- The Washington Times - Monday, December 13, 1999

CENTURY CITY, Calif.
Images hover in the mind: the trembling platoon captain in “Saving Private Ryan,” the scruffy baseball coach in “A League of Their Own,” the insomniac suitor in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
But for Tom Hanks, the man who inhabited those characters, there are other memorable moments in his 20 years in the movies.
“You don’t want to give out a list of the kind of hits they show in those clips retrospectives,” he says, looking scraggly in a dark beard and mustache, a black Adidas baseball cap, a gray corduroy jacket and a striped shirt.
“For me, the fun was the whole launch sequence of Apollo 13.’ I think it’s magnificent. I absolutely love it. And there’s a lot of stuff in Saving Private Ryan’ that I think is special. But it’s mostly in areas when we were trying to be authentic, like when it’s raining …
“At the same time, that piano dance in Big’ with Robert Loggia we didn’t even know what we were doing but it certainly is magic when it shows up on screen somehow. On the set, we were just trying to survive the day, because it was like doing jumping jacks for 7 and 1/2 hours.”
In his new movie, “The Green Mile,” Mr. Hanks, with understated subtlety, plays a sympathetic prison guard on death row in the South. When a child killer lands in his cell block, something miraculous happens.
It’s the kind of role that seems custom-made for Mr. Hanks. Still, when you’re saying the lines, you never know whether the truth of the instant will illuminate the story, the 43-year-old actor says.
“When we were shooting the park bench stuff in Savannah with Forrest Gump’ and me and [director] Bob [Zemeckis] were sitting around mapping out the lines, we looked at each other: Bob, is anybody going to care about this? What are we doing? We’re trying to jury-rig this thing. Does it make it possible for it to make sense to us? Is it going to make sense to the audience?’ You have no idea. You’re walking an absolute minefield.”
The minefield for Mr. Hanks was plotted when he was in high school watching a classmate emote in a production of “Dracula.” Mr. Hanks was so thrilled by what he saw that he decided to try it himself.
He auditioned for “The Cherry Orchard” at the University of California at Sacramento, where he met the director of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival who urged him to intern with the company.
The leap from repertory theater to Hollywood wasn’t exactly express mail, but Mr. Hanks found himself in a cheapie slasher movie, “He Knows You’re Alone,” in 1979 and was on his way.
A year later, he was cast in his first sitcom, “Bosom Buddies,” during which he pranced around in drag, torquing up the laughs. “That was the greatest job in the world,” he says with a grin.
“I knew absolutely nothing about being on camera when that began and the other TV stuff I did. I could tell you more about the week I spent on The Love Boat’ than I can tell you about making of Bonfire of the Vanities.’ It was a very powerful time and I couldn’t believe I was there, but I had no idea what I was doing.”
Mr. Hanks learned. His role as the mermaid’s suitor in “Splash” plunged him into the deep end of the talent pool.
Movies began to spill out, “The Money Pit,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “Joe Versus the Volcano” some good, some not so good.
“I have a tendency to do this thing which is denigrate all the movies that I’ve made,” he says. “That’s a bad thing… . But, in fact, the stuff that I was learning at the time was really important and I think there’s great stuff in all of them. I think I did good work in all those movies… . The nature of the stuff that fascinated me, the themes I thought I could bring something to when I was 27 or 32 were very different than they are now. I look at those movies [and think], That’s not a bad job.’ “

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