Steven Spielberg exclusive: ‘Tom Hanks doesn’t act, that’s why he’s so good’

The Bridge of Spies director on working with Hanks and how anyone can be a spy.

Tom Hanks
Successful duo The pair have yet to put a foot wrong.

They have one of the greatest director-actor partnerships in movie history, with films including Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal under their belts and Steven Spielberg is full of praise for Tom Hanks.

The duo, who recently teamed up for Cold War tale Bridge Of Spies, have never produced bad work when working together, and Spielberg has admitted that he was a fan of Hanks long before they first worked together on 1986 comedy The Money Pit.

“I was a big fan of Tom in Bosom Buddies,” Spielberg tells Loaded.

“He also did Every Time I Say Goodbye in Israel that I liked a lot and then Volunteers with (Hanks’ now wife) Rita Wilson. So I was really acquainted with his work before we did The Money Pit.”

Stephen Spielberg
On set Spielberg with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks not he set of Catch Me If You Can.

For Spielberg, Hanks’ true talent lies in the fact that he never even seems to be doing a job.

“The first thing I noticed about Tom is that I never caught him acting,” he says. “He said the lines as if there was no script, as if there was no director, no lights and he was just talking to me.”

The pair’s newest collaboration, Bridge Of Spies takes them into the cauldron of the Cold War as Hanks plays James B. Donovan, a US insurance lawyer recruited by the CIA to negotiate a swap between Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and US pilot Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

Telling the story of Gary Powers was something Spielberg has been eager to do for some time.

“Anyone who knows how to manipulate electronic devices can spy on anybody else”

“Somebody came to me and said ‘Do you want to make a movie about Gary Powers being shot down above the Soviet Union in his U2?'” Spielberg says.

“And that might have been enough for one whole movie. But Tom and I later found out that there was so much more to it than that. We came to realise that, as incredible as it might seem, these events really happened.”

At the centre of the film is the relationship between insurance lawyer Donovan and Russian spy Abel, but it isn’t the usual mismatched duo we’ve seen a million times before. 

Spielberg, whose next film is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG starring Bridge Of Spies Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, agrees: “It avoids stereotypes, because the true-life incidents of Donovan and Abel avoided stereotypes. It was a very unlikely partnership. I wanted this movie to be the kind of relationship story where the audience couldn’t wait to see Abel and Donovan in a scene again.”

The film is about timeless values — integrity, moral courage — but it also shines a light on a lot of contemporary concerns and issues. Not least on how anyone can be a spy now.

Back in those days, we had an eye on each other,” says Spielberg. “These days, we have a jungle of eyes on each other and not even when there is important information to be snatched. Today, hacking is a sport.

“Occasionally a hacker will hit upon actionable information that can make him some money or get him to flee the country. Anyone who knows how to manipulate electronic devices can spy on anybody else.”

Bridge Of Spies is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1

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