• Golden Globe Awards

Tom Hanks,1993, on “Philadelphia” – Out of the Archives

Tom Hanks currently plays Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s manager. in Elvis directed by Baz Lurhmann.
He was the recipient of a Cecil B. deMille award and won his second Golden Globe in 1994 out of five he received for his acting from 11 nominations, for his performance in Philadelphia directed by Jonathan Demme.
In Demme’s film, Hanks played a homosexual lawyer with AIDS who wins an anti-discrimination lawsuit after being fired by his law firm, his case being argued by a Black attorney played by Denzel Washington who recognizes and overcomes his own homophobia.
The actor spoke about these issues to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press during an exclusive interview in December 1993.
Hanks, a heterosexual married man in real life, had no hesitation about playing a gay character on screen:
“I’m not concerned, because my wife and I are well known, but I don’t think it’s risky, because the audience is pretty hip and understanding and they’re not going to get freaked out by the fact that I play a homosexual in a movie.”
“Compared to what they see every day on the string of talk shows that are on every channel it seems at 4 O’clock, what I’ve done in this film is really small potatoes. There might be some degree of boldness in doing the movie in the first place, in trying to translate this story in some fashion that will attract people to come see it, so it can recoup its $25 million cost.”
“That might be bodacious, but for me as an actor to just show up and do it, I don’t see how that’s dangerous at all.  If their real quibble about my being cast in this movie is that I’m not really a homosexual, well I’m also not really a lawyer and I don’t know anything about opera, but I think that you will believe that I can do all three of those things after seeing the movie.”
This is how the actor researched the specific stages of the illness and was able to identify with gay men who suffered from AIDS:
“First I talked to a doctor who has been working on the AIDS crisis since it began in 1981 and he gave me an amazingly accessible education into what the virus does to your immune system and what that means to your body.”
“Armed with that, I then talked to quite a number of men who have AIDS and I asked them very straight, bold-faced questions.  I got back answers that you couldn’t believe for their frankness and their willingness to tell me not just about their health but about where they came from, about their sexuality, about their lives, about who they loved and their relationships with their family.”
“And from that I discovered probably the most important thing in being able to portray Andrew Beckett in the first place and that’s that I had a lot more in common with those guys than I probably thought I did. That we’re all confused creatures for an awfully long time and that, when you can make peace with who you are, that’s really when you become a man and that’s what most of the guys that I talked to had experienced, just like I did when I was young.”
“There were two different ends, no question about it, but there’s something about confused and lonely adolescents that cuts across the grain and I found that I had more in common with these guys than not.”
This is what Hanks learned about living your life as a homosexual from speaking with several gay men in order to research the role:
“One of the gentlemen I talked to was Tom Stoddard, who is one of the most visible activists on the Gay Rights scene. This is a guy who obviously knows the degree of social stigma that goes along with simply being a homosexual but is not going to kowtow to it for a single moment.”
“All the guys I talked to were very secure in who they were, their own sexuality and the concept of stigma.  Beyond that, they were not on the cutting edge of the AIDS dilemma. They had it many years after the fact and much of it is now well documented, so they knew what was going to be happening to them. The way they handled their own sense of mortality was an amazing thing to witness.”
“I’m presuming, that, because it is such a sure thing, they don’t even pay any attention to it; they take it one step at a time, because they know that their life can be prolonged for quite a while and they want it to be as long as possible.”
This experience made him reflect on his own mortality and appreciate his family:
“My view of my own mortality is quite paltry when you consider somebody who really has AIDS and is going through something that I only pretended to have.  The calendar of my own death somewhere in my pocket is a small change, but, in fact, you can’t do something like this and not go back to your home, be a lover or a husband or a father and not realize your own human dimension in the whole story.”
“The fact that Andy Beckett has AIDS pretty much decides his fate unto itself. He had not just been to a dozen memorial services for his friends who had died of AIDS, he had been to 300 or 400, so he knew what was going to happen to him, the toll that it was going to take on his body, so he wasn’t going to be surprised or shocked by how his body broke down.”
“In the course of the movie maybe we wrestle with how fair that is to a degree, and I know that at home I’m just an actor who has this job, but I wrestled with it in ways that I had never been expected to before.”
Tom Hanks does not believe that Philadelphia delivers a political message, but it’s the kind of movie that highlights our shared humanity:
“I don’t see it as a political tract, as some sort of lesson that is coming at the movie-going audience from Jonathan Demme or anybody else, I saw it as a chance to document, in a glamorous Hollywood, made-up, contrived motion picture, how we live in America in 1993, which is a very hard thing to do.”
“The fact that it had the big billboard issue of AIDS, the stunning, scary aspect of being about a man who is a homosexual, was of secondary importance to the idea that this is a very confusing and polarized time, that if all you do is pay attention to the headlines, the human element is absolutely lost.”
Philadelphia does, when it’s working at its best, it can capture in the human element. Other movies have done that very well, and the best example is The Best Years of Our Lives, with big movie stars in a very public forum, it captures what it was like to be alive in 1946. That’s what attracted me to this from a sociological bent. What it says is important only because it says it in human terms as opposed to purely political terms.”