“Steven does this incredible thing when he casts you: He empowers you with the scene.” – Tom Hanks on Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is already getting rave reviews, and much of that is because of the performances of Tom Hanks as U.S. lawyer James Donovan and stage great Mark Rylance as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, whom Donovan defends in court despite public outcry. Speaking at the New York Film Festival premiere of the film, Hanks spoke about working with Spielberg and Rylance in the Cold War drama.
Spielberg has directed Hanks in three previous films — Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, and The Terminal — and though Spielberg is universally recognized as one of the best filmmakers who ever lived, Hanks gives him credit for still collaborating with his actors. He explains, “Steven does this incredible thing when he casts you: He empowers you with the scene. He wants you to come in with ideas that are beyond the page, beyond the text and even I think beyond the purview of your own character…Everybody is required to come up with something. Whether you have lines in the piece or not. And when you do that, Steven becomes giddy…You think ‘Oh, man, I’m really glad I showed up on time. I’m really glad I knew the lines, and I’m really glad that I had an idea that he never saw.’ It strikes fear in your heart because you don’t want to screw up. But what he does almost instantaneously is come to you and say, ‘So whaddya got?’ And you show him what you’ve got,and he might not use it but he’s thrilled you came in with the energy. That’s what happens when you find out you’re in one of his movies.”
While one might think a major star like Hanks and an acclaimed stage actor like Mark Rylance wouldn’t feel obligated to rehearse, Hanks reveals that he actually asked Rylance to meet up so they could work on their major scenes. He explains, “Before we started, I cold-called Mark out of the blue and said, ‘We’re both in town. We’ve got a huge f—ing scene to shoot on Tuesday. Why don’t we go over it a little bit before we show up on the set?’ We spent a couple of hours and we just ran all of our scenes again and again and again and we got to know each other and got past that. It would have been really rough to have had to shoot the load that we had to shoot and honestly have only met for the first time on that day. We just got past the self-consciousness. We’d already had wonderful conversations about the work that I’d seen Mark do and vice versa, but we also began to experiment with what that relationship [between Donovan and Abel] was that starts off totally official, total legalese and did in fact evolve into a lot of personal affection between these two men.”