When you think of the movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone gut busting action comes to mind. The names Steve Martin and Adam Sandler are forever connected to comedy while Daniel Day Lewis is synonymous with serious drama. Meg Ryan? She’ll always be a romantic comedy star just as the mere mention of Robert Eglund’s can name send a chill down the spine.
But what about Tom Hanks? Hanks is a rarity among a-listers. He’s an actor who has avoided stereotyping by pasting together a resume that includes every almost genre of film.
This weekend he stars in Captain Phillips, a drama based on the true story of the 2009 hijacking of the MV Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates.
It’s a heroic role—in real life President Obama said Capt. Richard Phillips’ courage “is a model for all Americans.”—but it’s a far cry from his last movie, Cloud Atlas, which saw him play three characters, one of which tossed a critic out of a skyscraper window.
His varied IMDB listing includes everything from comedies like Splash (“What you looking at? You never seen a guy who slept with a fish before?”) to Academy Award winning dramas like Philadelphia, where he played a gay lawyer with AIDS suing his firm for discrimination and Forrest Gump.
In the kid’s classic Toy Story (and its subsequent sequels) he’s Woody, a stuffed pull-string cowboy doll. Director John Lasseter says he wanted Hanks to play the character because of his “ability to take emotions and make them appealing.”
Much darker is Road to Perdition, the 2002 Sam Mendes film that cast Hanks as Michael Sullivan, Sr, an ace hitman who must protect his son from a mob assassin. “I just got this guy,” says Hanks. “If you’re a man, and you’ve got offspring… emotionally, it’s devastating.”
Different still is Nothing in Common, a dramedy that saw Hanks play a successful advertising executive trying to cope with his parents’ (Jackie Gleason and Eva Marie Saint) break up. “[It] has a bit of a split personality,” Hanks said, “because we’re trying to be very funny in the same movie in which we’re trying to be very touching.”
Hanks says, “I’m not looking for any particular kind of story,” and his varied approach to his work hasn’t hurt him one bit. Recently he was named America’s “best-liked movie star,” in a poll by Public Policy Polling.