INTERVIEW: Tom Hanks on his latest movie Captain Phillips
When Captain Richard Phillips was ambushed by pirates, he never expected Forrest Gump to turn up at his door. As Tom Hanks brings the captain's incredible story to life, he tells Susan Griffin how he prepared for what could be an Oscar-winning role.
TOM Hanks thumps down a set of steps into the room, head thrust forward, arms swinging by his side in slapstick fashion.
It's quite an entrance and sets the tone for the interview because, despite the serious nature of his latest movie Captain Phillips, which details the true story of a container ship's captain who was held hostage by Somali pirates, Hanks is keen to keep things light.
"I was attached to this screenplay by way of the studio route," the actor says modestly, when asked about being cast. What he actually means is that being a two-time Academy Award winner and, well, Tom Hanks, he can call the shots and dictate who the director will be – not the other way round. "They [the studio] said they were looking for a director and when they came around to Paul Greengrass, I said, 'Well, that would just be fine and dandy!'" he quips, in that comforting, familiar voice.
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A former documentarian, Greengrass has always been drawn to stories that dig beneath the surface of contemporary events: from Bloody Sunday set in Northern Ireland, to United 93, about the hijacked 9/11 plane that crashed near Pennsylvania after passengers thwarted the terrorists.
This made him the perfect helmsman for Captain Phillips, which proves to be a nerve-jangling, pulse-pounding 134 minutes.
Although it's a multi-layered examination of the hijacking of the US container ship Maersk Alabama in 2009, at the film's centre is the relationship between Captain Richard Phillips and the Somali pirate captain, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), who takes him hostage.
It's not a documentary, of course, and Hanks was keen to make that clear when he first met Phillips. "I told him, 'Look, I'm going to say things you never said and I'm going to do things you did not do, but based on that, let's get as close to the DNA of the authenticity as possible'."
Hanks had conversations with Phillips, and his wife Andrea, a couple of times at their home in Vermont, America.
"You know, it's not the most realistic of moments to walk into somebody's house and say, 'Hi, I'm the Forrest [Gump] guy, yeah that's me, and I will now be playing you in a film whether you like it or not'," says 57-year-old Hanks, whose rubbery features retain a sense of boyishness, though there's now a hint of silver around his temples.
"But right after the hijacking happened, Rich was speaking to the media a lot. So he understood the oddity of it all and accepted it completely."
The performance builds to an incredibly emotional climax that's bound to leave audiences gasping for breath.