Oprah: So you're not affected by first-weekend box office numbers?
Tom: I'm not saying I'm not bummed if a movie doesn't do well, but that isn't the final analysis of whether it's any good.
Oprah: What criteria do you use when choosing a role—is it a gut thing?
Tom: It's a total gut thing.
Oprah: How did the Forrest Gump role come to you?
Tom: I was fascinated by a script entitled The Postman, which was written by Eric Roth. I didn't do that script, but I met Eric and we shared a lot of the same parameters of why we do what we do. So when a producer asked me, "What do you think of the book Forrest Gump?" [which Roth was writing a script for], I said, "That guy can write anything!" About a year and a half later, I got Eric's script—and it was a rocket. Reading a script is usually as exciting as reading a boilerplate legal document, so when you read one that makes you feel as if you're seeing the movie, you know it's something different.
Oprah: A lot of your movies seem to have a moral center. Do you look for those kinds of films?
Tom: The reason most of us go to the movies is to be involved in someone else's moral dilemma. Whether that dilemma is communicated the way Scorsese did it in Taxi Driver, which is one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, or the way Kirk Douglas did it in Spartacus, you know there's something happening on the screen that is bigger than the lives we lead but that is still recognizable to a 14-year-old in Oakland. I'm not looking for that when I read a script, but I am knocked out by it when I see it. And I'm almost always amazed when others ask me to be involved in something like that.
Oprah: Even now?
Tom: It's no joke. I'm not lying.
Oprah: But you get to choose from all the best roles! You are Mr. Top-of-the-World.
Tom: But I still have moments when I think, "They want me to play this role? They want me to be Captain John Miller [in Saving Private Ryan]?" Never in my wildest scenarios would I have thought I would be able to have enough of somebody's confidence to do such a thing.
Oprah: When you choose a role, is there a soul connection between you and the character?
Tom: There is. The first time I read about Captain John Miller, here's what I got: He's scared. And he's afraid in the same way that I would be in his circumstances. His fear is the reason for everything he does. And all the questions that are answered in the movie come back to that core thing.