The uncommon common man—and perennial best-actor nominee—talks about important work (marriage), fun work (acting) and the three words that work magic in his onscreen roles.
We know Tom Hanks as the actor's actor whose portrayals often make us reconsider our own moral choices. Whether he's playing a captain on a military mission or a lover with a breaking heart, we think about what we would do—and have done. We also know Hanks as the consummate family man, a dedicated husband and father whose stirring post-award speeches about his wife, Rita Wilson, leave us reaching for Kleenex.

Hanks's roles are unforgettable. His astronomical hits include Splash, Big, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, and Cast Away. At age 45, he has already won back-to-back best-actor Oscars for 1993's Philadelphia and 1994's Forrest Gump. On September 9, his newest project, Band of Brothers, a ten-part HBO miniseries he coproduced with Steven Spielberg, will tell the story of a heroic World War II army unit on D-Day.

Not bad for someone who moved to Manhattan at 22 with his college sweetheart, actress Samantha Lewes, their infant son (Colin, now 23), and barely enough money for rent. Hanks, the third of four children, had spent most of his childhood moving around the San Francisco Bay area with his father after his parents divorced in the early sixties. (His mother, a hospital worker, remarried three times; his late father remarried twice.) In high school, Hanks's drama teacher encouraged him to pursue acting. After leaving college to study in the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival under the guidance of Irish director Vincent Dowling, Hanks debuted as Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew. In New York he struggled for several months, then landed a part in the TV series Bosom Buddies. He and Lewes had a second child—Elizabeth Ann, 19—before divorcing in 1987. A year later he married Rita Wilson, whom he had met on the set of Volunteers in 1985; they have two children, Chester Marlon, 11, and Truman Theodore, 5.

Tom Hanks came by my place when he and Paul Newman were in Chicago to film The Road to Perdition, which opens next year. Before our interview, when I told a few people that I was going to talk to Tom, I could just feel their hearts opening up. They sensed what my conversation with Tom confirmed: He is a man of integrity. He is exactly the man I had expected: kind, funny, humble, and honorable. In the nook where I often curl up to read a good novel, we sat and talked about what has made his relationship with Rita work for 13 years, why he has chosen some of his film roles, and the most important factor in determining the real success of one's work.

Start reading Oprah's interview with Tom Hanks

Note: This interview appeared in the September 2001 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.


Next Story