Tom Hanks Said ‘Toy Story’ Was The Hardest Physical Work He’s Ever Done As An Actor (And 13 Other Secrets About His Movies)

Tom Hanks has a robust filmography that makes it a difficult debate between fans on which is his greatest work. But what about what Hanks himself has to say about his most iconic films? The actor has commented on which of his works is his favorite, which was the most humbling, which almost caused him to quit out of frustration, and much more.

1. He Said A League Of Their Own Has Been His Favorite Movie He Made

Photo: Columbia Pictures

In a November 16, 2021, interview for The Bill Simmons Podcast, Hanks revealed that the 1992 movie A League of Their Own was his favorite film he’s made so far:

Number one would be A League of Their Own because all I did all summer was play baseball… I had all my kids with me, I had all my family with me, it was a big… summer in the Midwest. We lived in a house in the middle of cornfields. We went to Burger King at night and Dairy Queen in the afternoon. It was a great summer and my entire family still speaks about it.

He also said the movie helped catapult his career as an actor:

You hold out for something that represents more of the artist you want to be. When Penny Marshall came to me on A League of Their Own, I said, “Penny, this is written for a guy who’s older than I am. The character is in his 40s and washed up.” She said, “That’s why I want you. Because this guy should have been great until he was 40 and wasn’t.” I went, “Aaaah.” Before that a director had never said something to me like, “Come up with a reason why you’re 36, broken down and managing a woman’s baseball team…” I was looking for more of that from then on.

2. He Loved Sully‘s Storyline, But Felt Pressure To Portray The Man And Also Be Directed By Clint Eastwood

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

Although exhausted from other work, Hanks said he loved Sully‘s storyline and wanted the chance to work with Clint Eastwood

Sometimes you read something that is so stirring and at the same time so simple, such a perfect blend of behavior and procedure… I knew I wanted at least a shot at it, even though I’d been working pretty steadily for about six years. Sure I was beat, but not unlike a solid jolt of adrenaline, this role, Sully, Mr. Clint Eastwood… they all came along. I felt like I couldn’t pass up a chance at playing in this great double-header at the end of this long baseball season.

But once the actor arrived on set, he found Eastwood and the pressure to play a real person incredibly intimidating:

You certainly don’t want one of those Eastwood looks… He treats his actors like horses because when he did the ’60s series Rawhide the director would shout “Action!” and all the horses bolted. So when he’s in charge he says in a really quiet soft voice, “All right, go ahead,” and instead of shouting, “Cut!” he says, “That’s enough of that.” It’s intimidating as hell!…

You’re always intimidated [to play a real person]. You say to yourself, “I’ll never sound like him [Captain Chesley ”Sully” Sullenberger]. I’ll never look like him. Hopefully I can embody some aspect, capture some part of his personality, his characteristics, his gravitas, his charm,” whomever the person may be. And then you go to work.

3. He Calls Saving Private Ryan A “Humbling Experience”

Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

Saving Private Ryan was the most successful domestic film in 1998, bringing in $216.8 million. Instead of focusing on larger-than-life people making grand gestures in the name of freedom, the D-Day film emphasized the soldiers, who were mostly ill-experienced, frightened, civilian young men. For Hanks, working on the film, which earned 11 Oscar nominations and won five, was challenging yet moving: 

It was an uncomfortable movie to make, but we couldn’t wait to get to work every day… Because no one had touched that subject matter in quite a long time, and we were shooting it from a kind of like, under the helmet perspective, as opposed to something grand…

The actors who worked in the film went through military basic training, and the filming process was as jarring as it was eye-opening. In interviews for Roger Ebert and People magazine, Hanks recalled the humbling experience:

I went in knowing that it would be a full-blown experience and Dye [the drill sergeant] was not going to compromise for a moment. The other guys, I think, were anticipating camping in the woods and maybe learning a couple of things and sitting around the campfire…

The first day of shooting the D-Day sequences, I was in the back of the landing craft, and that ramp went down and I saw the first 1-2-3-4 rows of guys just getting blown to bits. In my head, of course, I knew it was special effects, but I still wasn’t prepared for how tactile it was. The air literally went pink and the noise was deafening and there’s bits and pieces of stuff falling all on top of you and it was horrifying.

If we ever forget that it was a bunch of individuals that went over, and they all had names like Ernie, and Buck, and Robert – that’s when we’ve done a bad job of being citizens of the world, I think.

4. He Expressed New Respect For The Navy As A Result Of Captain Phillips

Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing

To provide an authentic performance for his role as Captain Rich Phillips, Hanks said he had to think more about the bigger picture than his own family:

Early on in my career, when I wasn’t 57 years old and I hadn’t done that much or seen that much, I would turn to images of my family quite a bit in the work that I did. But as time goes by, you’ve got to see it in a broader picture than just your own personal world. You’ve got to look at the bigger world and be a part of that.

The actor also expressed a new respect for the Navy. 

I was dazzled by their professionalism, expertise and training. A ship like that is loaded with people who are experts at what they do, and what they do is hard, right down to the cooks, who have to prepare four meals a day. All they do is cook all day, and it’s astounding, the precision to which it all operates.  

There’s this misconception that the Navy is this cruise ship, and you get to go out and sail around, and every now and then, you have to swab the deck. But, no, it is a very impressive group of young people that live at sea, in this place that’s very uncomfortable. They exude a pride that is well-deserved.

5. He Thinks Forrest Gump Wouldn’t Work If It Had Premiered Today’s Time

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Forrest Gump was nominated for 13 Academy Awards in 1995 and won in six categories. Hanks believed the film was worthy of the success it generated

It was an absolute crapshoot… It was a really crazy, unique motion picture without a doubt. And it’s a movie in which the great moments that resonate are going to change depending on when you’re watching it…

But when an interviewer told him “I’m positive that its premise alone would mean that Forrest Gump would be mocked and picked apart on social media before anyone even had a chance to see it,” Hanks didn’t disagree. In fact, he said, “There’s nothing you can do about that.”

Hanks continued,

[T]here’s books of the greatest movies of all time, and Forrest Gump doesn’t appear because, oh, it’s this sappy nostalgia fest… Look… there is a moment of undeniable heartbreaking humanity in Forrest Gump when Gary Sinise… and his Asian wife walk up to our house on the day that Forrest and Jenny get married… I might get weepy thinking about it now. Forrest and Lieutenant Dan in those four words – “magic legs; Lieutenant Dan” – understand all they had been through and feel gratitude for every ounce of pain and tragedy that they survived. That’s some intangible [expletive] right there.

6. He Has Never Felt As Sick On A Set Than When He Experienced Motion Sickness Filming Apollo 13

Photo: Universal Pictures

Hanks said he always wanted to make a movie about the Apollo 13 mission and was excited when producers offered him the script for 1995’s Apollo 13.

I always thought it was a great story… I thought that it was kind of forgotten and very epic. I remember rushing home from school to see what was going to happen, waiting for [ABC TV science reporter] Jules Bergman to explain what was going on in the spacecraft. It always hung in with me at the time, the concept of these three guys slowly drifting back to Earth. I had spoken to a number of people over the course of years and asked, “You ever want to write anything about Apollo 13?” And then Jim Lovell was putting together the book that [director Ron Howard’s] company snatched up the rights to, and I didn’t even know a script was being written until I got a call from my agent.

However, his desire to experience events like the man he played make him sick on set: 

When they decided we actually were going to shoot on the plane, we went down a day early… So I thought I’d try it without the motion-sickness drugs. I wanted to see if I could handle it because people who do this all the time don’t use the drugs… Oh, it was bad. I’ll tell you, I’ve never felt that sick. I have never felt that bad. We all thought we were going to get nauseous. We all thought we were going to be little limp rag dolls floating around.

7. Leonardo DiCaprio Is The Main Reason He Asked To Be A Part Of Catch Me If You Can

Photo: DreamWorks Pictures

After reading the script for Catch Me If You Can in 2002, and realizing that Leonardo DiCaprio was going to be one of the main characters, Hanks asked producers if they would consider him as a co-star:

I knew that Leo was gonna be playing Frank Abagnale and when I read it, the character Carl Hanratty the FBI guy [stood out to me]. I called up and said, “Look… you have a part in here that is the equal to Javert in Les Misérables. You can’t have a movie called “Catch Me If You Can” without somebody who is constantly chasing him. I’d like to play who’s constantly chasing him.” 

However, the two stars never really met on set, Hanks said: 

We weren’t on the set at the same time and he always had a lot of makeup. I had to put on my glasses and there was my makeup. So, we really weren’t around that much. There was no artificial separation. We really couldn’t.

8. He Almost Quit In The Middle Of Filming Big Due To Frustration Around Penny Marshall’s Directing Style

Photo: 20th Century Fox

His 1988 filmBig, was nominated for 14 Oscars and won 11. Still, the actor got so frustrated with director Penny Marshall on set that he almost quit:

Well, one thing she did that drove me crazy was to test over and over and over again with all sorts of actors. There were scenes that I must have done 200 times on videotape and then 200 more in the rehearsal process. Penny just wanted to see all sorts of things. I would say, “I can’t do this scene one more time. I don’t care who it is. I cannot read these same goddamn words one more time or by the time we get to making the movie, I’m going to hate it so much that I’m not going to do it at all”…

Well, what happened instead was, I knew the material so well that by the time we shot it, it turned out to be the best rehearsed of all the movies that I’ve done. There are only certain people I would accept that from. Penny is one…

9. He Was Concerned For His Mental State While Shooting Cast Away

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Hanks’s performance in the blockbuster hit film Cast Away was so convincing likely because he really did feel like he was losing his mind. The actor recalled:

That movie was literally about physical action, and I don’t even recall where the camera was set up… It was just me, and the box, and the lens… and the behavior… When Wilson [the volleyball] was born, I had dialogue with him, and… I heard his dialogue in my head… I did go crazy ’cause I… never had a day off… I was never off camera for anything… The whole movie was point-and-shoot. Yeah, I don’t even recall hearing “action” and “cut.” You just kind of… like wander into the frame and wander out…

10. The Green Mile‘s Plot Inaccuracies Gave Him Mixed Emotions

Photo: Warner Bros.

Adapted from a Stephen King novel in 1999, The Green Mile became an instant hit. Despite the film’s success, Hanks said he had mixed feelings about the plot’s inaccuracies: 

I’m not sure I would’ve had the same confidence in the screenplay that I had if I had gone off and seen things the way they really are [in prison]… Stephen King, for good or bad, gave [our characters] sidearms. Now, I don’t think you’re going to have loaded weapons anywhere within the reach of a number of inmates… [Also], the reality is that they didn’t wear uniforms on death row in 1935. 

11. Splash Producer Brian Grazer’s Age Left Him In Disbelief

Photo: Buena Vista Distribution

When he first arrived on the set of the 1984 rom-com Splash, Hanks couldn’t believe how young producer Brian Grazer was:

[H]ere’s Brain Grazer… the body of a 13-year-old and the brain of Albert Einstein. And I kept waiting, you know, like, when’s the producer going to come in? Here was this guy who was asking me questions. I kept saying, “Aren’t you supposed to go get me water if I ask for it?” Instead, he was the big boss man! 

The actor also reflected on his experiences filming underwater:

Back in those days you had to go down to the bottom of the kelp bed, take off all of your equipment, including your mask and your regulator, and put it all back on. That was one of the best great adventures of the whole thing! Going on location and getting paid to learn to scuba dive!

12. He Said The Hardest Physical Work He’s Done Was Voicing ‘Woody’ In Toy Story

Photo: Toy Story 2 / Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Toy Story is now a four-movie franchise that’s grossed over $1.9 billion worldwide. Hanks loved the concept of the series and was excited to be cast as Woody: 

There were two things about it… One, it was like, “I’m not sure what this is.” The computer-generated animation itself had a look that was hyper-real. But then also, the marriage of the outraged voice of mine inside this outraged body of a toy was… just undeniably great. So I was in from the get-go.

Hanks also said Woody was the most demanding physical role he’s ever accepted:

I will say that the hardest physical work I’ve ever done as an actor has been the recording of those movies… because you cannot move. You have no costume to hide in. You have no motion in order to animate the emotion… You have to stay locked in place, on microphone, and only use your imagination and your voice in order to go there. And I think I’ve probably recorded half of all the Toy Story movies with my eyes closed. 

13. For A Long Time, He Never Understood The Popularity Of Mr. Rogers

Photo: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood / Sony Pictures Releasing

When he first accepted the role of the beloved Mr. Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Hanks didn’t understand what drew audiences to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood

I think I was 11 when he first went on the air and it was just this odd black-and-white show with puppets whose mouths didn’t move. I didn’t get it… I think I watched about seven hours of it before I realized, “Oh! This is not for me…” I cannot be an adult and watch attempting to be entertained. It’s for someone who doesn’t know how the world works. As soon as I got that, I started watching in a completely different manner…

It’s the show itself, particularly when he walks out of the house and the camera pans up into the music store, or the theater, or the movie studio. That’s where you end up seeing him operating in the real world. I think I got more from that footage than from anything else. 

Hanks then watched every episode he could, believing the role required more than replicating Rogers’s voice:

Comedians could easily just adopt a sing-songy kind of like voice, and boom: There you had Fred Rogers commentary… [but] when you are not delivering a punchline and you’re just trying to re-create who the man was, and the way the man thought, well, you end up starting over from whole cloth.

14. He Allegedly May Have Been The Reason Sleepless In Seattle‘s Original ‘Jonah’ Was Replaced

Photo: TriStar Pictures

Hanks said he was hard to work with while filming the 1993 rom-com Sleepless in Seattle. The actor had just come off of the set of another one of his hit films, A League of Their Own, and felt he was accomplished enough to complain about his original child-actor co-star, Nathan Watt:

I was an extremely cranky actor at that time, coming in and saying, “Why does the kid have so many good lines?” I had made enough movies to get smoked on a couple of occasions as well as thinking that I was a big shot and “My voice must be heard.”

According to rumors on set, Hanks was ultimately responsible for having Watt fired because he complained about how annoying the child was on set. Watt was replaced with Ross Malinger.