Accepting change. Tom Hanks reflected on his lengthy career in a new interview, and he admitted that he probably wouldn’t take one of his Oscar-winning roles today.
“Let’s address, ‘Could a straight man do what I did in Philadelphia now?’ No, and rightly so,” the Captain Phillips star, 65, told The New York Times in a Q&A published on Monday, June 13. “The whole point of Philadelphia was don’t be afraid. One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man.”
The Uncommon Type author won an Academy Award for best actor for his performance in the 1993 film, which also starred Denzel Washington. Hanks played Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who hides his AIDS diagnosis and his homosexuality from his coworkers because he’s afraid it could compromise his career. After the firm fires him, Andrew sues the company for discrimination.
The movie was one of the earliest mainstream depictions of the HIV/AIDS crisis, which is one reason why Hanks believes he landed the role of Andrew. The Forrest Gump star was already beloved by audiences across the country for his work in Big, Splash and more, so he was a safe casting choice for a potentially controversial film.
“One of the reasons people weren’t afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man,” the California native explained on Monday. “We’re beyond that now, and I don’t think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy.”
The Bosom Buddies alum went on to note that he’s not at all upset by the changing cultural standards that might make it difficult for him to play Andrew now. “It’s not a crime, it’s not boohoo, that someone would say we are going to demand more of a movie in the modern realm of authenticity,” he said. “Do I sound like I’m preaching? I don’t mean to.”
Hanks previously discussed his Philadelphia role in the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, which explored the history of LGBTQIA+ characters in film.
“There is this constant desire on the part of the studios to make characters likable,” the Elvis actor explained. “My screen persona is pretty much nonthreatening. I have never been one to strike fear into anybody’s hearts when I enter the room or first appear on screen. And because of [that persona] then, this idea of a gay man with AIDS is not scary. It’s something else, but it doesn’t have to be scary. You don’t have to be threatened by this man’s presence. And part of it is because little Tommy Hanks is playing the role.”
Writer Ron Nyswaner, who was nominated for his work on the Philadelphia screenplay, explained that the movie needed big stars who could draw the attention of audiences who might not otherwise be interested in the subject matter.
“We felt that we would fail if our movie played to people who already think that discrimination against people with AIDS is wrong, or people who already believe that people shouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals,” the Painted Veil screenwriter, 65, said in the documentary. “If our movie only played to people who thought just like we do, we would have done nothing very significant.”