"The kids are out of the house," says the actor, who is the father of 35-year-old Colin, 30-year-old Elizabeth, 22-year-old Chet and 17-year-old Truman. "I'm telling you, all the kids are gone and it's the greatest thing that has ever happened to Mr. and Mrs. Hanks. Of course the greatest thing was having the kids in the first place, but Holy smokes!
"When the kids are gone, it's like you're dating again."
Hanks looks fit in a white shirt, dark slacks and a thin moustache that he's grown for his role as Walt Disney in the upcoming Saving Mr. Banks, a movie about the making of the classic Mary Poppins (1964). He's here to talk about Cloud Atlas, and Cloud Atlas — set to open nationwide on October 26 — is a movie that takes some talking about.
Based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell, the film has a huge cast and three directors in Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski. It tells six separate stories, all mixed together to explore the bigger meanings of life and human connections. Its lead characters include an elderly musician in 1930s Belgium, an investigative reporter trying to bring down a sinister energy company in 1970s California, an elderly book publisher stuck in a retirement home in contemporary London, a genetically engineered woman in 2144 Korea on the way to her doom and a goatherd living in the post-apocalyptic remains of Hawaii. Hanks plays six different characters, including the goatherd. "I think it's as risky as Inception (2010)," Hanks says. "You saw that one the first time and said, 'How many movies are in this thing?"'
Hanks embraced the project precisely because it was unusual and risky, however.
"It's original and creative," he says. "I loved that it wasn't going to be simple for audiences. Lord, doesn't that sound beautiful? A film that is original, creative and makes you think. That's what movies used to be."
As for playing six different characters, Hanks says that it was a ball.
"This movie had a message about humanity," Hanks says. "At that moment I got it. I knew I had to pull back, and did during that scene. "At the same time," he adds, "the Wachowskis could have thrown down their headsets and said, 'No, no, no!' But they were gentle about it." Co-star Jim Sturgess, who shared a number of scenes, was impressed by Hanks' approach to the intricacies of Cloud Atlas.
The film offers a bleak vision of the future, but also the promise of reincarnation and the gradual evolution of the human spirit, ideas that resonated for Hanks.
Hanks was born in California, the son of a chef and a hospital worker. His parents divorced when he was young, and as a result he moved often during a childhood which he has called "fractured." Acting filled a void for him, and he started doing community theatre before opting for a career in television and film. His big break was the television farce Bosom Buddies (1980-1982), in which he and Peter Scolari played men disguised as women in order to get the only apartment they can afford.