Tom Hanks on What Nora Ephron Told Him About Writing
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
On his 67th birthday, we were delighted to be joined by actor Tom Hanks! We begin by discussing his debut novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, his nomadic upbringing across California, and the Stanley Kubrick film that made him want to be an artist. Then, we talk about his early work at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival and moving to Los Angeles for his television debut in Bosom Buddies, before pivoting to dramatic roles in films like Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.
On the back-half, Hanks describes the transformative, eight-year process of making Cast Away, receiving an AFI Lifetime Achievement award for his work at age forty-six, the vital performances that followed, and his insatiable desire to reflect the human experience.
To close, Hanks reflects on the kinship he found with Yankee hall of famer Joe DiMaggio, his formative friendships with actor Holland Taylor and the late Nora Ephron, and the Cecil B. DeMille story he hopes to keep telling.
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From the episode:
Sam Fragoso: Yesterday, I had a call with our dear friend, Holland Taylor.
Tom Hanks: Oh, you know Holland? Oh my.
Sam Fragoso: I asked, “what is your shared connection?” And she said just the greatest thing to me. She said, “Tom and I, we both celebrate the infinitely tiny place we hold in the universe and our mote-ness, our status as specks makes our marching gayly forth in the vast void sort of majestic.”
TH: She’s saying, the work we do is noble because we care so deeply. We don’t want to just do it right, but there was inside that, this unquenchable, unstoppable, and actually, in a lot of ways, unaccomplishable desire to capture something in every line, in every moment, in a bottle—that no one else could have created or captured. It’s an elusive task. Sometimes it happens by accident, sometimes it happens by magic, sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. But what matters is the desire and to try.
SF: At your age, after all you’ve done… you still want to do it right, don’t you?
TH: Well, it’s like, no matter how old your kids are, I want a long drive with them to be a fascinating time spent talking to one another. I do; I still want it to be magical and discoverable. And look, I will tell you that I worked with people who have remained at the top of their game. They passed away, but I always think I’m going to be able to go to New York and have dinner with Mike Nichols and Nora Ephron. They were all possessed by their desire in order to keep doing it— not just well, but keep doing it magically. To keep capturing something that no one else could, that only they saw.
SF: She, of course, is in the acknowledgements of your book.
TH: I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for Nora Ephron. She told me that in response to the work I was doing in preparation for Sleepless in Seattle, in which I was fighting and cranky and having suggestions and wanting, and always asking, “is this enough? Is this enough? I don’t get it. I don’t get it.”
She put in something that had come out in our rehearsal process. When it was done, she said, “You wrote that!” And I said, “I didn’t write that! I was just complaining during rehearsal, and you put it in.” And Nora says, “Well, that’s what writing is, isn’t it?” From then on, I would always send her something and say, “Is this writing?” She would always come back and she says, “It is writing, but you ain’t done writing it. So get back to work.”
Tom Hanks has won Academy Awards for best actor for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. He has starred in, among many other films, Big, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Cast Away, Catch Me If You Can, Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies, Sully, Toy Story, The Post, and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. He is also the author of a best-selling collection of stories, Uncommon Type.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.