'Cast Away'

In the past, he’s fought wars (“Saving Private Ryan”), battled AIDS (“Philadelphia”) and gone to the moon (“Apollo 13″), but Tom Hanks’ greatest accomplishment may be carrying “Cast Away” to box office glory with only a ratty vollyball supporting him.

“The thought process was simple,” says Steve Starkey, one of the film’s producers about the film’s central drama. “Do you want to see to see this guy survive?”

Obviously audiences did, having shelled out nearly $120 million by early January.

But Starkey, who also produced “Forrest Gump,” says Hanks brought an additional dimension to what was a very physical role. He says audiences are interested in seeing whether Hanks’ character can “survive emotionally, (including) what happens when he comes home. It isn’t just about physical survival.”

But the physical demands for this role were grueling. After porking up, Hanks dropped approximately 55 pounds, which he accomplished by working out six days a week, burning up to 1,400 calories at a time.

Shooting for the film began in January 1999 in the Fiji islands and continued until April. Production shut down, at which time director Robert Zemeckis concentrated on “What Lies Beneath,” and then Hanks, Zemeckis, Wilson the volleyball and crew returned to Fiji in March 2000.

Such a hiatus might have strained cast and crew, but Starkey notes Hanks’ close working relationship with “Gump” collaborator Zemeckis kept things running smoothly.

“They (Zemeckis and Hanks) would have brief discussions on particular scenes. One would say, ‘We should do it like this,’ and the other would say, ‘Let’s do it like that.’ They have a shorthand based on their experience together.”

So nearly a year later, Hanks was forced back into survivor mode, much lighter on his feet.

“I can’t imagine anyone else in this role,” Starkey says. “I can’t think of another actor today who is as compelling as Tom. He brings a truthfulness to everything he does. You believe him in the roles that he chooses to do.”

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