a very simple proactive action they can take. Now, at the end of the day it might just be a drop in the ocean, in solving COVID-19. But, as is the point of a movie I made called “Cloud Atlas,” what is an ocean but a multitude of drops? If we all do it, we’ll be that much closer to the better day and the end of all of this.
Q: How did you happen to write the screenplay for “Greyhound?”
A: Seven or eight years ago I bought a used copy of C.S. Forester’s “The Good Shepherd.” I was attracted to it because it had its original cover on it. It was of Ernie Krause, gray-haired, exhausted, uniform flapping in the wind, a ship sinking and burning on the horizon as one of his crewmen is tapping out a signal. I thought, “That man is exhausted, that man has been through a degree of hell.” I have a bit of historical knowledge about the battle of the Atlantic, which this book is a part of. So, I picked it up because I read history for pleasure. On about page three, I realized that this was an entire story told through the mental perspective of its protagonist. Ernie Krause is not the captain that you would anticipate being in charge of the safety of all these ships. Not long after that, I had a very strong mental image of the DNA of the story, and how it could possibly be a screenplay. That began a seven-year process of adapting the book, to my own ends. I mean, when I was doing the writing, I just put in things that I and I alone wanted to see in a movie, because I had never seen them before.
Q: The film was made with a theatrical opening in mind, then the cinemas closed, and it was picked up by Apple TV+. What are your thoughts on that?
A: We are all heartbroken that this movie is not playing in cinemas. We had a movie that was ready to go, and that was timely because of COVID-19. The movie actually has a theme of emotional physical stasis. Just as Ernie Krause is in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, wondering when, how, if, he is going to survive and do his job, we are all in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, and we don’t know when, how, if we’re going to get out of it. With that dropped in our lap, the question was what can we do in order to get this movie seen? Well, Apple TV+ comes along as a savior, and gives us the opportunity to have the movie out. Now, it’s going to look different on your TVs. It’s going to have a different physical quality to the brightness and to the appearance of the movie. It’ll have a different sound than it would if you were hearing it in a cinema. That’s the reality. But it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different. It’s still going to be a 100% physiological experience.
Q: Do you have any current plans for a next film?
A: Nobody knows, me included. We were five days away from starting principal photography in Australia when the coronavirus shut down everything. When we go back to work is an X. We don’t know. It’s a question mark. But the time will come.
“Greyhound” premieres on Apple TV+ on July 10.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.