A double Oscar-winner in the 90s as Best Actor, Tom Hanks now turns his talents to his ﬁrst film as writer-director. He tells Anwar Brett about how his first exposure to The Beatles inspired That Thing You DO.’ .
Think Tom Hanks. and you might think of many things. ‘Nice‘ probably pops into your head pretty quickly. followed by ‘()scar‘. ‘astronaut'. ‘box of chocolates‘ — now add to that list the word ‘director‘. Cinema‘s latter-day James Stewart hasjoined the ranks of actors-tumed-directors. but where peers such as Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson tackled epic subjects in Dances With Wolves and Brave/lean. Hanks‘s effort is relatively modest by comparison.
That Thing You Do! follows the fortunes of The Wonders during the heady summer of I964. when their debut single storms to Number One and they experience the highs and lows of the music business that go with such sudden success. The story — also written by the director. who takes a small role in the ﬁlm — is like a broad description of that which makes Hanks the actor appealling: it‘s warm. funny and sweet. but with an unexpected edge when necessary. And its inspiration. Hanks confides. takes him back to his own childhood.
‘I was the youngest in my house.‘ he explains. ‘My sister was a teenageer in 1964. my brother was a pre-
teenager. so everybody in our house was older than I was. But in February that year. The Beatles appeared on the lid Sullivan Show and even I was aware that this was a social revolution taking place.
‘I liked the music and I liked the look. Up until that point. music for kids was like Chubby Checker performing ‘The Limbo‘ or Lesley Gore crying ‘It‘s My Patty‘. Instead. here were four guys who had completely different clothes and were playing their instruments themselves. I was aware that it was something that had affected everyone. we talked about it at school. my dad had opinions about it. it was all that we cared about. I guess because I was eight years old. and the memories are much more vivid than any memories I had when I was 28. it has always hung with me.‘
And so. on a publicity tour for Forrest Gmnp. Hanks found himselfjotting down ideas fora screenplay as a way of keeping his mind focused. Unexpectedly. he discovered that the story came together better than he had hoped: so much so that after a few more drafts and a bit of outside advice. Hanks‘s new career as a writer-director was born.
‘I talked to almost every director that I’d ever
Direct action: Tom Hanks gets behind the camera tor That Thing You Do
worked with - and some that I hadn‘t — before doing this. and they all said the same thing: “There‘s nothing I can tell you. you'll ﬁgure it out.“ As soon as we began. I realised that I was at the mercy of stuff that I never ever could have begun to prepare for. It was just a question of trying to break everything down. break the day down into scenes. break the scenes down into set-ups. break the set-ups down into individual moments. break the moments down into words. There‘s no substitute for doing it any other way.‘
And yet. for all the expected Tom Hanks-style candour and charm. one suspects that he knew exactly what he was doing when he went to Twentieth Century Fox with his little movie. Certainly he seems to have no doubts that the studio would green light his film.
‘You know what.’ he grins. ‘l’m a big movie star that they want to keep happy. and I‘m giving them a script for a $25 million movie that I’m going to act in too. Do you think they‘ll say “no way!“. No. I think I got them over a barrel. They had to say yes. and that’s exactly what happened.‘
That Thing You Do.’ goes on general release on Fri 24 Jan.
Back to school
‘I wanted to take the Spielbergian image oi suburbia and subvert it,’ is how writer-director Todd Solondz remembers starting out on Welcome To The Dollhouse. Iiis tart and acerbic portrait of lite ior one junior high school outcast is certain to be one oi this year’s hottest us Indie titles. ‘Contrary to what you might read in the papers, eleven and twelve-yearbolds in most oi America aren’t having sex and shooting up all the time, because they’re so busy coping with the terrors oi seventh grade. All that stuti’s a distraction
In the tram: Todd Solondz directs Welcome To The Dollhouse
that gets in the way oi what I wanted to explore, which is that uneasy juncture between the end oi childhood and the onset oi adolescence.’
Built around a remarkable performance from young Heather Matarazzo as much-put-upon New Jersey schoolgirl Dawn Wiener, Solondz’s iilm balances scalding humour and aiiectionate insight in its story oi emotional survival in the midst oi daily humiliation and rejection. Although the modest resources show, it’s the ieeling oi hard-won authenticity that pervades the iilm and gives it an unsettling potency. Even though Solondz himseli jokingly coniesses ‘just tor the record, I was never a little girl’ he also reckons that ‘although nothing in the movie happened to me, it’s as ii it had’.
A box otiice record-breaker in some US arthouses ioIIowing the buzz that
surrounded it at the Sundance Film Festival last year, the iilm’s hard- edged treatment oi pre-pubescent slanguage and attitudes shocked the American censors’ advisory Panel oi Mothers who retused to grant the trailer an Ii-ratlng in case iamllles should see it by accident.
‘lt’s not really a movie that kids are going to get Into, even though it’s about the things they might be going through,’ contends Solondz, who has iound his current success ten years or so atter he was ilYIJ iilm school’s hottest young thing. ‘lteally, it’s a grown-ups’ picture because it’s a reminder oi how tough a time that was, and perhaps it makes us wonder it maybe we’re not so iar removed as we’d like to think ourselves.’ (Trevor Johnston) Welcome To The Dollhouse opens at the Demo, Edinburgh on Fr124 Jan and we Glasgow Film Theatre on Fri 14 Feb.
The List 24 Jan-6 Feb I997 23