I’ll Give You $30: Tom Hanks on Cloud Atlas

The star thinks Cloud Atlas is 'one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


It’s rare that a star of Tom Hanks’ caliber even does roundtable interviews with the press, so sitting at a table with him for Cloud Atlas was quite an opportunity. And it was a real personal interaction, that began when he entered the room and noticed my notebook. I’ve been writing in a The Notebook notebook that I got at that film’s press junket in 2004, and Hanks is a fan of old writing implements. So yeah, I hit it off famously with one of the most famous people in the world to talk about an industry climate where a Tom Hanks movie from the directors of The Matrix is a tough sell. Hanks plays six different characters, from a post-apocalyptic tribesman to the cockney author Dermot Hoggins, in stories that are connected thematically and historically.

Tom Hanks: Wow, that’s gorgeous.

It is actually a The Notebook notebook, from the movie.

Where do you get this paper?

Office Depot sells refills.

I’ll give you 30 dollars for it. Just kidding. That’s the type of thing I love.

If you weren’t kidding it’d be yours. Is being unrecognizable in a character a rare thing for someone at your level? Even a transformative performance like Forrest Gump or Cast Away still looks like you.

You recognize me. You can tell it’s me every time I show up. When I saw the movie, you know in the scene where Meronym comes in and all the villagers, and I’m sitting there cranky and Georgie is whispering in my ear. The guy who says “fusion engines,” that was Ben [Whishaw]. I didn’t know that until I saw the movie. It was like, “I was there that day! I didn’t know that was Ben!” I like that it turns out that [Jim] Broadbent was one guy, just playing a goofy fiddle in the middle of Old Seoul or something like that. Take the word fun and infuse it with as much importance and delight as possible. Quite frankly, eating pizza is fun but doing this, I think for everybody, this was part of being in the greatest repertory theater company imaginable, and everybody was gentle, everybody was kind and decent. The process, though involved and sometimes very physically taxing, could not have been more rewarding for us as actors.

Did you not get to feel like you were unrecognizable since you said you always recognize you?

You can. I can say as Dermot Hoggins, there were almost 100 extras in that [scene], before we did anything, I was just in the crowd and nobody pieced together that I was the guy that was going to do something. So, that was fun.

Being a director and producer yourself, are you involved in the fight to get projects made, and were you able to help the filmmakers with the fight to get this made? 

I think both [Halle Berry and I] were in the position where we said, “We’re in! Does that help you? I’ll do it!” And that was two and a half, maybe three years before we got around to actually saying, “Okay, we’ve got the money.” I’d get calls from them about every six months, saying, “We’re plugging away. We’re almost there.” “Well, I’m standing by! Let me know.” We knew that it was going to be a Hail Mary pass, to some degree, because it’s not a sequel. It’s a one-off. It’s not a tentpole, it’s not a franchise. They should have called it Cloud Atlas 2. Everybody would have loved it. But, God bless ‘em. You guys know as much as I do that three years ago is now the ancient history phase of the motion picture business. When Inception came out, it was a movie that everybody saw five or six or seven times, but it was still dismissed as a one-off. At the end of the day, you could probably talk to marketing people or financial experts in the business who would say, “Well, the problem with Inception is that there’s no reason to make another one.” Now, that’s the antithesis of what art should be, but nonetheless, there we are. 

So why should this be such a “tough sell” as they would call it? Didn’t people just used to go see wild, crazy movies because they looked amazing and there were people they liked in it?

You’d think that would be the case. Look, filmmakers aren’t running the studios anymore. Sometimes people who like films are making it, but by and large, they have to go report quarterly earnings and all that kind of stuff. You know as well as I do that the competition is so huge that it’s very hard to get people to show up to see any movie in the theater, much less an original one that isn’t a version of something else they saw. I have a feeling that, 15 years from now, the remake of Cloud Atlas will get financing sooner than the making of Cloud Atlas will get. 

Can we get it back? Are people eventually going to catch on that original stories are cool?

With your help. It is your job to take this very idea. 

I’m trying.

Look, without a doubt, we all know that audiences crave something they’ve never seen before. That’s what they want. They want to be dazzled. They want to go in either to have expectations or to blow ‘em out of the water, or have no expectations and are dazzled by the decisions that we made. We shall say. I’m going to tell you right now, there’s going to be all sorts of articles about this, on both the business pages and in the entertainment pages that are going to say, “Well, here’s why there’s already two strikes against Cloud Atlas,” and none of them are going to say that it’s a great movie. They’re all going to say, “Oh, it’s this and it’s three directors and people don’t think that.” They will never even touch on the fact that, it’s hard for us to talk about this, but we think it’s one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. We’re not allowed to do that because we have all been together before to talk about other movies that we’ve been in and we’ve been lying through our teeth when we’ve said, “Yeah, it’s a pretty good movie,” [mumbles] “I hate this film.” The point being they have created something. When I first met them, Lana said, “I want to take something as important, as groundbreaking, and as new and scary as Moby Dick was the day it was published – and it was not a success when it was published – and 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie that played in theaters for probably four and a half years, and now is the classic it is, for all time.” Marketing people don’t want to hear that. They do not want to hear that. They want to hear, “This is a story about a guy who’s trying to get laid, and he can’t do it until he meets the cheerleader.” That’s what they want to hear.

Speaking of the greatest motion pictures ever made, what are some of your favorites?

I’ll try to get as current as possible because it’s so easy to say my favorite movie is a movie that I saw 30 years ago. I thought that Fargo was a brilliant motion picture. One of my favorites of all time, I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey about 120 times, or something like that. I think one of the greatest movies ever made is The Best Years of Our Lives, which follows that story of those three veterans, when they come back home. And the fact that they made that in 1949 is extraordinary to me. 

There are a lot of fans wondering if you’ll ever do a straight wacky comedy like The ‘Burbs again, and maybe Larry Crowne was that, but do you ever look for those types of scripts anymore?

I’ll read anything that comes across the pipe, but it’s got to be about something, at the end of the day.  I don’t think anybody is anxiously baiting their breath to see if I’m ever going to do a ‘Burbs again. 

Well, I’d have a whole list of favorites.

Of wacky? Okay, that’s good. Turner and Hooch, there you go.