Going to the movies is no longer part of the social contract, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars told a packed audience at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre Wednesday night.
“We’re all going through a massive change in how we decide to be entertained,” Tom Hanks said during a conversation with Peter Sagal, the host of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. And in a world where you can stay home and be entertained for free by TikTok and YouTube, Hanks said luring people to the movie theater has never been harder.
Hanks, 66, was in Chicago to promote his debut novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, which was released this week. As the title implies, the fiction book follows the making of a movie — specifically, a superhero action film.
Hanks may be among the last actors in Hollywood who hasn’t starred in a superhero film himself. But he, of course, knows about life on a movie set. In a somewhat lackluster review, The New York Times said Hanks’s novel is a “loving homage to those workers” who help movies get made.
During Hanks’s appearance Wednesday in Chicago, the Forrest Gump star (for which he won an Oscar in 1995) waxed nostalgic for more than an hour and a half about the people he has met on movie sets, often jumping from his chair to do animated impressions of directors or makeup artists.
While Hanks repeatedly praised Chicago as a “good union town,” he did not acknowledge that some of the people who help make movies — writers — are currently on strike.
Hanks has written screenplays and in 2017, he released a collection of short stories, Uncommon Type. But why a novel?
“This stuff rattles around in my head and I can’t stop it,” he said. “I have always written in some form. I’ve always wanted to write prose.”
So Hanks wrote what he knows — penning what Sagal called a “beautifully elaborate” tale about the people listed lower down in the movie credits.
“Everyone thinks they know the movie making process and no one knows the movie making process,” Hanks told the crowd of more than 3,100 people at the event hosted by WBEZ and the University Club of Chicago.
Ever the beloved “nice guy” of Hollywood, Hanks deftly dropped a whole host of four-letter words, before eventually apologizing for his “baseball language.”
While Hanks’s book is pure fiction — he said it would not have been fair to clearly base characters on his show business colleagues — he did say everyone he’s ever worked with is “in there somewhere.”
And the egomaniac male lead character? Well, Hanks said he didn’t have to look far for help writing that character. He confessed he’s been that guy on set.
“I have done most of exactly what that guy did,” Hanks said. “I’ve made a fool of myself many, many times.”
Sagal asked Hanks what is next for him, now that he has written a novel. After all, the Hollywood A-lister can do anything he wants, right?
Hanks said no. “The truth is, I don’t get to make any movie I want. I have to go in and fight tooth and nail,” Hanks said. It’s a fight he’s committed to: Making movies that still matter to audiences.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.