Baron: Well, thanks for doing this, Tom. Thanks for doing double duty to day. Appreciate that. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]
Hanks: You’re very kind. Very kind.
Baron: And I just want to remind everybody that you can find a video of this session tomorrow morning on washingtonpostlive.com. So there you go, you can watch it yourself, actually.
So, Ann did a great job, so I want to thank Ann for the interview she did. [APPLAUSE] We’re so lucky to have her, and she left me a question to ask.
So, in preparation for this role, I understand that you got Ben lessons from Sally Quinn, is that right?
Hanks: I had a long, long…
Baron: What is a Ben lesson like?
Hanks: Well, you know, I had already looked at an awful lot of the material, and—I mean, I had dinner at Ben and Sally’s house back in the day through Nora Ephron and a few other people, one of those great kind of like salons where you kind of think, does everybody love each other, or hate each other?
Baron: [LAUGHS] I’ve been to a few of those, yeah.
Hanks: Not quite sure. But it was kind of like his, about his joie de vivre—his enthusiasm, his love of what he did, his sense of what was right and wrong—and what I loved was, everything I’d heard from people who knew and loved Ben in great detail is all a reflection of the same image. Chatting with him on occasion was exactly like reading his memoire, A Good Life. It was exactly like every piece of video that I’ve seen. Every interview I’ve seen, he is the same genuine, interested man.
He had, in particular, in regard to the Pentagon Papers, in that same Poynter Institute interview that I talked about, he said, “You know, you look at it now, and you think, well, what was the big deal, you know? It was an old document. It had been sitting around for five years, and then you think about it—why was that worthy of an assault on the First Amendment, and a threat to throw everybody in jail, simply because it said what Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952.
And that kind of long-haul, marathon-like perspective was something that I think it was part of his credo of how to put out a newspaper, and how to tell the story, and how to get to the truth. How to be—I don’ t know—how to be cynical without being a cynic. How to understand that anybody in power, even if they’re just the head dogcatcher of Clairemont, Montana, might tell you a lie in order to protect his job and his private parking place. And you just think, why would anybody in power lie? Oh, well, it’s in order to maintain a status quo, or to gain some sort of purchase.
And knowing that they do that is one thing, but constantly expecting them to lie all the time is something else. And I think for that reason he was a magnificent to—time, and place, and job, and responsibility.
Baron: And what do you think the lessons are for today, for journalists today, from Ben and—
Hanks: I’m going to tell you. Not to get it wrong. Another thing that he said, “You have to have all the confidence in the world that that story you’re putting on the front page is the truth, because if it’s not,” he said, “you have to eat it for 24 hours. And it doesn’t taste good.” And that was back when an incorrect story or inaccurate story would—you’d have 24 or 48 hours in order to clean it up. Now it has all sorts of repercussions that go around the world much, much faster.
And I think that was a paramount—if I was going to divine what is the lesson to learn from then and now is—number one—never stop. But number two—it’s got to be right. And you see examples of it if there’s so much of a sliver, a crack in the authenticity of it, not only is there a certain price to pay, but you give an opening to the liars to make hay of that.
Baron: Yeah. These repercussions are instant, and then they last actually more than 24 hours these days.
Hanks: Well, yeah, now they’ll base policy on it, you know? Or continue on a guerrilla against the Fourth Estate that will just go on and on and on and on, fueled by inaccuracies.
Baron: Right. So, how do you think journalism is doing these days? What is your assessment?
Hanks: Well, I think it’s kicking back.
Baron: I mean, this movie is about courage in journalism and great journalism. But, what’s your thought on journalism today? How are we doing? And you don’t have to be kind just because you’re here at The Washington Post. [LAUGHTER]
Hanks: Thank you. Well, I am now to the point that I have removed all news alerts from my phone.
Hanks: I’m not part of any email chain, because I’ve found that there was a time—I mean, it was ringing, honestly, every three minutes from some source or another. I also got rid of solitaire, so I’m not playing so much of that anymore. [LAUGHTER Because the volume of it is too ongoing, and I found myself looking at the headlines, and yet not reading in the stories, just because there was so much.
I think bona fide, good, true reflection of the Fourth Estate as it is meant to be is fabulous now, because it’s more valuable than ever before. The war that is going—the guerrilla war, I think, that is going on by obfuscating and denigrating the aspect of what journalism and what a free press means, is really meant to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to give somebody plausible deniability. If you keep saying it’s fake, it’s false, it’s a lie, it’s a lie, it’s a lie—when the truth comes out you have a pretty good record of saying that it’s a lie, it’s lie, it’s a lie.
And at the same time, of course, there is legitimacy of that brand of outlet that hell-bent on putting out false news or innuendo, treating fantasy or conspiracy as outright fact. And by that, you delude the playing field, which I think, again, makes the work of journalism as defined by the great American tradition of it more valuable than ever before.
There is an adage that just—the truth will out. At the end of the day, the nonsense disappears by the wayside and the truth remains. It’s—lives are made out of sticks, and gossip is made out of straw, but the truth is made out of brick, and it stands there for a long time. It stands the test of time.
Baron: And you still believe that? Because these days a lot of people are worried that the public won’t be able to distinguish between fact and fiction, they won’t know what are the falsehoods and what is the truth, that they’re breaking into sort of tribes. It’s a very tribal environment.
Hanks: I am a lay historian by choice; I read history for enjoyment. And there has always been—this has always been. There has always been a Father Coughlin on the radio or a Colonel McCormick with a great metropolitan newspaper at his disposal. There has always been this, and yes, they hold sway. They’re able to steer public issues for a while, but eventually they fall down, because it’s a porous enterprise, and it is based on an agenda, and eventually people catch up.
The reality is, of course, is that the technology is letting all that happen at hyper speed on steroids. But along with that, too, the truth can go around the world almost as fast as a lie. And a lie will disappear in time. And a truth will remain as constant as the speed of light.
And so, therefore, I think the people who have that same ethos, and have that same sense of responsibility of let’s get it right—because if you get it right, all they can do is disagree with it. They can’t argue with it. They can only tell you whether or not it’s important, or not. And time tells that.
Baron: Great. In terms of the press, this is a movie—
Hanks: I love lecturing a roomful of journalists—
Baron: Well, they’re not a roomful of journalists; they’re not a roomful of journalists.
Hanks: I’m going to let somebody come there and tell me what acting is, and I’ll sit there and listen to everything that you have to say. [LAUGHTER]
Baron: I’m going to let you lecture us some more, actually, here, because I want to know whether you feel that the press is—I mean, this is a movie about challenging authority, and the sort of the highest authority in this country, the presidency, and the entire federal government. Is the press doing that enough these days? Do you feel that it’s challenging authority in the way that it ought to?
Hanks: Oh, yeah, I think it is, but—absolutely, constantly—is whether or not it gains purchase is—does it hold sway? I just saw Katy Tur, and what she went through on the campaign trail, of literally being vilified, and in the center of an arena, with 8,000 angry fans—it felt a little bit like she was in a Roman coliseum there for a little bit.
So, that exists because the volume of information that’s out there, and the volume of vitriol and opinion—let’s just say opinion—is out there. And it’s so massive. But, I think that the—well, you know, I’m not a news junkie. I don’t watch everything all the time, all the time, but even in the Alabama race and the coverage up to it, I saw much, much, much more coverage of Moore than I did see of Jones. I don’t think I ever saw a bit of Doug Jones’s campaign stump speech, and yet we were seeing the same footage over and over of Roy Moore.
And the question I would have is, why? Why is that? Why aren’t we getting some of the message that’s coming across form the other side? But, as far as TV goes—well, here’s one of the great difficulties, I think, because I know people that work for the networks, and it’s—this is all just a euphemism; I’m just pulling this out of my head. If you find out that, say, Coca-Cola can kill you over time; it could give you diabetes; it can make you obese; it’s mostly made out of sugar; it will rot your teeth.
Baron: Huh. Where’d you get that idea?
Hanks: And if you want to do a three-minute story on how it’s really, really terrible for you to drink, do you think it’s going to appear on the CBS Evening News? It’s not, because Coca-Cola pays billions of dollars in advertising revenue for football and for everything else. That dichotomy is in place, and I think we sort of know it, and maybe would accept it, but you have to read that type of story. And I’m not taking on Coca-Cola—I have type 2 diabetes, so I can speak from experience.
You have to be able to find that somewhere, and you might have to turn to lesser organs in order to find that out. But, as long as you can still find that out, you might be slightly ahead of the game. I don’t know that print journalism has the same sort of but you guys are owned—a lot of magazines and newspapers are owned by other, greater conglomerates that might have a problem doing that. And this is just some aspect of the corporate hackery that goes in in daily life here in the United States of America.
So, hopefully there is—I think Meryl said it best. Were you guys here for when Meryl spoke? When she says it’s two steps forward and one step back. And I think we can just keep our nose above water if we continue at that pace.
Baron: So, you get covered a lot.
Hanks: Yeah, I do.
Baron: And so, what do you make of coverage of yourself. I mean, people try to—obviously, they want to know more about your—they would like to know more about your private life; you’re very private. And I read a quote about you, for example—
Hanks: What did I say?
Baron: I’m going to tell you. You said, “Quite frankly, I think I just never trusted the press to get it right.” So, what did you mean by that?
Hanks: Well, um [LAUGHTER] let me—Marty, let me open my heart to you. [LAUGHTER]
Baron: That’s what we’re here for.
Hanks: I remember a long time ago a friend of mine—this was actually when I was promoting Splash. I was a very young man, and I thought they had invented the press junket just for us and our movie, because our movie was so special. And a friend of mine said, “Hey, I got a call from the reporter that’s going to be interviewing you,” and she said, “Do you think Tom is more like the next Cary Grant or the next James Stewart?” And the guy said, “You know, I think he’s the next Cary Grant. He’s good looking enough and he can handle the reparté, and he’s good with dialogue. I think he’d be the next Cary Grant.” And the journalist said, “But don’t you think he’s the next James Stewart?” [LAUGHTER] So, there was a sort of editorial decision that has been made before you said that, unless of course you say something so [BEEP] stupid that they—pardon my f-bomb—that will haunt you for the rest of the day.
But also, part of it also, well, is it really ridiculously important? I think I discovered and maybe got lectured long ago that what you do is, you don’t lie. You must not lie to the press. I don’t think I’ve said outright lies. But you also just tell them enough of the truth. One of the jokes I always say in long interviews—which this does not rate as, Marty, I’m sorry—is that your job is to find out what makes me tick. And my job is to make you think you have found out what makes me tick. In which case, I’m just like anybody you interview. So, I’m just trying to maintain my place on the food chain.
Baron: So, I wanted to get back to—there was a discussion in the previous session about the role of women in the film industry, that sort of thing. How does the industry deal with that? How do you get more women in prominent roles? How do you get women more as producers and women as studio chiefs?
Hanks: Well, you know, I am extremely lucky, and for some reason I’m ahead of the curve, because I have had so many women bosses as I was coming up. Penny Marshall gave me my first big kind of like movie that landed. Nora Ephron, I’ve worked with. Amy Pascal was my boss on like four movies over at Sony. Stacy Snyder has been—I have worked with an awful lot of women in powers of authority.
My luck, because they got their job through a meritocracy, regardless of their gender. In order for there to be a bona fide change—Meryl has talked about this—it requires the movement of women into positions of power and responsibility. Simple as that. When there is that type of close a parity, literally, in percentage of men versus women in decision-making processes, in the greenlighting, in the creation and the writing and the designing, of directing of films, there will be a whole different sort of—there will be a different brand of take.
I think one of the most exciting things you could say about what happened is—forgive me, I don’t know her name—but the woman who directed Wonder Woman delivered something that it was assumed that women by and large had never really delivered before, a big rock ’em sock ’em action tentpole movie that is going to hold up for a lot of other sequels. Now, that’s an important aspect of the commerce of the industry.
And more of that has to happen. I mean, there’s no other way of—give more women jobs if you want to truly—and then, obey, or agree to a code of ethics that goes along with it. Not just a code of behavior, but a code of ethics. What are your principles as far as making movies go, and putting out product? I think in a lot of ways television does a much better job than motions pictures do. Women are writing, directing, producing, designing, and making decisions for television shows to a much, much greater number than motion pictures, simply because of the money structure and the economics is so expensive, when it comes down to making money.
But parity in the boardroom and in the writers room across the board, that will make a huge difference. And I loved what Meryl said earlier, “There will be a backlash, and there will be a backlash to the backlash. And beyond that will come some other—it will settle down, and I think they’ll start cutting off the names of people at the top of the resume, so you don’t know if it’s a man or a woman.
Baron: Right. It seems like you’ve been somewhat of an ally and an advocate for bigger women’s roles, as well, in movies that you’ve been involved in. You produced Big Fat Greek Wedding and Mama Mia, also been a costar, where women have played large roles.
Hanks: Yeah. That’s not an altruistic choice, quite frankly. I mean, that’s the way it all worked out. Maybe I should say—no, those were specific choices [LAUGHTER] because I want a badge, dammit, I want a badge that says, “Good Guy!” I want a good guy badge. But, honestly, it does go back to the great good fortune and exposure I had early on. I can’t quite pay much attention to it.
I will tell you this. I have never been more afraid of a boss—no man has scared me as much as Nora Ephron did when I—
Baron: Quite right.
Hanks: When I was working for her. But, I have never been more happy with myself at pleasing a boss, when Nor Ephron told me that I’d done a good job.
Baron: Is that why you dedicated the movie to her?
Hanks: Well, that was Stevens choice. Nora’s connection to all of this is pretty extraordinary, because she was a great journalist who—you know, one of these days someone’s going to play Nora Ephron in a movie, and I hope they get it right.
Baron: That’ll be a hard thing to do.
There’s been a bit of controversy about this movie; it’s come from a competitor of ours, The New York Times.
Baron: Which has been kind of apoplectic about the idea that this movie about the Pentagon Papers is focused on The Washington Post, when The New York Times broke the Pentagon Papers case. What are your thoughts on that?
Hanks: Well, they didn’t have Katharine Graham, in all honesty. If they’d had a Katharine Graham, it would be—we’d be calling it The Times, and we’d be here and you guys would be pissed off, so—
Baron: At the moment we have no complaints.
Hanks: Actually, we read—I saw an op ed piece before we even—this was the day after the movie was announced, which was, how dare they—from the perspective of The New York Times. We give it all the credit and credence that its due; we are playing catchup to The New York Times; they break it. The Neil Sheehan story—it’s a main story point of what we’re doing—and there is a type of movie to make about The New York Times getting it, but it’s not going to be as interesting as the Post because of Katharine Graham.
Our screenwriter, Liz Hannah and then John Singer as well captured the zeitgeist of this moment, because it does take place in this critical week where she went from being the daughter or wife of the man who ran the paper and owned the paper, to being the owner and runner of the paper. And she had to make the decision that could have easily cost her everything, and it had to be done very quickly, because the presses needed to roll in another hour and 45 minutes. With her in there, and all of the attendant attention that it gets into—the gender politics, as well as the historical perspective of those great shots of her not being listened to, or her being the only woman in a roomful of suits, of being told what she had to do, or she would be ruining her legacy in the newspaper.
That’s what just kind of like jacks this movie out of being a movie about how a particular story was broken. Those human details—I’m not saying The New York Times, couldn’t have had fascinating human details, but I don’t think they’re going to top Katharine Graham becoming Katharine Graham. You could just call this movie Katharine, and it would be as accurate about what’s going down as if you called it The Pentagon Papers, or The Post.
And that’s a screenplay, actually, I read I February, before it became much more detail-oriented, that Steven brought to it. And that’s enough. That’s enough right there.
So, god bless ‘em. It’s funny—I can’t imagine they’d see this movie and still be as pissed off as they are. But they’re a cranky bunch up there, aren’t they?
Baron: They are. They are. I can say that, for sure. [LAUGHTER]
Hanks: They’ve never cut me slack, so I’m not going to cut them any. What do you think of that?
Baron: I’m with you there, for sure [LAUGHTER] I’ve actually talked to a lot of people there, and some of the people at The New York Times have suggested that there ought to be a movie focused on Watergate set in the newsroom of The New York Times.
Hanks: There you go.
Baron: So, are you interested in—
Hanks: Let them take that on.
Baron: —a role like that?
Hanks: Yeah. Who would I play? *I don’t know.
Baron: In the previous session, it certainly delved into the realm of politics and political statements and important public issues. Do you see that as an important role for you, as an actor, that you should have a role in shaping public opinion?
Hanks: I adhere to the Shakespearean definition of what my responsibility is, and that is, to hold the mirror up to nature. I am very suspect of any film that is bent on altering a consensus. I’m all in favor of films that are built in enlightening people to facts or ideas, or making things like acceptance so glamorous in a movie that everybody wants to try to do it themselves in their own lives.
But, as soon as you start trying to alter the conscious—bend it to a particular kind of will—it’s like, didn’t Goebbels try to do that? Isn’t that what he set out to do? It’s not propaganda. I mean, there is propaganda—we see it all the time, and there’s—in regards to nonfiction stories, there’s an awful lot of revisionist history that can go into it, and sometimes it’s just to make the story a little bit cooler or to raise the stakes, or make the jeopardy more palatable to, or palpable to an audience, as well.
But, there is a danger there. I will say that every time I’ve played somebody who was alive—Richard Phillips or Charlie Wilson, for Charlie Wilson’s War, Jim Lovell, Sully—I’ve sat with them and I’ve said, “Now, look. I’m going to say things you never did. I’m going to go places you never wee. I’m going to do things that never occurred. Outside of this, I’d like to be as authentic as possible. [LAUGHTER] So, help me reconcile the fact that I’m a fake you, so that it can withstand some degree of longstanding viewing.”
Look, these are all documents. Whether they’re good or bad, they go into a file. I mean, Gone with the Wind is looked at in one way in order to be a reflection of what slavery was like in the United States, for good or for bad, that’s true. This movie will go in, up onto a shelf, and someone is going to look at it and weigh it, as far as its authenticity or not.
And I think that if you’re doing that about the pat, that’s incredibly important because I believe that is what Shakespeare told the advice to the players: hold the mirror up to nature. Try not to make things up. Try to be true to not only the details, but the behavior of the people involved. Because, when you start paying attention to the logic of it—I’m a big guy on logic police on movies. I beat the living daylight out of screenwriters, both as an actor, but also as a producer, and say, “Explain this to me. How did these people get to this position? You’re making an assumption there on what is or what is not important. Don’t monkey around with the motivations who were there, any more than you’d monkey around with where North Dakota is on a map. We know where North Dakota is on a map; don’t put it somewhere else just because you want to have a palm tree in North Dakota.”
That’s a weird way of talking about it, but that’s actually what it comes down to. You don’t always get—like, if you’re running around the Louvre trying to figure out what da Vinci wrote on the back of a painting, it’s not exactly the same requirements, but [LAUGHTER]—don’t laugh—come one. Give me some slack.
You do, however, want to live in the same physical universe that everybody lives in, even if you’re not living in the same sort of like rule of behavior—it’s very hard to drive across Paris in 20 minutes, but you know, you can fake that for a movie. But, our responsibility, I think, at the end of the day is really quite large, and it does go back to that brilliant thing. What an actor’s job is, is to speak the speech, I pray you, trippingly on the tongue, as I pronounced it to you, and to hold the mirror up to nature. That’s our job.
Spencer Tracy said, “Our job is to hit the marks and tell the truth.” When that is expected of you it’s a lot easier to give in to.
Baron: Right. Well, in this interview the other day with Buzzfeed, I think Meryl expressed some reservation about being a little too political, being out there politically. She’s been outspoken on a number of issues, as have you. Do you have any reservations along those lines? Or do you feel entirely comfortable—
Hanks: Well, the truth is, nothing you do goes uncommented-on, that’s just the truth. It used to be no good deed goes unpunished. Well now, no good deed goes uncriticized. But that’s all right. There are types of people that are specifically out there with a very kind of specific political message or agenda or—I’m not quite in that realm, but I do choose the work I do. I want it to accurately reflect sort of where we are as a society.
One of the areas that I’m quite particular out is the standard construct of a story often is antagonist/protagonist. That means there has to be a bad guy in every story. And my question is, why does there have to be a bad guy in every story? There is one in ours, but it’s Dick Nixon, you know? We knew what he was up to.
And there’s some people who say—and it’s all kind of like reflective and accurate. Not to jump on the Hamilton bandwagon, but there’s a magnificent scene in Hamilton in which it’s a rap that’s going on that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote, in which Thomas Jefferson—his arrival to Hamilton—and Jefferson speaks, and you agree with everything that Jefferson just said. And then, Hamilton speaks—contrary to what Jefferson said—and you can’t help but agree with what Hamilton says. And it goes back and forth and back and forth.
It’s not somebody trying to crush the dreams of somebody else. It’s not that line that happens in an awful lot of movies where sooner or later someone says something like, “Well, before I kill you, Mr. Bond, perhaps you’d like a tour of my installation. Notice, ventilator shafts wide enough for a man to crawl through. Unfortunately, you will not have that opportunity, Mr. Bond.” You don’t get in that kind of thing. I’m growing tired of this game.
I’m not interested in those kind of stories, and I never have been. And so, politically, if I’m putting out any sort of statement with choices, which is probably the best way anybody can be socially politically active, is to—well, you’ve got to weigh the difference between being evil and just being not correct, or having somebody have a better idea than yours.
Baron: Great. We’re out of time. Thank you very much.
Hanks: Marty, everybody’s talking about you now.
Baron: Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]
Hanks: Thank you. Thanks for staying, everybody. Thank you.