Tom Hanks on Adapting in His Acting Career

September 20, 2015

Tom Hanks is among the Hollywood elite known for having a remarkably prolific career spanning decades. How has he kept his career so enviably alive and well over the years? In this interview, Hanks gives us an important clue as to his winning career strategy. He explains:

“I think about every five years, I went through some sort of process of reexamining where I was in life, you know, as a man as well as an actor and thinking like guess what? I’m 36 now and there’s a whole world of movies that I can’t make anymore because I can no longer–I don’t want to–play the young man who’s trying to figure out life. I want to play a man with bitter compromise; I want to play someone who’s been through something. So, it’s a never-ending process, I think, of examining where you are in life as a human being, and then transposing that so it’s going to be reflected in your work somehow.”

What worked for him as an actor in his mid-twenties, for example, the lead role of Kip Wilson on the TV series Bosom Buddies, was relying heavily on energy and boldness. But Hanks explains that just a few years later, he noticed he was maturing when he realized he needed to bring more to how he approaches his performances. This new wisdom informed subsequent noteworthy roles like the enthusiastic childlike Josh Baskin in the hit comedy Big in his early 30’s–however this time period in his life was also marked with a number of flops. But Hanks once said, “You learn more from the things that don’t work out than the things that do. I worked harder on ‘Turner & Hooch’ than I did on 80% of the films I made.”

Next, Hanks career evolved with more dramatic roles like lawyer Andrew Beckett suffering with AIDS in Philadelphia as well as romantic comedy-dramas like Forest Gump in his late thirties. At that time he said, “My work has become less pretentiously fake and over the top.” In his mid-forties, Hanks gravitated to roles in films like Saving Private Ryan and Catch Me If You Can. More recently, now in his late 50’s, Hanks starred in Captain Phillips, and he’s paired up with Steven Spielberg in the upcoming film Bridge of Spies about covert politics during the Cold War to be released in October.

As of 2014, Hanks’ films have grossed upwards of $8.4 billion worldwide, making him one of the highest-grossing actors in history. Clearly, he’s managed his career brilliantly. He asserts, “Anytime you go off to do something new, you’re involved in a reinvention, and any actor who says otherwise is just trying to lower expectations.”