He wasn’t convinced the epic and complicated Cloud Atlas would work on the big screen, but Tom Hanks is so glad he accepted his role – or all six of them actually. The mega-successful actor talks to Katie Wright
DO YOU remember that period of time when every movie had explosions and some guy running away?” asks Tom Hanks in that oh-so-familiar comforting voice. “It doesn’t mean anything any more.”
The actor’s explaining why his latest film, Cloud Atlas, has far more going for it than just its “eye-popping” CGI effects.
“That’s all secondary to the mind games the film’s playing,” Hanks insists. “I don’t think anyone’s going to say you’ve got to see this because of the special effects.”
Based on British author David Mitchell’s notoriously complicated best-selling novel, the film follows a single story – but it’s split over six different timelines spanning 500 years.
Intertwining historical plotlines in its assertion that all our actions have a consequence, even in the distant future, Hanks takes on numerous roles, including a doctor in the South Pacific in 1849, a nuclear power plant worker in 1970s San Francisco and a goatherd in 2321.
It’s a range reminiscent of the polymathic performer’s own varied career.
Born and raised in Concord, California, Hanks’s dramatic interest originally lay in theatre, something the multi-character Cloud Atlas shoot brought to mind.
“It reminded me of starting out in repertory theatre a long time ago and you’d have a six-play season,” he says. “In one production you’re playing the keeper of the dogs who says funny things, then in the next play you’re playing the Lord of Essex, and in another, if you’re lucky enough, you’d play Iago or Richard III.”
He admits that when he first read the Cloud Atlas script he doubted that such an ambitious story could be pulled off.
“It was the bodaciousness of what they were trying to do. It’s just the biggest thing imaginable. They had to explain it to us!” says Hanks.
“They” are writer-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski – the sibling team behind The Matrix trilogy – and German-born director Tom Tykwer.
“A lot of the time, screenplays speak for themselves butwith this one I actually said ‘you sure you can get the financing to make this?’” Hanks recalls.
But once the trio had him convinced, he was raring to go. “I went ‘I’m in, I’m in! Let’s go!’” says the 56-year-old with his characteristic enthusiasm.
Bringing together a truly stellar ensemble cast, Cloud Atlas also stars Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant, who each have at least six roles of their own.
Add to that Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy with another four roles each, and it becomes clear why Hanks wasn’t certain such a complex narrative would work.
Each actor depicts characters of different sex, race and age, and they all faced lengthy sessions in the make-up chair.
Despite being one of the most recognisable people in the world, Hanks has always shied away from the notion of “celebrity”.
After high school, he studied theatre acting and briefly moved to New York before relocating to Los Angeles, where he had his big break – quite literally – in the iconic Big in 1988.
Box office success and critical acclaim followed with 1990s romcom Sleepless In Seattle and hard-hitting Aids drama Philadelphia, which earned Hanks the Best Actor Oscar in 1994. He won again the following year for Forrest Gump.
It’s little surprise he felt the time had come to step behind the camera, and in 1996 Hanks directed – and starred in – the Sixties pop vehicle That Thing You Do!
In embarking on what fellow actor-turned-director Ben Affleck recently termed a “second act”, Hanks has racked up successes to rival his earlier acting achievements.
At the top of that list, he produced and starred in D-Day juggernaut Saving Private Ryan, which garnered 11 Oscar nominations, and was directed by Steven Spielberg.
He and Spielberg teamed up again, this time as executive producers, on Band of Brothers, a critically-acclaimed TV series based on the movie.
As Hanks broadened his professional scope, the accolades continued to pour in.
In 2002, he was named the youngest person ever to receive the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award aged 45.
That same year he produced the smash-hit romcom My Big Fat Greek Wedding with his wife Rita Wilson.
Hanks and Wilson – a successful actress in her own right – will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year.
While the milestone 60th birthday may be looming ever closer for Hanks, it seems he’s not lost any zest for life or his craft, and epic projects like Cloud Atlas show he has no intention of slowing down.
“I’ve seen the movie three times and I’ve seen more and more stuff that I’d missed every time,” he enthuses.
And while it may ask the big philosophical questions, Hanks is keen to emphasise that Cloud Atlas is very much “a fun, epic motion picture”.
Given his films have grossed more than £5bn worldwide, this is a man who knows what he’s talking about.
Cloud Atlas is released in cinemas on Friday February 22