Saving Tom Hanks

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"IT'S STILL ME": Underneath the tan, the scars and the facial fuzz, a familiar face playing a regular guy in extremis

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WET WORK: Zemeckis, second from left, talks to his star on shore

Before sundown, the Aftershock returns to base. It's a happy moment for the crew; everyone can pee now. "You have film you need to get off that boat?" someone yells. "We have urine we need to get off this boat!" Hanks hollers.

He meets me at sunset on the Namotu resort patio, decked with torches and stone idols, which lend our sit-down an odd Polynesian-honeymoon quality. "All the great stories are about our battle with loneliness," Hanks once said. "That's what I always end up being drawn toward." But, I suggest to him, it's more than that; it's a specific, homesick subgenre of loneliness. Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, Hanks' man-children in Forrest Gump and Big and even Toy Story--all share one universally sympathetic struggle: fate blows them off course, across oceans and space and time, and they just want to go home.

The pop-psych explanation is that this comes from his youth. A child of divorce, Hanks moved constantly as a boy. But he seems loath to talk about his personal motivations, and when I suggest this Hanks-as-Odysseus thesis, he responds--in the most generous, droll, affable, Hanksian way--that I'm full of crap. "They each have their voyages, but I guess I don't see that [similarity]. The danger of getting home was inherent in Jim Lovell's choice to go to the moon. I guess Captain Miller [fits], but I don't think he ever thought he was going to get home. The question for him came down to 'I hope I'm the same person if I get home.'"

That may be true. But it's also worth noting that looking at the day's footage, it turns out that even in that raft scene this morning, there was acting going on. Hanks drops oars, scrambles to his feet, flips up the toilet-sail, drops to a crouch--and there's a familiar look in his eyes, less heroic than desperate and scared. It's exactly the sort of vulnerable bravery that drew people to Captain Miller. "Where does he go to get those moments?" Zemeckis asks. "I never ask him, he never tells me, and I never want to know." Still, Hanks recognizes that his connection with the audience is ultimately personal. "This part is the greatest distance that I've gone as an actor, but I'm no great chameleon," he says. "It's still me. I'm still very familiar to people that go to the movies."

That's as far as he'll go, though. Even castaways, it seems, don't mind having a moat around them sometimes.

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