He wasn’t convinced the movie would work, but Tom Hanks is so glad he accepted his six roles in the epic Cloud Atlas. He tells katie wright all about it.
‘Do you remember that period of time when every movie had explosions and some guy running away from it?” asks Tom Hanks in that oh-so familiar, comforting voice. “It doesn’t mean anything any more.”
The actor’s explaining why his latest film, Cloud Atlas, has far more going for it than just its “eye-popping” CGI effects.
“That’s all secondary to the mind games the film’s playing,” Hanks insists. “I don’t think anyone’s going to say you’ve got to see this because of the special effects.”
Based on British author David Mitchell’s notoriously complicated best-selling novel, the film follows a single story – but it’s split over six different timelines spanning 500 years.
Intertwining historical plotlines in its assertion that all our actions have a consequence, even in the distant future, Hanks takes on numerous roles, including a doctor in the South Pacific in 1849, a nuclear power plant worker in 1970s San Francisco and a goatherd in 2321.
It’s a range reminiscent of the polymathic performer’s own varied career.
Born and raised in Concord, California, Hanks’s dramatic interest originally lay in theatre, something the multi-character Cloud Atlas shoot brought to mind.
“It reminded me of starting out in repertory theatre a long time ago and you’d have a six-play season,” he says. “In one production you’re playing the keeper of the dogs who says funny things, then in the next play you’re playing the Lord of Essex, and in another, if you’re lucky enough, you’d play Iago or Richard III.”
He admits that when he first read the Cloud Atlas script he doubted that such an ambitious story could be pulled off.
“It was the bodaciousness of what they were trying to do. It’s just the biggest thing imaginable. They had to explain it to us!” says Hanks.
‘They’ are writer-directors Lana and Andy Wachowski – the sibling team behind The Matrix trilogy – and German-born director Tom Tykwer.
“A lot of the time, screenplays speak for themselves but [with this one] I actually said, ‘You sure you can get the financing to make this?’” Hanks recalls.
But once the trio had him convinced, he was raring to go. “I went, ‘I’m in, I’m in! Let’s go!’” says the 56-year-old with his characteristic enthusiasm.
Bringing together a truly stellar ensemble cast, Cloud Atlas also stars Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant, who each have at least six roles of their own.
Add to that Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy with another four roles each, and it becomes clear why Hanks wasn’t certain such a complex narrative would work.
Each actor depicts characters of different sex, race and age, and they all faced lengthy sessions in the make-up chair.
“The great thing about this is that we get to put on clothes and pretend to be different people we’re not. It was liberating fun every time,” says Hanks, who jokes that his distinctive features posed the biggest challenge for the make-up artists.
“I think of all the actors in the film, I’m the most recognisable in all six incarnations, because you can’t change the shape of this head!” he says, laughing.
Hanks thinks he probably spent more time in make-up preparing to play thuggish, modern-day Scottish author Dermot Higgins than he did actually depicting him on set.
But while Higgins is only on screen for a short time, he still makes an impressive impact and was one of the characters Hanks would have enjoyed spending more time exploring.
“He’s the epitome of the worthless celebrity,” says the actor. “Someone who’s done something despicable and because of that becomes famous and rich – it’s a magnificent comment on our time.”
Despite being one of the most recognisable people in the world, Hanks has always shied away from the notion of ‘celebrity’. After high school, he studied theatre acting and briefly moved to New York before relocating to Los Angeles, where he had his big break – quite literally – in the iconic Big in 1988.
Box office success and critical acclaim followed with Nineties romcom Sleepless In Seattle and hard-hitting Aids drama Philadelphia, which earned Hanks the Best Actor Oscar in 1994. He won again the following year for Forrest Gump.
Hanks and wife Rita Wilson – a successful actress in her own right – will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year. The couple have two sons, Chester and Truman, and Hanks has two other children, Colin and Elizabeth, from a previous marriage.
While the milestone 60th birthday may be looming ever closer for Hanks, it seems he’s not lost any zest for life or his craft, and epic projects like Cloud Atlas show he has no intention of slowing down.
“I’ve seen the movie three times and I’ve seen more and more stuff that I’d missed every time,” he enthuses.
“It’s hard because, the more we talk about it, the more I fear people will think this sounds like a symposium in college I fell asleep in.”
And while it may ask the big philosophical questions, Hanks is keen to emphasise that Cloud Atlas is very much “a fun, epic motion picture”.
Given his films have grossed more than £5 billion worldwide, this is a man who knows what he’s talking about
Cloud Atlas has just gone on general release across the UK.