Tom Hanks: ‘Actors are insufferable, selfish and paranoid’

The actor is currently promoting his latest film, ‘A Man Called Otto,’ in which he plays a taciturn, lonely retiree. ‘There is a crisis of faith in the future,’ he reflects

Tom Hanks atiende a los fotógrafos el lunes al mediodía en el hotel Ritz de Madrid.Photo: Borja B. Hojas (WireImage)
Gregorio Belinchón

Dressed in a dark jacket and white shirt, Tom Hanks, tall and thin since suffering a bad case of Covid-19 in Australia on the set of Elvis, was recently in Spain to promote his latest movie, A Man Called Otto – the Hollywood version of the Swedish film A Man Called Ove, which was nominated for two Oscars in 2016. The production is a gentle comedy, less incisive than the original, in which Hanks plays a grumpy, recent retiree who will be awakened from his malaise by a Latin American family that moves into his small neighborhood. As he speaks, Hanks radiates good vibes and in his responses it is sometimes unclear if he is teasing, or perhaps hiding the truth behind a joke.

Question. You will obviously define yourself as a good neighbor, but what about yours?

Answer. The United States is interesting in that sense. We don’t usually talk much with our neighbors. Europe is very different that way. And focusing on Los Angeles, where I live, few of its inhabitants were actually born there. It’s the typical city you move to, so there are almost no full-blooded Angelenos. Therefore, there are no traditional communities. You greet each other when you walk the dog, you worry if you see firefighters next door... not much else. Also, in my case, I have never lived in a neighborhood where people knew each other.

Q. Speaking of that lack of communication, even A Man Called Otto touches upon the current polarization.

A. It’s terrible. It has been increasing over the years. [In the US] there are communities with different religious beliefs, different holidays... We are full of divisions that are emphasized depending on your source of information, the news channel you watch on TV. Curiously, we usually enjoy those cultural differences and invite friends over to our own particular festive celebrations, because the difference itself is not bad. Another thing is the political differences.

Q. Are politicians to blame for America’s polarization and radicalization, more than ordinary people?

A. Well, within the human being there is an impulse to defend your status quo. We often feel that others are coming to destroy it. However, when something destroys the lives of a community in my country, like a tornado, for example, everyone comes to help and no one asks about their beliefs or ethnicities. It’s one of the few things that unite us. In the movie, the tornado is Marisol, the Latin American mom, because she’s unpredictable, like a force of nature.

Tom Hanks in ‘A Man Called Otto.’
Tom Hanks in ‘A Man Called Otto.’

Q. Recently, you joked about how you got this role [”For 365 nights, I slept with the producer to get the part”]. What has your working relationship been like with Rita Wilson, your wife and the film’s producer?

A. [Laughs] I have to say that we had been talking about it for a long time and, in the meantime, we founded a family. In this particular case, I plead guilty: I am competitive and selfish. When I see an interesting male lead played by someone else, it hurts me and makes me wonder if I can do something similar. I saw A Man Called Ove, I got excited over Rolf Lassgård and I was drawn to the more cynical part of the character. Could we take it to the US? Rita told me: “Be careful not to transfer it, because they are different societies, but to reformulate it, and you should play it.” And there I jumped and told her she was right. That’s how production began. We looked for a director we could form an alliance with and we went with Marc Forster, because I love his vision. We delve into the crisis of faith in the future that we are experiencing in the US. The other day we had dinner with Fredrik Backman, the author of the original novel, and he emphasized how different our movie seemed to him from the book, without abandoning its spirit. That’s the key. The lesson is that you can’t make a film a second time; you have to embark on a new vision as an artist. My wife, the producer... sorry, Rita Wilson, the producer, saw that clearly and we went ahead.

Q. Do you really believe that there is a crisis of faith in the future, as the film suggests?

A. Of course, it happens all over the world. And it’s an individual battle that must be faced. As human beings, we must understand that the tragedy of loneliness is sinister. Otto no longer has a family, or a job, or any close contact with other people. And that is deadly. You can place this story in any society and it still works. Remember what I told you about the tornado and the common goal of rebuilding? Well, the thing is that a hurricane might not be necessary for us to think about uniting. And today we push our fellow human beings away for too many unfair reasons, such as age.

Hanks with his wife, Rita Wilson, and his son, Truman, in Madrid.
Hanks with his wife, Rita Wilson, and his son, Truman, in Madrid.MARISCAL (EFE)

Q. Otto uses work as a way to hide from life. Have you ever done that?

A. Of course. I’m an actor! I do it all the time! As soon as some responsibility comes up, I dodge it by saying ‘Sorry, I’m working, I have to stay focused on my role.’ That’s why I do this. Seriously, when you act you feel fragile, and at the same time it’s very easy to disconnect from those around you. The trick, if you can call it a trick, is to keep in mind that it’s a job to make a living, not a life in itself. Having a family is a great life experience, it resets you. It’s also wonderful to be somewhere for two or three months, in a completely different place, and then come home. Well, actors are insufferable, selfish, paranoid... [laughs] We are! We don’t know how to do anything, we need help for everything and conversations have to revolve around “me, me, me.”

Q. Did you ever consider doing something other than acting?

A. Never ever. At university I learned that acting is a collaborative art, and if I already liked it, that’s where I got hooked. It’s a job that grows in conversations with other actors, the director, scriptwriters, set designers, wardrobe, photography, sound people... I’m lucky because I have some qualities that go well with acting: I’m noisy because I speak loudly, I have a certain charm and a complete lack of self-control, I’m definitely funny. I got my first professional job in my 20s and I never had a hard time nor have I had to consider other paths. I have been lucky.

Q. Before, the kind of grown-up movies that you make used to be common in Hollywood. I’m talking about The Bonfire of the Vanities, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Cast Away, Sleepless in Seattle, The Green Mile or your collaborations with Steven Spielberg. Today, A Man Called Otto seems like an exception in the industry.

A. Not just in Hollywood; it’s happening all over the world. The trend was heightened by the Covid-19 lockdown, and there is a kind of film that is disappearing from theaters because the audience is not going there. The genres that succeed in theaters have changed. Storytelling has evolved and people enjoy adult stories up to 10 hours long, but at home, in a different environment. It’s harder for those movies. However, the argument that adult audiences are no longer interested in films made for them is false. Turn on the TV or browse a streaming platform and you will see talent every day.

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