Tom Hanks is not afraid of a challenge. This is, after all, the man who played the
village idiot in Forrest Gump, the gay lover dying of AIDS in Philadelphia and famous
astronaut Jim Lovell in the blockbuster Apollo 13 Ė winning two Oscars and a
nomination respectively for his efforts.
But Cast Away provided challenges not even imagined by the 44-year-old superstar. Not
only does Hanks spend almost a third of the movie alone on-screen as Chuck, a systems
analyst for a world courier company whose plane crashes and strands him on a desert island
for four years. Hanks also had to gain and then lose 53 pounds and take almost a year off
between the first and the second half of the film, a brave and unprecedented move by
director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks - as producer. But one that Tom Hanks the actor
almost lived to regret.
How tough was it to not only make a movie with a year off in between each half, but to
also gain and lose 50 pounds for it?
It was really a lot of time and discipline, two things which I usually donít have but
because that was what the whole job was, I had to suck it up and make sure that I was
adhering to it. The desire that we wanted to communicate was that four precious years can
go by in the wink of an eye and thatís inherent but the demands that it put on me
were enormous. When Bob Zemeckis said to me, Ďif we had any guts, weíd make this
movie like this; Ďyouíd get really heavy, we make the first half, we take a year
off and youíd lose all that weightí and at first I said, Ďoh letís do
thatí. Thatís a real easy thing to say but when September comes around and I
know Iím going back to work in February and Iíve got to lose the weight, I had
to treat it as a mission. I felt like I was training for the Olympics or something and it
required a complete negating of how much it hurt or how uncomfortable it was or how tired
I was or how hungry I was because it was just not my job, it was my responsibility to live
up to. But thereís no secret to it. Anybody can do it if you just eat the right food
and get the right amount of exercise.
Did it make you unbearable to live with?
Iím sure it did at some point. When all my kids are having French fries in the
drive-through, man, itís really hard just to keep your eye on the road. I must say
that the whole family has seen me go through it before and they do help out. But that
didnít mean that I didnít sneak a couple of swigs from their chocolate milk
container late at night!
Did all that time on the island in Fiji help you appreciate the finer things of life
when it was over?
You couldnít help but appreciate a number of not just creature comforts but things
like a cup of coffee or a bowl of salsa. These are the things that bring variety to your
life otherwise it would go on with mind-numbing sameness without anything. I think the
idea is very attractive, to go off and not have any other worries except how do I catch a
fish today and how do I make a fire tonight. But I think it only stays attractive for
about four days and then you want somebody to talk to and preferably a room service waiter
who can bring up a club sandwich.
What are your survival skills and how would you survive on a desert island?
I just rely on the hundreds of people who have been brought to the island to ply me with
sandwiches and build huts for me and give me bottles of water and umbrellas any time I
need them, which is so great itís almost cruel! Itís almost unfair that the
camera never swung around from me all alone to see all these people on the island working
much harder than I did. As a matter of fact, a female camera assistant was lugging two
magazines full of film back from the village back down to the location and she collapsed
and had to be helicoptered off the island because she suffered from sunstroke, so I get
all the credit and I did work hard but, in fact, so did everybody else.
What is the most difficult part about being a castaway?
We discovered in the course of developing the story and the screenplay and talking to
people whoíd been through similar experiences that you might be able to conquer the
elements long enough to get found. You might be able to just escape the vagaries of Mother
Nature but the thing that can truly kill you is giving into despair and falling over the
edge of loneliness. Youíre so disconnected from the world that you give up because
thereís no reason to live. In our research we went through the logs and diaries of
people whoíd been lost and disappeared without a trace because they gave up. And how
do you get past that on a desert island Ė or in the middle of Los Angeles, for that
matter. If we could figure out the trick, weíd all be millionaires.
But could you really relate to that struggle with loneliness when youíre so
popular personally and professionally?
Iím forty-four and I know that in those years Iíve experienced the same kind of
crippling loneliness it seems that anybody does and it can be much more painful when
youíre surrounded by all the distractions in the world and yet you still feel some
brand of emptiness. If this movie truly reaches a broad audience, it does so because it
communicates something that everybody has experienced, no matter what gender or
nationality. Why do I feel so alone in the midst of all of this? If there is any sort of
message of this movie it is as simple as no matter how alone you feel, just keep breathing
because the sun is going to come up tomorrow.
Would this movie have been a different film earlier in your life?
Yes, I probably would have had Elle MacPherson show up to shoot a Swimsuit calendar and
rescue me! It would have been a lot less profound and lighter, I think. The original
kernel of the idea I had was this concept of a guy on an island and that was it. We looked
at the standard cinematic narrative of a movie that somebody else had to show up otherwise
he doesnít get rescued. But when Bob Zemeckis came on board the movie and Iíd
been working on it for four years, he said the problem we had was that Chuck was just
waiting for something to happen and we had to let him turn a philosophical corner in the
story and have him help himself get off the island. How profound the movie is is
completely in the eye of the beholder but for me itís the most personal film
Iíve ever made because my name is on it in more than one place and the thing that we
were trying to communicate by that still has to be something that can withstand the
scrutiny of having this big movie made about it.
How does Tom Hanks get away from it all when youíre surrounded by people all the
I think itís very important to lose all trappings of this at every conceivable
opportunity and not necessarily be off solitarily by myself but to be off with my family
and friends and have nothing to do with the business. Otherwise you feel like Elvis
Presley, man. Youíd just go nuts after a while and you donít want to be in the
compound. I think I do a pretty good job of adhering to my professional responsibilities
when I have a film coming out and then at other times just shutting down and adhering to
only my personal responsibilities.
And how do you deal with yourself when you donít have anyone there?
Thereís no trick to it. You just do your own laundry. I know I do this for a living
and itís very glamorous but I donít rely on it in order to make me feel better
about myself. But sometimes it does make a day go by a little better because I have a
staff that can get me those CDs I think Iím going to need because Iím going off
to the desert island! I just live and be a regular guy.