He’s still Hollywood’s no.1 Mr. Nice Guy, so, it hardly comes as a surprise to learn that Tom Hanks isn’t too crazy about the fire and brimstone he’s been getting for Angels & Demons.
When Ron Howard says of his good friend, and regular collaborator, Tom Hanks that his long and illustrious career is all down to an early declaration to always “do something brand new”, it’s hard to figure out where something like Angels & Demons comes into such an admirable gameplan.
A sequel that’s much, much better than its predecessor, 2006’s The Da Vinci Code, unfortunately, Angels & Demons is still more than a tad crap. This time out, it’s just faster crap. And no one says, “Quick! To the library!”. Which helps.
As with Howard and Hanks’ adaptation of Dan Brown’s hugely-successful 2000 book, putting its prequel, Angels & Demons, up on the big screen is once again a case of putting lipstick on a pig of a novel. This time out, Brown – who’s basically Jeffrey Archer after bible studies – clearly takes as much inspiration from dusty old conspiracy theories surrounding the Catholic Church as he does David Fincher’s Se7en, setting up a series of ritualistic killings based on an ancient prophecy. The only trouble is, the join-the-dots clues and their rapid solutions would embarrass even Enid Blyton, and this ticking-bomb thriller soon takes on the sense of Hanks and co. merely punching the clock at every turn.
The whole thing certainly makes a mockery of Hanks’ lofty proclamation to Howard on their first collaboration, Splash, 15 years ago. The truth is, Hanks needed to sign on to a sure thing after the box-office and critical disasters that were The Ladykillers and The Terminal (both 2004), two movies so bad that even Julia Roberts openly admitted last week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s tribute to Hanks that she just didn’t bother going to see them.
Out that same year was the grotesque Christmas Frankencard, The Polar Express. So, you know, Tom Hanks was in desperate need of some serious box-office, and Howard wasn’t far behind, his 2005 true-life epic, The Cinderella Man, having tanked at the box-office too, a $150m movie that pulled in a mere $108m around the world. Thanks, in no small part, to having the concierge-battering Russell Crowe in the lead role.
So, rather than try something new, old buddies Tom and Ron needed something safe, something with a built-in audience. And given that The Da Vinci Code had sold a truly staggering 84 million copies around the world (shame on each and everyone of you!), how could a movie adaptation of such a literary phenomenon boasting a tried and trusted leading man in the title role as the Vatican-bothering sleuth Robert Langdon possibly fail?
In the end, it didn’t, the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code taking $758m at the box-office, double the amount of any other Ron Howard outing. And this guy had given us such hits as Cocoon, Apollo 13, How The Grinch Stole Christmas and A Beautiful Mind.
Naturally, the once-again dynamic duo were all smiles at the world premiere of Angels & Demons in Rome last week – this may be a sequel that will make less than the first, but even half of $758m is still a lot of moolah. Still, once we’ve found our room at the St. Regis Grand Hotel, I ask Hanks if it must be disappointing, knowing that audiences just aren’t interested in any material he might present to them that’s perhaps a little more challenging, and satisfying, for him?
“They’re all satisfying,” Hanks replies, “and they’re all challenging. It’s all exactly the same. Making a movie is a constant; it’s the speed of light. It doesn’t go slower, it doesn’t go faster, no matter how it works out. And you always know, look, it’s all going to be a mix. They’re not all going to be a hit, and thankfully, they’re not all going to tank either.
“See, it’s all about hindsight. The wisdom that one has after a film has come out and performed the way it has, it has nothing to do with the reality of making the film. Working with the Coen brothers on something like The Ladykillers, or working with Steven Spielberg again on The Terminal is the same exact, one damn thing after another. How are we going to make sense of this process? As it is with working on The Da Vinci Code. The pressures are the same; there might be a few less sweaty people at the studio because of the amount of money that goes into it, but you fight to get down to some kind of truth, and some kind of logic that is going to hold up for the audience that sees it. But it’s all a mix, man.”
But this is show business. And the business side has been pretty well oiled, for a long, long time. Big stars, big material, built-in audience – that’s most likely a $758m hit.
“If we were hits every time, we’d be geniuses,” continues Hanks, “so, the only thing we can do is to go into it full force, thinking, I think I know how to do this. We never proclaim, I know exactly how to do this!. It’s always, I think I know how to do this – let’s find out.”
Hmm, probably best to move on. If not quite the Howard Hughes and Gary Cooper that Variety recently dubbed them, but closer to a defanged Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Ron Howard and Tom Hanks have scored quite a few hits together, their secret combination being, according to Hanks, down to the fact that “we’re kind of like college roommates who spend way too much time together”. It’s tempting to think if they were a little more Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, pulling knives and guns on one another, perhaps they’d find a deeper kind of truth in their movies together?
“Yeah, maybe we should come to loggerheads every now and then,” nods Hanks. “Sometimes, that great stuff comes out of movies where the director and the actor hate each other, and they’re fighting the whole time. Fistfights in the desert, stuff like that. Storming off the set for one reason or another, but we have so much work to do, we don’t have time to get pissed off with each other.
“We should try and put some time aside on the next movie to fall out. Spectacularly.”
Our time is nearly up – so, some short, rapid-fire but deeply insightful questions.
“That haircut in The Da Vinci Code – what did you ask for? The Walker, Texas Ranger Special?”
“Ah, the haircut. The good people of Ireland will no doubt be glad to know that I’ve had my hair cut for this movie, as I would hate anyone to be distracted again from the incredible acting going on underneath it.”
“You’re 52, and yet you wear Speedos in Angels & Demons – is that legal?”
“I think it’s legal in California, but I’m not sure about Ireland. Does anyone swim in Ireland? The water’s too cold, right, to actually take off your vests? Got to say though, once I knew my character had to swim in this movie, I was determined to do it myself, so, we got a guy in who used to do Baywatch, Mike Newman, and he completely retrained me, so I could do all those backflips and stuff. Very proud of my Speedo moment in the movie. I’ve still got it. I think.”
“In the upcoming movie, The Great Buck Howard, you get to say to your son, Colin’s character, ‘What are you doing here?’. Have you ever said that to him off-screen, given how tough a line of work this is?”
“I’ve never said that to him, because, you know, I think that’s something he instinctively knows, just from being so close to it all his life. I think it may have been a little harder for him, at times, just because he’s got a famous dad, but Colin’s just getting on with doing good work. Which is really the only way to have a good, long career in this business. That, or sleeping with all the producers, which never quite worked out for me.”
“Finally, given that you’ve been immersed in a conspiracy theory world for these two movies, has it affected your faith, in either governments or gods?”
“I love to break down every conspiracy theory that comes my way. And I usually start it with this question, ‘How stupid are you, that you got to believe this kind of evidence?’. I like nice empirical evidence, I like historical fact. Because, otherwise, everything is a conspiracy theory. Everything is a conspiracy theory. So, I don’t believe them all, and sometimes I go out of my way to find out why they’re not accurate.
“But, if you wanted to say it, the most diabolical organisation on the planet earth, that is faking us out right now, is the St. Regis hotel corporation. Because, think about it, they have offices worldwide, they’re in every city that you visit. They have employees who have worked at other places, but now they’re working at the St. Regis hotel corporation! Dangerous, dangerous entity. Especially when you try to get room service on time. Dangerous…”
Words : Paul Byrne
Angels and Demons is at Irish cinemas everywhere now