Oprah: Do you ever worry that you're giving your kids too much?
Tom: Sure. I also hope my kids understand that they're not operating in a normal world. And yet there are principles they have to adhere to that are normal—like decency, choosing between right and wrong, and honesty. That's important stuff, whether you're flying first-class or not. People ask me all the time, "What kind of father are you?" I won't know until my kids are grown. I am ludicrously proud of my one son who is an adult, Colin—he is an actor who's out there doing stuff. He astounds me: He is a gentleman and a professional who is pursuing something difficult. Yet the only thing he has ever asked me for is advice—never favors. He has just said, "What do you think I should do, Dad?" It's extraordinary to me that my son would listen to and have faith in whatever wisdom I can offer.
Oprah: You're an icon for heroism in a way that Hollywood isn't accustomed to. What is the significance of that?
Tom: I don't know if that will have significance that lasts beyond the pages of the entertainment sections of newspapers. But I would like to think I've reflected the audience's lives somehow, though it's in this big, false, glamorous arena of movies. I hope people see themselves somehow up on the screen. Shakespeare said it best: Hold the mirror up to nature. Human behavior is worthy of examination and celebration. The easiest thing to do is to rag on the media, because it isn't doing a very good job right now. It is so much easier to profit from celebrating the worst aspects of ourselves. Acting strikes me as the antithesis of that. We can examine the worst aspects of ourselves, but we don't have to celebrate them. That's why The Sopranos is a work of art—it is authentic. It communicates that there are people out there who think a certain way. And in a weird way, we can recognize ourselves in the characters. Even if we're good Catholics who've never been to a strip bar, we can still say, "He's going through the same thing I'm going through." And that is a magnificent thing.
Oprah: That's so true.
Tom: I try to do what I call the three E's—educate, entertain, and enlighten. If you don't entertain, no one will show up. But you also have to educate, because people want to discover specific things about a world unlike their own—whether it's how hard it is to go to the moon or how scary it is to be on Omaha Beach. A story also has the opportunity to enlighten us, because as we connect the extraordinary moments on film with the ordinary moments of our lives, we ask ourselves, "What am I going to do the next time I'm scared? What would it be like to say goodbye to my family for the last time?" Despite the fact that these movies are big engines of commerce, the characters remind us that we're part of a greater humanity and that we can actually affect the world by the choices we make once we leave the theater.
Oprah: And that's why we all love you so much—we recognize ourselves in your characters! Thank you, Tom.
Tom: You're welcome, Oprah.
We Hear You!