Special Episode: The Contagious Kindness of Tom Hanks
Hi It's Taffy. Ackner a feature writer here at the Times. Michael Barbaro handed me his show today. So that I could tell you a little bit about a profile. I wrote a few months ago about Tom. Hanks go ahead. I'm right here care. When I interviewed him. I was not myself. I was really sad from missing my kids. I was sick and I tried to be a real professional in this interview. I fell apart a little bit and Tom. Hanks comforted me to cry to me because I and I realize now that now that we know that he and his wife Rita Wilson are in quarantine Australia with the corona virus. I'm thinking a lot about contagion but also thinking a lot about him and other things that are contagious in our world like kindness and consideration. There's so much panic and worry out there. I hope you listen to the story which will be read to you by Samantha's and I hope that hearing about my time with Tom. We'll give you some comfort as well Here is a list of stories about Tom. Hanks I've heard over the last few miserable months as it appeared that politeness and civility and manners were facing extinction event in this country once in two thousand eight when he was shooting angels and Demons in Rome by the Pantheon a bride and her father couldn't approach the chapel because of the Hullabaloo so hang stopped filming escort them to the altar. Once in two thousand fifteen. He stopped by table girl. Scout Cookies and bought some boxes donated an additional twenty dollars then offered selfish to passersby as an enticement to buy that same year he found a young woman student. Id in a park and used his charming twitter feed which is filled with found items to get it back to her once in nineteen ninety seven before shooting saving private Ryan Steven Spielberg sent. Hanks and other cast members out to do military training in the woods with a former marine. After spending time in the rain they all voted to quit the training. Except for Hank's who chose to obediently perform the job. He was hired for and spurred the other men to stick with it as well. These are the regular nice acts of a person who holds the mantle of every man and our movie star culture but lately they have signified more than simple good deeds. There's something like the embodiment of a gold standard of mentioning which is not just gone from the culture at large but now plays like a parody of it there's more Spielberg once said about him. If Norman Rockwell were alive today he would paint a portrait of Tom. Quick who is your favorite president is it Abraham Lincoln well. You'll never believe this but Tom. Hanks is related to him. The maiden name of Lincoln's mother. Nancy was hanks and yes. It's the same hanks quick. Who was your second favorite president if it's Barack Obama? Here's what he said about his true life. Friend Hanks at the Kennedy Center Honors Reception in two thousand fourteen. People have said that. Tom Is Hollywood's. Every man that he's this generation's Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper. But he's just Tom Hanks. And that's enough. That's more than enough. Two years later Obama gave him the Presidential Medal of freedom. The day after Hanks's new movie a Beautiful Day in the neighborhood in which he stars as Mr Rogers debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. He was sitting on a bench in a hallway outside a conference room. Making jokes to a group of publicists waiting for me ahead of the appointed time. That does not really ever happen and actor waiting for me ahead of the appointed time versus clearly dreading me. Two hours passed it. I think a long time ago I learned how important it was to show up a little bit early. Hanks told me be ready to go. You know and to respect the whole process and I think that you could respect the whole process even when the other people don't so Tom Hanks is as nice as you think he is. And exactly what you hope him to be. Which is great unless you are someone trying to tell a good story about him. With elements like an ARC and narrative tension saintly actor playing saintly public television children's host. Mr Rogers is saintly is not a great story. But what am I supposed to do? He sat facing me cheerful and focused and willing. Maybe this could just be a story that makes you feel better an hour later. He sat on a panel with the filmmakers and other actors all of whom seemed Giddy to put a Mister Rogers movie out into the world relaying. All the stories they had heard about him Tom. Juno who wrote the nineteen ninety eight article in Esquire that the movie is based on would talk about the way. His interactions with Fred. Rogers changed his life. You sit there and you listen and it's hard to believe that those stories are real in our first interview there in Toronto Hank Sat back in a chair with his left ankle pressed against the top of his right Patella. He was wearing clear plastic framed glasses and a beard for shooting news of the world which is set in the aftermath of the civil war and our interviews. He says Oh dear and Jeez and for crying out loud. He is a history enthusiast. He is an information enthusiast. He is an enthusiasm enthusiast. At one point I can't remember why he recited the preamble to the constitution in the panels after the premiere. Some of the questions seemed to be based on the notion that Tom Hanks is so wonderful. And Mister Rogers -I that he just had to show up and read some lines since. Hey they're both essentially the same easygoing. Nice man with graying hair. This created as close to a crisis as the people who made this movie will probably have. It has been twenty four years since Tom. Hanks won an Oscar two in a row for Philadelphia and forrest. Gump it has been eighteen years since he was even nominated even though he has had an unrelenting leading man career that includes the last three devastating minutes of Captain Phillips so while other movies this year opened a PR disaster around the offscreen behavior of their stars or directors or producers. It was this that the beautiful day team felt. They had to get in front of the notion that Tom Hanks wasn't acting when he was playing. Mr Rogers at a panel journalists suggested that. He's actually playing Tom Hanks but just slower. But the slowness of Fred Rogers. The unselfconsciously considered slowness was hard. Hang said it felt ridiculous when he first tried it out. He studied hours of tapes because sometimes he couldn't imagine that he was supposed to go this slowly. When you get over that there is some point where you just go. Oh dear Lord this just has to be slower and it's not dumber. It's a combination of procedure and behavior. That was singularly Fred Rogers. It wasn't just about pace though. It was about a specificity of cadence an intention when Hangs Watch those tapes? He saw that. Mr Rogers was always talking to a single kid. A single person two feet on the other side of the camera screen. They said when you were talking to Fred you felt as though you were the only person in the world that mattered to him performance. Aside it's not hard to see why the director Marielle Heller wanted him so badly for the role. He bears a somewhat passing physical resemblance to Rogers which was a good start. He is most often cast in roles. That need what Robert Zemeckis who directed forrest gump. Among other hanks movies calls that Classic Everyman Quality Over my reporting many many people told me what an every man he is. But Mr Rogers wasn't an every man it didn't hurt that whereas Mr Rogers was the closest thing my generation had to a living saint even Mother Teresa got cancelled eventually. Tom Hanks was the closest thing we had to Mr Rogers. An uncomplicated seeming scandal freeman with a long career who never had to issue a public statement that included the phrase. It was a different time in other words. Having Tom Hanks cast as Mr Rogers removes a layer of suspension of disbelief. That is the burden of a movie depicting real life person. Hanks had read the script years before. But while Mr Rogers is the hero of the story he's not necessarily the protagonist of it and so it felt like just another midlife crisis movie about a man dealing with a fraught relationship with his father but by the time a revised script got to him. Circumstances had changed back in two thousand fifteen. Hanks read a story on female directors in The New York Times magazine and had decided he wanted to make an effort to work with some of them that week at his granddaughter's birthday party he met Heller who had been featured in the story. He went home and watched her debut the diary of a teenage girl and told her that he wanted to try to make something work a few years later now attached to Beautiful Day. She sent the script over to him. And here we are. I think it's an essence thing. Heller told me of Hank's pretrial which she insisted on that panel and to me was performance. It's something in the energy and the essence and behind the is that you feel the same way looking at him as you feel looking at Mr Rogers. And that was what was important to me. I never wanted him to be doing an imitation a week after our first interview. A member of Hanks's team would call to plan our second interview and she would casually bring up that he was actually acting as Mister Rogers and that yes he was nice but he was very much more than that and please. Maybe I should not tell another story in which Tom Hanks is simply depicted as nice and then she told me a story about a time. She was with him and route to the airport and was feeling a little nauseous in the car. She was trying to make sure he didn't notice but he did and he changed seats with her so that she could sit the way she needed to. In order to feel better. I then told her the story of the time. I interviewed an actor in a hotel lobby where I was so sick. That a member of the hotel staff came over and asked if I needed painkillers or a doctor. And the actor not only hadn't noticed but continued to not notice even after this happened. What she was saying was that playing any role successfully takes talent and work. What she was also saying is that being nice is a choice in. Can you say hero? The magazine article that a Beautiful Day in the neighborhood is based on the writer Tom. Juno follows Fred Rogers as he interacts with children and commits acts of kindness and empathy. That are simple yet totally astounding but the protagonist of beautiful day is not named Tom. Juno he's named Lloyd Vogel in the Movie Lloyd. Matthew Reese is an esquire writer with a bad reputation who's broken relationships with his father and his new son have led to anger and despair. His editor assigns short piece on Mister Rogers. That changes his life. The movie veers into science fiction when it features a female editor in chief and a ninety s era esquire staff filled with people of color and the last part of the article. Juno prays with Fred Rogers at Rogers's behest and he writes that his heart felt like a spike. And then in that room it opened and felt like an umbrella that just being around him was enough to make him see the world differently and then to be loved by him was enough to make him a completely different kind of journalist and a completely different kind of person but neither the movie nor the magazine Article. Tell the real back story of the meeting. Juno who is a friend of mine profiled Fred Rogers after writing a story in nineteen ninety seven in which he in fact outed Kevin Spacey who only recently revealed that he is gay after metoo scandal. The story briefly. May Juno something of a pariah in Hollywood and flung him into soul searching about the kind of writer he wanted to be. He'd had a ruthlessness to him. He told me in Toronto. He didn't want to be ruthless anymore. It was then that he met Mister Rogers who prayed for him and his family every day and who kept a file on Juno which the screenwriters Michael Fiterman blue. No Harp. Stir found in Rogers's archives in Pittsburgh in that file. He laid out four pillars of journalism that he hoped Juno would stick to one. Journalists are human beings not stenographers human beings not automatons to point out injustice when you have to three point out beauty when you can four be aware of celebrating the wonders of creation. It's been a long time since a magazine article about celebrity could sell tickets to a movie. But Hanks doesn't mind doing interviews. I hate doing disingenuous. Press the stuff that you have to essentially perform through the whole damn thing though he can now smell the ones that are just trying to get something incendiary into a headline ones where the writer says. Tell me about that divorce in nineteen eighty five. He and his first wife Samantha. Lose the mother of his son Colin and his daughter Elizabeth Split. Hanks then married Rita Wilson. Who WAS HIS CO? Star in volunteers. They've been married since nineteen eighty eight and have two sons together. Chester and Truman. There has not been much drama in this marriage department. So he'll say what we got divorced. What happens next confuses him more? Then they'll say why won't the sky let me really get to know him. It's because we're going to be spending altogether about two hours of my sixty three years on planet earth getting to know each other. I committed something akin to the line of atrocity one. I asked him if he had a dark side. He said yes and finally finally. I'll get to tell it to the New York Times. An hour interviews. He doesn't evade any questions but he doesn't spill either. He doesn't appear to have a need to be known by his public but he also doesn't have the same strains of contempt for journalists that I've seen from other movie stars. Maybe that's because he's never been truly screwed by one but just as likely it's because he believes in the truth the best articles I've ever read. That have come out have been an accurate reflection of the time I spent without journalist. He said that night in my hotel room I watched the Kennedy Center Honors. From two thousand fourteen. There's a moment when the acapella group Pentatonic things that thing. You do. The title track from the movie. Hanks directed and starred in about a boy band that is filled with a kind of wholesome debonair. Charming and witty characters that he tends to favor at the ceremony as the group sings. Hank sits in the balcony with Wilson right behind him waving his head in joyous uncomplicated. Beat for maybe two seconds. A second camera goes to the grown. Hanks children the audience each of them singing along and bobbing their heads. To Colin is an actor and owns a handkerchief company called Handkerchiefs Elizabeth is a writer. Chester has been chasing a rap career with attendant rap controversy and now plays a rapper empire and Truman is working on film sets and his father tells me has a degree in mathematics from Stanford. I watched those two seconds at the Kennedy Center may be ten or twelve times Tom. Hanks got his first typewriter when he was nineteen. He told me this at our second meeting which was in Santa Fe where he's shooting news of the world. It was a Sunday and he just come from seeing ad. Astra with his youngest son Truman. He'd altered his schedule that day for me. Santa Fe has an elevation of seven thousand. Two hundred feet and I've woken up breathless and gone to an Urgent Care Center for oxygen that morning so after they'd gone to an earlier movie than they had planned. He met me in a conference room at a hotel ahead of schedule so I could leave town earlier than I planned. He walked in wearing a big straw hat and the same beard. He'd had in Canada. Once a person I was interviewing showed up four hours late so that our interview began at eleven pm. Hanks grew up in northern California in the area of the Zodiac killer. Patty hearst and the Black Panthers and the People's Park riots. He was five when his parents divorced and he and his older brother and sister went to live with his father while another brother lived with their mother. Both parents were in rough shape just trying to survive. His father worked in a variety of small restaurants remarrying again and again and moving every few months. He and his siblings had the run of the house while their father worked long hours. They didn't eat the frozen vegetables he brought home and they mostly knew what time it was because of what was on television. No one told me how to brush my teeth. He said I never lost until I was out of high school because dental hygiene was handled by film. Strip that we saw in second grade. That said really tried to eaten apple and that cleans your teeth so hey ahead an apple last week so. My teeth are kind of clean. He was never angry at his parents. He still not. He saw how hard it was for them to function. They never explained things to him now. He knows it's because they didn't have the verbiage they didn't have the vocabulary and they were so wracked with self loathing and guilt and etcetera all that stuff that went along and there were four of us for God's sake and they just you know couldn't do it now I've got four kids myself and as soon as you start having your own kids you go like oh I get it. He remembers once asked him on her show about his dysfunctional family growing up and he thought what's that. Oh that's us. He'd never thought of himself that way but somewhere underneath he must have known that something was off because he had started accumulating a lot of typewriters hundreds of them it was something about how he never got to keep the things he loved through all of his family's moves now that he's sixty three and he's thought a lot about it he realizes that when he was young he'd often have to move on a moment's notice and was not in charge of packing so he often lost things that were important to him. I had nothing. Actually that stayed with me all through my life. I don't have anything from what I was five years old. I don't have anything from what I was three like. I said he was nineteen when he got his first typewriter. A friend gave it to him. It was a hunk of junk a toy. He said he went to get it. Serviced and the Repairman said to him. This is a toy. Why are you using a toy? The man sold him a Hermes two thousand which is now lost so he in a mother I said. Oh yeah this is going to stay with me for a while and I am soothed by it. I'm soothed by having it. I'm sued by knowing that I can take it anywhere with me. Everyone I spoke with about him told a story about notes. They received from one of his typewriters. Sally field recently received a note from Hank's that conveyed how moved. He was by her two thousand eighteen memoir in pieces. She was kicking herself because she has yet to convey to him how much she enjoyed his book of short stories uncommon type which he had read a year earlier. She also told me about the weekly newsletter. He wrote on laptop on the set of forrest. Gump about happenings among the cast and crew a weekly newsletter. He loves typewriters. Because they're brilliant combinations of art and engineering but art engineering and purpose. He said every machine is as individual as a set of fingerprints. So every time you type something on a typewriter it's a one of a kind work of art. He even created a sweet little APP called. Hank's writer that allows you to type and send a message. Rendered TYPEWRITER STYLE. When he started collecting them he was married but he was just as transient as he'd been as a child. He was getting gigs on the love boat and at the Great Lakes Theater outside Cleveland. He began to collect typewriters. May Be because he finally had control over his belongings even though he still moved a lot when he thinks about that time he said I start thinking about mistakes. I made with my own kids and not explaining things or not being there for them or being so preoccupied with other things that are going on in our adult world. My son Colin was born when I was very young as well as my daughter but that means we have this gestalt understanding because they remember when their dad was just a guy trying to you know. Make the rent my other kids. They were born after I had established a beachhead in every way and so their lives were just different. I told him then that I'd watched his Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony. Probably more times than is appropriate. His older children have weathered divorce and uncertainty. His younger sons have weather to life of wealth and privilege and I wanted to know how you could be a transient person. Trying to make a name for yourself in the world and also end up with children that sing along to your songs with great affection when you're done raising them. My children are getting older. The oldest about to turn twelve. I told him and I felt like lately. Everything I said was misunderstood. Everything was seen as criticism are nagging and suddenly. I could clearly see how a child who used to want to lie in bed with you and watch movies on. His birthday could drift towards someone who could barely look at you. Someone who didn't understand that all your insistence was just about being a good person in the world and the myriad ways to do that and the even more myriad ways you could stumble upon the opposite this coupled with an awareness. That being good wasn't so simple anymore and that I ran the risk of my children seeing behind the nagging and criticism down to my basic daily deeds and finding that I wasn't so good in the world that at best I was neutral. It isn't easy being a parent not for any of us. He said somewhere along the line. I figured out the only thing really I think eventually a parent can do is say I love you. There's nothing you can do wrong. You cannot hurt my feelings. I hope you will forgive me on occasion. And what do you need me to? Do you offer that up to them? I will do anything I can possibly do in order to keep you safe. That's it offer that up and then just love them. He looked at me for my next question and when he saw my face he said okay. Go ahead I'm right here for you taffy. It's good to cry. It's good to talk somewhere in the last forty years Tom. Hanks came to the conclusion that he doesn't scare anyone. I recognized myself a long time ago that I don't instill fear in anybody he said. Now that's different than being nice. You know I think I have a cashier of mystery. But it's not one of malevolence so when people ask him why he rarely plays a bad guy that's what he says. It's because I never get them because bad guys by and large require some degree of malevolence that I don't think I can not that. All of his characters are saints. He played an assassin in road to perdition and a terrible villain as one of the several characters. He played in cloud atlas but that was under an awful lot of makeup. He said but he can't play a villain who wants to destroy for no reason because he can't bring himself to understand what that motivation might be. That's one of the reasons has production company play tone options and develop so much nonfiction material. It's why he ends up playing. So many real people real people real motivations. They are complicated and realistic ways. But it's more than that. He favors stories of extraordinary acts. That are based on reality proof that extraordinary things exist that they don't just have to be imagined. It's a movie with optimism. It's a role where you get to wear a uniform and a hat. It's a debonair man with good values. Who has the perfect comeback? It's war heroes and the promise that science will make us better and how history should be memorized. It's a belief in humankind that we can't all be that bad. I laughed out loud. He looked at me again and waited. It's just all been so dark lately. I told him if feels like the world has been engulfed in chronic seeming grimness and it was beginning to feel like it was no longer an aberration but the new reality. I told him I remembered that. In two thousand fifteen. We'd make jokes on social media about what cursed year it was but it got worse and so on until now here. We are a journalist crying in a conference room and Santa Fe. He told me. About these speculative fiction books he reads by Kim Stanley Robinson in one of them about New York in the year twenty one forty. It says history is a record of humanity trying to get a grip. It's completely relative. He said and if you had gone back not very far this level of vitriol and excitement and worry was just as huge back in the Monica Lewinsky Era. And we thought. Oh that's about as big and as insane as it's going to get and then along comes something equally big and insane then. He told me about a trip. He and Truman took on the Los Angeles Light Rail. So many people complain about public transportation and most people as recognizable as Hank's wouldn't dream of using it but while he was on the train he couldn't think of a thing you'd complain about he couldn't stop marveling about how well it worked. What a miracle. It was meaning things. Were always this bad but they were also always this good lately. He's been giving away his typewriters now that he's had a home all these years and stability and a wife who sings to him and children who bring his three granddaughters to visit him regularly. He wants to get a little leaner on stuff again. He's down to about a hundred and twenty one day. He'll just have won the won. He'll keep as the Olivetti latter twenty two the same model they keep at Moma. I told him I make too many mistakes to work on a typewriter but Tom. Hanks is more optimistic than I am. It was this optimism. I'd been hoping to capture when I took on this story. It was this optimism. I was hoping to marinate end so that I feel a little better about the world for a couple of hours a day for a few weeks. I've been depressed lately and the amount time you have to spend researching a profile reading the old articles re watching the movies. What helped me avoid any kind of subversiveness an exchange. My story would be boring. It's okay I told him. Some stories are boring and maybe it was because this paragon of professionalism spent half of the interview crying or maybe because hanks felt bad about my altitude sickness or maybe this is just what it means to be nice but this is what he said to me. Let's not call this dark side but I realize and I used it over and over again. The ability to Seduce a room Seduce a group of people and that it started off when I was very young as a self defense mechanism but then turned into a manipulative kind of thing. Because I didn't realize that I was as good at it as I was and part of that is I am not malevolent. I am not mysterious. You're not going to get a huge amount of anger out of me or anything like that. I'm not coming in to dominate a room. But I am coming in to seduce it. Somehow the niceness is the seduction. It's the thing he can do better than anyone and it also helped him hide. He said I thought the thing to do was to win the moment more than carry through with an idea. I'd come to a meeting and they'd say I understand. You have problems with the right. I'd say no. No no hell we can make it work. That's cowardice there and that's me being willing to seduce. Whoever that person is on the other side of the room in which what do I come off as? Oh He's got no problem he can make it work he's a good guy to work with etcetera etcetera which is not much by way of darkness and all it really proves is that Tom. Hanks is even nicer than I thought he wants to. Save my story from being boring which I could do on my own. I could make a convincing argument. That performance art as a nice person from your public actions to your choice of roles as altruistic heroic types is a way to hide from expanding your range. I could ask questions about that weird. One sided feud with Henry. Winkler who was fired from directing Turner and hooch after thirteen days and who recently told Andy Cohen that he got along great. Great with that dog I could call old assistance to try to find out what he was really like back. Then since the most recent ones I spoke with were warmly talking about how wonderful he is but if I had that kind of instinct. I was worn down over the next few weeks as I spent hours on the phone with people who knew him. Well the things they said about him. Were both remarkable end. Unremarkable Heller called him a human. Who treats everyone like People Meg Ryan who starred with him in sleepless in Seattle and other movies said he has an astronomical curiosity Peter Scolari who co starred with him on the Sitcom Bosom Buddies and then lucky guy on Broadway called him this very special man who was touched by God. Sally Field told me that Tom Hanks is so good that it actually makes her feel bad. She calls him once in a lifetime. Tom Hearing that made me think of something Tom. Juno said to me in Toronto how he went into the Mr Rogers story looking for WHO? Fred was but came out knowing only what he did. He stared at all his reporting for a long time before he realized that the doing is actually the thing we should be paying attention to. I don't know if Fred was the mask or the mask was fred he said but in the end does it even matter. I'm not sure where we got the concept of an every man but Tom Hanks isn't really it. I don't know people with hundreds of typewriters. He is the platonic ideal of a man. A projection of what we wish we were. Or more worrisome. A theory of what we actually are and well. Have you read the other pages of this newspaper? I am too old for Mr Rogers. My children are too old for Mr Rogers too so instead I showed them splash than forrest. Gump than big than a League of their own. I showed them that thing. You do and parts of castaway I told them about the man who heard I wasn't feeling well and adjusted his schedule for me. I told them that it doesn't matter. Why do nice things all that matters? Is that you do them. And one day something changed. I had just finished toy story. Four and suddenly all my algorithms were recommending open hearted movies with heroes and good values and I realized that I had begun to feel a little better. My heart was never a spike. It was always an umbrella but sometimes it would invert against a storm that day. I- recalibrated and suddenly my umbrella was upright once again able to shield me from the weather. It was enough. It was more than enough. This is an accurate reflection of the time Tom. Hanks spent with a journalist This was recorded by autumn autumn. As an APP you can download tell us into lots of audio stories from publishers such as the New York Times If you happen to Richard In my question to you know just let me know wonderful You already know that the daily is the best way to wake up. But do you know the best way to go to sleep? It's on thoughtful mattress. 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