Sometimes you just have to give into cliches because they’re actually true. In the case of Tom Hanks‘ latest film Captain Phillips, when I saw it last week I literally was at the edge of my seat. Even though I knew how this real-life story about a cargo ship captain who was kidnapped by Somali pirates ended, the tension in the film builds a layer of suspense that is overwhelming. It’s one of Hanks’ best roles in a career full of great roles, and he spoke to The Wall Street Journal about portraying the real-life captain, working with the inexperienced actors who played the pirates, and — since he was doing the interview with a New York paper — whether he plans on returning to Broadway.
Hanks reveals that in his conversations with the real Richard Phillips the former captive admitted that he did share a few laughs with his captors. Hanks explains, “He told me there were times he laughed with the pirates. They made jokes as best they could. He’d say something and they’d come back, saying ‘I like you, Irish. You’re funny.’ So I got to do all this work of hidden preparation and I never have to tell anybody about it. I don’t have to even show it. I just have to know it. And then when it comes out, it comes out in a palpable way.”
One of the challenges for Hanks was that most of the scenes are just him and the four young actors who play the pirates — all of whom had never appeared in a movie before. However, Hanks points out that his co-stars made up for their lack of experience by preparation. He says, “Making a movie is kind of a racket. You just gotta learn these particular kind of things, and what you actually have to be disciplined about is not to be self-conscious. Some people can never get over that self-consciousness. And other people can. I think our four guys could. They had rehearsed a lot—like six or seven weeks before we even got down there, so they were ready to make it work. After that initial rush in, there was a little bit of awareness that they were making a big movie with me and Paul [Greengrass, director] and everybody else. But we were over that in seven minutes and got back in the teeth of it. So I never had a moment’s discomfort or worry about working with these guys.”
Hanks is known for being very open on his sets, and he reveals that it has to do with his “no crying in baseball” philosophy — there is no place for a prima donna. He says, “There’s something to be said for you the actor being accessible. Very early on, by way of the first job I ever had, I realized you can be a real ally to the production. You can make things happen easier if you show up on time, if you know your lines well, if you have ideas.”
For example, though Hanks doesn’t criticize actors who are determined to stay in character throughout a shoot, he admits it’s more of his nature to try to have a good time and build friendship with his co-stars. He points out, “There are long sequences where, you know, you just want to keep it going. It actually does aid the process. But I’ve found you can let it go, then bring it into sharp focus and let it go again. Say, for example, if you require a sort of camaraderie amongst the other people in the scene, you might not be able to create that if you maintain the reality of the thing you’re doing—but you can get it if you’re just a bunch of guys making a movie. The fact is that you can’t substitute the truth when the camera’s rolling. So I respect anybody who gets there any way they can. I’ve worked with people who [stay in character], and I think it’s fabulous. And I’ve worked with other people where all we do is laugh all day long, and that brings something to it as well.”
Hanks ends the interview by making a promise to fans of his work this summer in his first Broadway role in Nora Ephron‘s Lucky Guy. He’s asked if he’ll ever give Broadway another shot, and he reveals, “Here’s what I learned about Broadway: It’s a physical process. I did go into it with this question in my head, whether I could live up to the rigors, both physically and artistically. All I can tell you is that it was more of everything than I thought it was. So, I am going to come back as soon as I can—that might not be for another four years, but I will come back.”