Tom Hanks has played many real people throughout his career. Most recently, that list includes Ben Bradlee, the former managing editor of The Washington Post, who pushed the paper to publish the Pentagon Papers in Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Post. Here, the award-winning actor talks about the huge responsibility he felt in portraying the character, how he got into character, and more.
Tell me about your new film?
The name of the movie is The Post. It also features Meryl Streep, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, quite a few people, directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, and it is about a week in the life of the American Constitution vis-a-vis The Washington Post, trying to acquire and then publish what then became known as the Pentagon Papers, which was a top-secret study that was commissioned to examine the entire length of the American involvement in the war in Vietnam.
It happened to come along at the same time that Kay Graham, who was just coming into a position in order to either run the paper, or let a bunch of men run the paper, had to make the decision. It was her decision, or not to possibly break the law, to possibly go to jail, to possibly be branded a traitor by the United States government for printing this study that was put together by Daniel Ellsburg.
So in one week a woman was tested, a newspaper was tested, and the American Constitution was put to a test.
Tell me about your character.
I played Ben Bradlee, who was the managing editor. He’s the guy who decided what was on the front page and in the news; what stories were to be covered.
The New York Times are the people that really broke the Pentagon Papers. And, the competitive blood inside Ben Bradlee began to boil and he did not want to be just the hometown newspaper in the sleepy little capital of the United States. He wanted to be a first-run newspaper. He wanted to break the most important news in the world, because he viewed himself as being the boss of the best newspaper in the most important city in the world, and that was Washington, D.C.
So trying to find the same papers that The New York Times had was a dilemma, but eventually they did and they had a very short period of time in preparing them for publishing.
The federal government had forbidden The New York Times to publish any more articles. I think they were shut down after two days under penalty of arrest.
And Bradlee and Kay Graham viewed this as the most basic tenant of American freedom; Freedom of the Press to print the truth. And here was something that was written down as an official study.
So for the Washington Post to go ahead on their own and print the Pentagon Papers was to fly directly in the face of the Justice Department and, the Nixon Administration, and the question was if they did it would they be prosecuted for willingly breaking the law.
It went to the Supreme Court and if the Supreme Court had voted six to three against the New York Times and the Washington Post, everybody would have gone to jail.
But they happened to vote six to three in favor of the first amendment of the constitution; Freedom of the Press. And it’s one of those movies that takes place in a week and it goes by in a minute and a half.
Throughout your career you have played many real people….
Too, too often. But, yes.
Is it a huge responsibility?
Ah. That’s the word in itself; it is a huge responsibility. Because any time you’re playing somebody who truly was alive, for good or for bad, that becomes a version of an official record of what happened. What motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and what are the details of, how they got through the particular struggle, or the episode.
I will say it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer alive, because you don’t have to meet them. Although I did meet Sally Quin, who was married to Ben, and I had to make that announcement that an actor always has to make when he’s playing somebody who actually existed. I said, “I’m going to say things he never said, do things he never did, and be places he never was. But, despite that, I’d like to be as truthful as possible.”
You can capture the DNA of a moment and a decision and a story, but if the film makers start deciding that what really happened is not dramatic enough. Or if the events themselves do not clarify their intent clearly enough, they need to jumble it up in order to make it more exciting, because it is, after all, only a movie. But then you’re running the risk of essentially printing a lie. And I just can’t stand for that.
There are moments where you have to make a decision, “Well, he really wasn’t here. He didn’t find this out now. But he did find it out three days later, so what do you do?” There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself provided you are not turning good guys into bad guys, or you’re not turning knowledge into ignorance, or you’re not adding some sort of malevolence just in order to adhere to some sort of – “but the audience won’t understand!” I don’t buy that. The audience will understand everything if you just figure out a way to dramatize in an entertaining manner what really went on.
Did you have a key into Bradlee; like a shirt or the way he tied his tie?
I watched a lot of video on him and he had a couple of key gestures; he had a number of ways that he stood. He was a chain smoker. But [costume designer] Ann Roth put me in the most Ben Bradliest clothes, and somehow between the fit of the pants and the collars of the shirts, they do alter your stance.
Did you find that you started to walk like him off set?
No. Oddly enough once you take off that costume it’s like removing Superman’s cape; you don’t have the power to fly anymore.
Do you miss characters you’ve played when the shoot is over?
No, because they play themselves out they’re like bakery tickets. Every time you get something done, you know, that bakery ticket is taken and it’s gone, because you work your way through the entire arc of any individual character in the story and by the time you’ve finished it, even though you shoot it out of order, all the tickets are gone and it’s committed.
What I miss is, often times, is the camaraderie and the spirit of creativity that goes on that is almost always special on a movie. Sometimes it’s not, and you’re happy to punch the clock and head on home, but when it’s really a great group of people, and everybody understands the story you’re telling, and everybody feels as though they’re a part of the movie that you’re making, that’s the thing that you miss when it’s all over. It’s bittersweet when you literally say “goodbye.”
What was your first job, before you became an actor?
Selling soda at an Oakland A’s baseball game at the age of 14.
What was your first big audition?
The very first audition I had that for a bonafide, big-time show was for “Greece”, the road show of “Greece”, their Broadway 1950’s hit. I don’t think the movie had come out yet and there was going to put a touring company out on the road. I don’t really sing and I certainly don’t dance, but I went to the auditions and for three days in a row. I had such a bad cold that they kept calling me back until my cold was over. I sang a song called “I’m All Alone At the Drive In Movies” with a cold three days in a row, and on the fourth day I came back, sang without a cold, and they said, “Thank you very much.” And that was it.
Did you get depressed when you didn’t get the part?
No, no. I always felt that it was all a matter of timing and serendipity. I felt that I was better than 50 percent of the people there, and just as good as 45 percent of them, so that left 5 percent left over for the geniuses that you cannot touch. So the real swing was, “Am I the right height? Is my hair the right color? Am I going to look good with the other people that are on stage?” and, “Am I cheaper than anybody else who might take the job?”
There’s a lot of stuff that can enter into it. The truth is, you might be the second or third choice, which means you don’t get the job. But if the number one choice takes another gig then the number two can’t do the work because his wife’s going to have a baby, they’ll come around to you. So I was always just trying to make the top five.
Did you like the process of going to auditions?
Yeah. It was always exciting to be in the room and get the call. It was like a performance. It was like you had two minutes of a one-man show. It was always thrilling.
The trick was as soon as it was done you had to do yourself a favor. As soon as you auditioned you had to either go to Nathan’s and get a cup of fries, or buy a cheap pen and a notebook, or go to the bookstore and buy a paperback. You had to give yourself some sort of little treat after every audition so at the least you can say, “Oh, I bought that book after I auditioned for, “They’re Playing Our Song” and I didn’t get it.
You went up for a lot of musicals.
Well, I lived on West 45th Street and everybody I knew was in musical, but I stopped doing that after a while, when I realized that musicals weren’t for me.
What was the moment you knew you made it in Hollywood?
Oh my. I didn’t feel as though I made it until I realized that I could make my house payments for two years, and if my car broke down I’d be able to get it fixed. And that wasn’t until, uh, going to say 1983.
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Gal Gadot wears Moschino Couture dress; Fabergé ring; Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo shoes.
“[Jennifer Lawrence] came to see Cabaret and both of my contacts popped out of my eyes at the same time and my prescription is -900, which, if you know what that means, is like…I cannot see. So, they had to drag me off the stage in the dark and she came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘I couldn’t see anything! It was garbage! It was a disaster!’ And she was like, ‘Enough, enough. I’m your dance mom. You need to calm down.’”
Emma Stone wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Cartier earrings.
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Hong Chau wears an Etro dress; Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring.
“I’ve had a flirtation with Winston Churchill for years; there’s been a book of famous Churchill quotes on my bookshelf since childhood. To me, he was the man who won the war. And yet, when I was first asked to play the part, I thought, Don’t be ridiculous, and turned it down. But they came back, and it felt right. My wife said, ‘Look, you get to stand in Parliament and say these great words. What have you got to lose?’”
Gary Oldman wears a Canali suit; Boss shirt and tie.
“I always joke that Jason Dixon, the character I play in Three Billboards, is Barney Fife meets Travis Bickle. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect his southern Missouri accent. I did ride-alongs with a cop down there—he had a great twang. Accents should be practiced as if you’re drunk. Actors get a little tense when they have to do an accent. Drunkenness relaxes everything.”
Sam Rockwell wears a Marni trench; Editions M.R shirt; Simon Miller T-shirt; Huntsman pants; Rolex watch; Church’s shoes.
“My character in The Meyerowitz Stories is a sweet family girl, but when she sends films she makes in school to her family, you see her wild side. I’m naked in most of those films. I sat next to my dad at the premiere, and that was probably the most uncomfortable thing in my life. To see myself 75 feet tall and naked was not easy. I sank into my chair and heard my dad kind of laugh nervously. We pretended those scenes never happened.”
Grace Van Patten wears an Alberta Ferretti dress; her own jewelry.
“Being an actress, for me, is about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive in my life and also for the lives of others who face similar challenges. Life is scary, but art is not scary.”
Daniela Vega wears a Max Mara dress; David Webb earrings; Piaget necklace; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring (right hand); Tiffany & Co. bracelet and ring (left hand); Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“My husband is an artist, but he still has a hard time watching me sometimes. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Cannes Film Festival, he was both hypnotized and shattered. When he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul, it’s almost like it goes straight into him. His brain and heart don’t discern between acting and real life.”
Nicole Kidman wears a Prada top and skirt; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring; Jimmy Choo pumps.
Where was your first kiss? This is going to sound like a murder story, but it was in the woods, outside of a baseball park. I had lost my turtle. Curtis, the guy I kissed, found it.
Was that your first pet? No, it was a schnauzer named Ozzie. He hated us so much. He never wanted to be in the same room with us.
So what’s your porno name—first pet plus first street name? Ozzie Ormond.
What was your favorite Halloween costume? A picnic table. My mom wouldn’t let me be a witch or a ghost or anything demonic, so I cut a hole in a plastic cloth and went as a picnic table. The problem was I had a crush on this guy named John, and I was so pumped for Halloween because it was our chance to interact. And then I put my face in the tablecloth and was like, “Hi, John. Are you my boyfriend?”
Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior dress; Dior Fine Jewelry earrings and ring.
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Daniel Kaluuya wears a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Football sweatshirt and sweatpants; ’47 hat; Gucci socks; Kaluuya’s own sneakers.
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Brooklynn Prince wears a Baby Dior dress; La Coqueta shoes.
“I’m naked quite a lot in Beach Rats, and it’s a little strange to act when you’re naked. When the boom operator is standing over you, and you’re not wearing anything, it’s awkward. But, in the end, I didn’t find it difficult. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. Not in an ‘I’m happy to flaunt it for £5’ kind of way, but it does go deep into the psychology of someone trying to figure out their own sexuality, and their identity.”
Harris Dickinson wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, pants, and boots.
“As an actor, people put you in categories. It’s ‘Oh, she has an accent,’ or ‘She doesn’t have an accent,’ or ‘She can do this accent,’ or ‘No, she can’t.’ They’ll say, ‘She’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.’ So I know that for Fatih Akin to pick me was a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who casts unknowns or people he discovers who are not actors at all. In the beginning, he got a lot of backlash for it. And, in truth, I don’t think I could have played this character five years ago. Now I’m ready to shed any beauty look. I want to be stripped of any pretense, of any glamour.”
Diane Kruger wears a Rosamosario romper; Christian Louboutin shoes.
“When I was 14, I auditioned for an Off Broadway play. The scene was about a bris, the Jewish tradition of a child having the tip of his penis snipped off. Being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was, and I decided to pronounce it brie. Bris as brie. So I did the monologue, and, at the end, the director said, ‘Thank you very much, and it’s pronounced bris.’ I did not get the part.”
Ben Stiller wears a Gucci coat; Olatz pajamas.
“When I was 6, my favorite film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s got a lot of adult jokes, and it was really inappropriate for a child to see. In school, they asked us, ‘If you were to make a potion, what would you put in it?’ Even then, I could recall lines of movies, and I said, ‘The testicles of a newt!’ I got called up to the front of the class and was asked why I put testicles in my potion. I had no idea what testicles were—I just loved the film.”
Margot Robbie wears a Dolce & Gabbana top, shorts, and shoes.
“I was late to the game on The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst movie of all time. For years, I would see this billboard in L.A. that Tommy Wiseau, the actor and star of the movie, had paid to have up on Highland Avenue. It was a picture of him, sort of glaring down at you, with the words THE ROOM and a phone number. I was like, ‘What is this? Do you call the number and this crazy, weird, vampirelike guy can be in your movie?’ But then I started reading The Disaster Artist, which was written by one of the other actors in the movie, and before I was halfway through, I just knew it was such an incredible, bizarre story, unlike any other in Hollywood, about outsider artists trying to achieve their dreams. I was instantly drawn to Tommy. It’s almost like we were made for each other.”
James Franco wears a Balenciaga shirt; his own pants.
“To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.’ And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.”
Jessica Chastain wears an Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.
“Until I read the script for Lady Bird, I had never encountered a female heroine who very much sees herself as a female heroine. In films, you rarely see young girls who love themselves. Lady Bird takes the self-confidence thing to a new level. She knows she’s going to be someone. And she has something to say, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.”
Saoirse Ronan wears a Chanel dress.
Did you have an audition outfit back when you were starting out? I had multiple outfits. Much like a costume box. I would change between auditions. I remember changing in the car on the freeway. I’m still a fast changer. And discreet. I have a talent for taking my clothes off quickly.
What was your first favorite film? The Sound of Music. It was very influential. And I got to meet Captain von Trapp while filming All the Money in the World [Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after Spacey was pulled from the project]. We were about to be in this movie together, and I thought, How soon is too soon to ask Christopher Plummer to sing “Edelweiss” into my phone for my daughter?
Michelle Williams wears a Louis Vuitton dress.
“I play real people a lot. And it is a huge responsibility. Anytime you are playing somebody who was alive, for good or for bad, that performance becomes a version of an official record of what happened: what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and how they got through their particular struggle. There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself as long as you’re not turning good guys into bad guys, or knowledge into ignorance. Having said that, it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer living. Because then you don’t have to meet them.”
Tom Hanks wears a Tom Ford suit, vest, and shoes; Boss shirt; Rolex watch.
“I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.’”
Salma Hayek wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Cartier earrings.
“I was loosely attached to Call Me by Your Name for four years. It never seemed like it was coming together, and then it did. Now I’ve spent nearly two years promoting it. So, in many ways, it will be the project of my youth. When I’m older, I’ll look at this film and remember what it was like to not be jaded, old, and washed up. I’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, when I was young…’”
Timothée Chalamet wears a Sandro jacket and pants; Schiesser tank top; Sermoneta Gloves gloves; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
“My first kiss was at a party, when I was 12 or 13, during my first term at a coed school, so, you know, hormones were raging. A girl named Dora had this party when her parents were out of town, and it was literally a bacchanalia for 13-year-olds. No one was having sex, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we all get to kiss each other.’ And there were around 200 people there. It was about five hours of everyone going, ‘Have we made out yet? No? Let’s go!’ To this day, my friends and I will be in a pub or at dinner and say, ‘Remember Dora’s party?’ and sigh. It was an awakening.”
Andrew Garfield wears a Shrimps coat; Michael Kors sweater; Sunspel sweatpants.