The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 9, 1996 · Page 18
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 18

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Wednesday, October 9, 1996
Page 18
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WEDNESDAY. OCTOBER 9, 1996 APPLAUSE THE SALINA JOURNAL HANKS PROVES TO BE NICE GUY BEHIND THE CAMERA By BOB STRAUSS c. 1996 Los Angeles Daily News LOS ANGELES — After safely returning from the moon, illuminating the human side of AIDS and representing an entire generation's experience, Tom Hanks had to figure out what do for an encore. So he made a movie for a song. "It's a huge test, it's a risk and all of that kind of stuff," shrugged Hanks, who makes his feature writing-directing debut with "That Thing You Do!" after starring in a remarkable string of megahit movies: "A League of Their Own," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Philadelphia," "Forrest Gump," "Apollo 13" and (in voice only) "Toy Story." "But in all honesty, any time you take on a job, it's going to be another risk.. 'Cause it all comes down to: Is it gonna be any good and is it gonna do well?* At a relatively cheap $26 million, "That Thing" should do OK. But for Hanks, the real test lies in how much this very personal project reveals about its creator's personal — yet immensely audience-pleasing, not to mention double Oscar-winning — worldview. The answer appears to be quite a lot. "That Thing" is a jaunty little period piece, set in 1964, about a one-hit band called, appropriately, the Wonders. It chronicles the group's heady rise from obscurity to the top of the charts — and its even swifter collapse. With a cast of mostly unknowns (Hanks himself takes a secondary role as a slick record exec), exuberant . energy and an almost impossibly innocent tone, it's a finger- snap of a movie. Which isn't the easiest thing in the world to make. But Hanks admits that he had no delusions of making another "Forrest Gump" here. "Writing the screenplay was a real good task," said Hanks, who started the script as a kind of distraction from what seemed like a never-ending promotional tour. "I could see getting up to Page 7 and it falling apart. And you know, it's not the greatest screenplay in the world. But it is a cohesive whole from the beginning to the end, and that ended up being like one of those crossword puzzles you just have to finish." Of course, Hanks made certain that the project would hold his interest. He purposely set it in the same youthful baby boom era as "Apollo" and much of the hugely popular "Gump," not just because that seems to be his lucky movie period, but because it was also one of the best times of his life. "If you're going to write something, especially for the first time, you'd better write something that you kind of know and that you really love," Hanks, 40, noted. "Otherwise, you'll probably be wasting everybody's time. And I love the music of the period." Hanks also loved the freedom and creativity he associates with the time. "I was 8 years old in 1964," he said. "My dad was in the restaurant business and between marriages then, and us three kids were at home alone — my sister was a teen-ager and I was the youngest — most of the time. So we just ran the house all by ourselves, and it was a fun place to be. We were relatively responsible; we were just goofy kids that made each other laugh all the time. But it was a wild, raucous blast." A good description of "That Thing's" kicky vibe. As the kids from Erie, Pa., gradually experi- ence their garage band's rise through local talent contests, regional airplay, a national tour and, finally, chart-topping success and all the media attention L.A. has to offer, they rarely cease jumping around, squealing and otherwise acting thrilled. That aspect of the film not only reflects Hanks' childhood, but his early adulthood as well. "That first time I had a job and was traveling across the country to take it, it was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me," confessed Hanks, who grew up in Oakland, went to school hi Sacramento and began acting professionally with Ohio's Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival. "I wasn't making it, but to be just a guy who studied theater arts in college because it was fun and then getting an offer to go back to an exotic locale like Cleveland and be paid ... oh, there was no greener pasture to be found." One aspect of "That Thing" is not slavishly informed by Hanks' personal memories. As lovingly as the movie re-creates the mid-'60s, there was one thing he just didn't want to hear about. "Look, I don't want to hear 'I Get Around' unless I choose to do it under my own auspices. We've just heard those '60s pop hits too many times," said Hanks, who nixed actual music of the era from appearing on "That Thing's" soundtrack. "Now they're all over television, Madison Avenue uses them all the time and, also, other movies use them — 'Forrest Gump' used them like crazy. "And there are movies with names like 'Only the Lonely'; guess what the title song is. So, we were going to be re-creating 1964, but one of the original things we could do was give the audience new music." To that end, Hanks himself wrote several tunes for the film. But, for the title number, which • would be repeated over and over throughout the movie, something more than a superstar actor's best effort was needed. More than 300 potential songs based on the film's title were submitted by writers from across the nation. The winning entry was penned by 28-year-old New Yorker Adam Schlesinger. "I wrote the title, and a lot of people said, 'That better be a good song,'" Hanks said of what was arguably his most crucial directorial decision. "There was a lot of stuff that it couldn't be. It couldn't be a spoof, it couldn't be a sound-alike, it couldn't be a generic choice that we were making. It couldn't be something that was very reminiscent of stuff we'd heard before, yet it had to be reminiscent of stuff we'd heard before. "We weren't looking for an anthem, we were looking for something very much like 'Please Please Me': something th'at had wordplay that wasn't stupid, something that had a tribal kind of drumbeat. It had to be a song that was gonna be completely done in roughly two minutes and 10 seconds. And it had to be something like 'Twist and Shout' or 'La Bamba,' that you could hear over and over and over again and produce some sort of joyous response. "Then we were actually worried that we'd find something we liked, play it to death and, just at the last minute, choose something else because we were sick of our original choice." Hanks is less detailed about the more mundane tasks of directing — probably because he was so exhausted he doesn't remember them too clearly. "It's like being at war, and it's In Stock Custom Frames Save 25% fSt S. 827-9200 5 Steel Lawn Rake Servistar 18-Tine Busier Lumber 1210 W.Crawford Salina 827-3618 PORK TENDERLOIN Small Fries & Shake 9th&Klrwln 823*8066 that way from the moment you open up the production office," he said of moviemaking. "Location scouts all by themselves are exhausting. So by the time you show up for the first day of shooting, you already need some sleep, you could use some exercise and you've eaten too many meals standing up — and you're just beginning the stuff that really counts, 'cause if you screw it up on that day you'll never get it back again." Helping Hanks out were producer Jonathan Demme, who directed the first of the actor's back-to-back Oscar-winning performances in "Philadelphia," and Demme's crack, longtime cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. This gave the fledgling feature director more time to concentrate on what you'd think would be his forte, working with the actors. But that turned out to be work he purposely approached with restraint. Directing a cast consisting mainly of young talent (Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott, reigning teen queen Liv Tyler, "How to Make an American Quilt's" hunky Johnathon Schaech) and close pals (wife Rita Wilson, former "Bosom Buddies" co-star Peter Scolari), Hanks vowed not to make the mistakes made by some directors for whom he has worked. "I never wanted to say, 'No, no, no, no, no!' That, to me, establishes an atmosphere of parameters, and as an actor that simply limits you. All I said to them was, just come in with something. You gotta show up on time, and if you don't know the words that I have written, please know what you're going to say instead of them. But more than anything else, please come in with some idea of what you want to do in the course of the scene." Of course, such a respectful directing style, coupled with the overriding pleasantness "That Thing" projects, is only going to reinforce Hanks' image as the nicest guy in movies. Although the tag rankles him a bit, the actor sees no reason to work for a different reputation. "I'm not anxious just to go off and change my image for the sake of changing my image," Hanks said. "I can manufacture that with a phone call, but that would be an artificial choice that would waste everybody's time. The reason why I take on these acting jobs that I do is because I think I understand the characters very, very well. "I think that the gig is to do something that is very familiar for the audience, and then to surprise them with something that is brand new. And when I get a chance to do that in a movie — to officially be a bad guy, say, in order to please certain segments of the public — then I'll do it. But not a moment before I'm ready." Hanks recently had an opportunity to play a shadier character than the guy moviegoers have come to adore. Veteran director Mike Nichols ("The Graduate," "The Birdcage") had bought the rights to the formerly "Anonymous" Joe Klein's satiric political novel "Primary Colors," and had sold the production package for big bucks to Universal Pictures with the understanding that Hanks was interested in playing the scathingly Clinton-esque presidential candidate. But after committing to starring in Steven Spielberg's World War II adventure "Saving Private Ryan" next summer, then agreeing to executive produce a 13-hour HBO series about the Apollo space program, Hanks said no to the still-unscripted "Primary" project. "I held out as long as I could, but my year was filled up, man," Hanks explained, denying at the same time that he balked at portraying a Clinton-like figure negatively (John Travolta will now play the part). "I've met the president a couple of times and I have voted for him, but I thought that was one of the cool things about the role, that it's obviously this veiled, gossipy thing," Hanks said. Still, it's clear at this point that Hanks is more at home in an atmosphere of nostalgia, innocence and virtue. It's just the thing he does. "I think it's because I'm not cynical," he said. "It's not innocence; I'm aware of everything bad that's going on. But I have a faith in the human ability^ to make things better. You can make the world a better place, all you have to do is choose to do it. "The difference now is that cynicism is probably a much easier thing to dramatize. The conflict that comes out of cynicism is probably .better entertainment than hopefulness. But I think that I am, at. heart, a hopeful person. And that's the stuff that is reflected by my work." Your Hearing Aid could be this small! 827-8911 1-800-448-0215 Hearing Aid Service 234 S. 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