Suggesting that Tom Hanks’ producing career threatens to overshadow his acting has the nifty potential of being both insulting and wrong.
Neither Oscars nor bankable box office should be dismissed, which is why the Film Society of Lincoln Center is honoring Hanks Monday night in New York for his acting achievements.
Still, Hanks’ Midas touch as a producer, all the more remarkable considering the challenges Hollywood faces, has become harder to view as a secondary endeavor.
“He’s still probably the No. 1 box office draw in the world, but he’s a fully engaged and very, very successful producer,” says HBO West Coast operations and programming group prexy Michael Lombardo. The pay cabler is the outlet for several Hanks projects.
If nothing else, Hanks himself is integrating the two careers with, if not ease — using that word that would diminish the doggedness of his efforts — then a nimble authority.
“The stuff that we’re producing out of the home office (production company Playtone) has its own timeline and schedule,” Hanks says, “and it goes on for a long time, so essentially we’re always producing. And when the jobs come along as an actor, there’s a very finite beginning and end. I just leap and go off and get it done and keep up as much as possible.”
Those close to Hanks credit his passion and instincts for his success, and Hanks agrees those are the aspects of producing that come most naturally.
“Everything else is a ridiculously hard and frustrating job,” Hanks says. “But somebody coming in with an idea: That’s the most fun — to imagine it for the first time either based on something someone has told us or the work that they have done or that somebody has read.”
But Hanks is nothing if not studious and detail-oriented, especially when it comes to blockbusters like this year’s WWII-set “The Pacific” (for HBO), which is well-positioned to win him more laurels. Along with partner Gary Goetzman, Hanks has shepherded mega-minis “From the Earth to the Moon,” “Band of Brothers” and “John Adams” as well as third-year series “Big Love.”
In addition, Hanks, Goetzman and Playtone have backed such critical and/or popular features as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “The Polar Express,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Mamma Mia!”
“We don’t have to be in business,” Hanks says. “It’s not a volume thing. But it seems like we have a lot of stuff (that we want to do).”
His interests range from grand projects to intimate movies that don’t overwhelm studio cash registers but do boost promising filmmakers — or at least attempt to.
“Our motto is ‘No good deeds go unpunished,'” Goetzman says with a laugh. “We’re never going to stop trying to nurture people along and help projects we love, but it’s a tough town.”
Adds Hanks: “There’s a lot of things that we’ve been fascinated in that didn’t go anywhere. We still face up to all the realities of the marketplace that everyone else does. We go to our grave saying, ‘We thought that was a great idea.'”
Nevertheless, there’s no denying that Hanks has succeeded on some major efforts with a high degree of difficulty.
“Tom’s gravitational pull with history — it sometimes pulls you into events that are so huge,” Goetzman says. “It requires hard work, and you just have to keep chipping away.”
One endeavor weaving the different threads of modern-day Hanks — actor, producer and mentor, not to mention father — is “The Great Buck Howard,” a long-gestating, Playtone-produced film in which Hanks appears in a supporting role with son Colin in the lead.
When writer-director Sean McGinly got Colin Hanks onboard with the project, he was warned that wasn’t a ticket to the big man himself. But eventually, a meeting did happen.
“I kind of thought it was going to be with a couple of executives with Playtone,” McGinly recalls. “Next thing I know, Tom Hanks is there. He’s read the script and knows a lot about it and has a lot of questions about it … ‘How do you see this? Where do you want to shoot this? Who do you see playing this role?’
“His whole thing was really just, ‘How can I help you make this film the way you want to make it?'”
By contrast, on the days that Hanks was on set to perform, McGinly says, “He was completely there as an actor — I can’t recall him saying anything as a producer.”
Hanks says he consciously avoids producer 911s when he’s about to go onscreen.
“You have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he says. “In order to change courses, there’s stuff I can do over the long haul … but often it takes weeks.”
But after his acting was done, the producer returned, with Hanks watching the film multiple times in post-production, offering his notes on editing and then talking up the low-budget project upon its premiere.
So even as Hanks receives his Lincoln Center honor for acting, his producing achievements will be tough to ignore. After all, they both emerge from the same principles.
“Authenticity is the main, No. 1 thing,” he says. “I have to recognize the logic, and (the story) has to adhere to its own logic.”
What: Film Society of Lincoln Center Annual Tribute Gala
When: 9 Monday night (EST)
Where: Alice Tully Hall
Who: Tributes by Nora Ephron, Ron Howard, Sally Field and more