Well of course, beloved actor Tom Hanks is also a talented short story writer. Appearing at the Nourse on Tuesday night in conversation with author Dave Eggers, the two-time Oscar winner provided some wonderful insights into his process as an actor, his eternal love of space exploration, and even a few carefully chosen words on the current state of politics in the U.S.
The cause for the event was Uncommon Type, Hank’s first collection of short stories that was released earlier this month. The unifying theme of the volume is typewriters, which play roles of varying importance in each tale.
In person, Hanks is every bit as charming, gracious, and intelligent as one would hope. His impression of director (and frequent collaborator) Robert Zemeckis was hysterical, and his thoughtful, lengthy answers to queries from Eggers and, later, the audience, were evidence of a man who has not let celebrity go to his head.
Here are seven of the most memorable moments from a truly special evening.
Tom Hanks saying “fuck.”
Throughout the event, Hanks wasn’t afraid to curse, which came as a small surprise to fans that have rarely, if ever, seen him swear on the big-screen. His colorful retelling of his father-in-law’s efforts to get hired at a café after emigrating to the U.S. — reflected in his story “Go See Costas” — included a string of profanities that delighted the crowd, leading Eggers to half-heartedly remind his guest that their conversation would later air on NPR.
Hanks grew up in the Bay Area.
Perhaps this fact is widely known, but the audience was thrilled to hear Hanks name-check locations across the Bay Area. The Concord native spoke about how his father once worked at The Castaway in Jack London Square (although sadly, he apparently did not have any colleagues named Wilson) and how he himself attended Skyline High School in Oakland before moving on to Chabot College in Hayward.
After learning the astronauts of Apollo 11 were sharing a space roughly the size of a Volkswagen, Hanks would sit in his father’s Volkswagen and pretend he was steering the ship.
The “space bug” bit Hanks early. He was 13 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and recalls following the entire saga of Apollo 11 zealously. After hearing the Volkswagen comparison, he would sit in his father’s car in the front yard and turn knobs — “my dad’s car didn’t have as many as they did” — adjust his seat, and trying his best to imagine what it must be like for the men hundreds of thousands miles above him. Of course Hanks would later go on to play astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and host the mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.
He wishes high school history classes would teach one very important point about the legacy of John Adams.
Hanks served as a producer for the HBO miniseries John Adams, and laments that his teachers never made a point of studying the fact that Adams actually represented British soldiers charged with murder in the wake of the Boston Massacre. Adams successfully argued that the soldiers were endangered by mob rule, which, under the law, gave them the right to fight back. Hanks says had he known this, it would’ve “blown my understanding of America wide open.”
Hanks is not surprised by the recent scandal involving former Miramax executive Harvey Weinstein.
Eggers broached the subject as a follow-up to an audience member’s question about how Hanks cultivates his persona as “the most trusted man in America.” Hanks said that the disgusting revelations of Weinstein’s systematic actions as a sexual predator do not surprise him, but that Weinstein is representative of a power-hungry subsect prevalent throughout Western Civilization. He said he strongly hopes the news coming out of Hollywood leads to a code of ethics that is “no longer optional, but mandatory, and it can’t come soon enough.”
He started writing as a way to keep the creative juices flowing while on-call during film productions.
Explaining that often times actors will work 12- to 14-hour days on a Monday and Tuesday but then have virtually nothing to do for the rest of the week, Hanks found he was able to keep himself in a heightened creative state by working on the stories that eventually became Uncommon Type during his hours away from set. He said that it can be very disconcerting to work oneself up into the headspace required to film a role only to suddenly be “off” for a number of days in a row and that writing was a way to maintain his mojo.
If Hollywood can keep remaking Spider-Man, Hanks wants to remake That Thing You Do.
Hanks — who wrote, directed, and acted in the 1996 film about a one-hit wonder band — is proud of the movie, but says if Hollywood can continually reboot superhero franchises, he wants to keep making That Thing You Do. “How many times can he get bitten by that fucking radioactive spider?” he joked. “Oh no, Bruce Wayne’s parents are dead again. I guess he’ll have to become Batman!”