Imagine if Tom Hanks’ career obeyed the laws of Hollywood physics. Right about now, he’d be stewing over his latest movie that plummeted like a faulty rocket booster. He’d be asking advice from comeback king John Travolta. He’d be stuck in a meeting with a new agent: ”I’ve got five words for you, Tom—Bosom Buddies, the Motion Picture.” Instead, here we are, writing about Hanks as an Entertainer of the Year…for the third year in a row.
We know he was once capable of flops—spectacular, high-profile flops. The Bonfire of the Vanities — which starred Hanks as a philandering Park Avenue Master of the Universe — imploded so hard, it sparked a book, The Devil’s Candy. But that was 1990. Since then, Hanks, 39, has been on a gravity-defying ride. Consider: A League of Their Own ($107 million domestically); Sleepless in Seattle ($127 million); Philadelphia ($77 million, a Best Actor Oscar); Forrest Gump ($330 million, another Oscar, a zillion boxes of chocolates). Then came 1995: Hanks gave voice to Woody, Toy Story’s cowboy doll (anticipated grosses: infinity and beyond). And somehow, with his earnest portrayal of astronaut Jim Lovell, he made Apollo 13, a math-heavy story of three guys in a capsule, a $172 million phenom. A third straight statuette? Pshaw, scoffs the ever-humble Everyguy. ”[Apollo] warrants an award, but not me,” he said recently. ”They’ve had enough of me. There would be suicide jumpers [in Hollywood].”
Maybe this winning streak shouldn’t surprise us. Hanks not only comes loaded with strengths — a whiff of nostalgia, cute but sexually unthreatening looks, a gleeful enthusiasm — but he boasts a long history of defying Hollywood rules. His improbable career path took him from silly sitcom cross-dresser to gut-wrenching thespian. (Imagine Jaleel White in 20 years making a wet-cheeked Oscar speech.) He lacks an entourage, has no addictions, and yes, we have to say the N-word: He’s a nice guy. This year, Hanks bolstered his Boy Scout rep with a cameo on the sitcom The Naked Truth, a favor to his old Bosom Buddies producer Chris Thompson. And consider Hanks’ biggest tabloid scandal of 1995: A really big wave pulled down his swim trunks.
Someday, maybe, Hanks’ career will fall back to earth. He does seem to be tempting fate by his move behind the camera: He wrote, and is directing Liv Tyler in, That Thing You Do, a tale of a ’60s rock band in which Hanks appears only briefly. Whatever happens, he can always fall back on Bosom Buddies, the Motion Picture. Says Hanks, ”I would do [it] only if Peter Scolari agrees to a smaller trailer than mine.” That could probably be arranged.