Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Al Pacino

Arguably the most exciting actor of his generation, Al Pacino dropped out of The School of Performing Arts at the age of 17 to pursue a career on the boards in earnest, trading the South Bronx of his childhood for the bohemian life of Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and 60s. Having entertained family and friends from an early age with such on-target mimicry as Ray Milland looking for the hidden bottle in "The Lost Weekend", he studied at HB Studio and apprenticed at such avant-garde off-off-Broadway venues as Elaine Stewart's Cafe LaMaMa and Julian Beck and Judith Malina's Living Theatre before training at the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg and acquiring the "Method" acting intensity that propelled him to stardom. He first made his mark with an OBIE-winning performance as Murph, one of two men terrorizing an Indian (John Cazale) in Israel Horovitz's "The Indian Wants the Bronx" (1968), and the following year won his first Tony Award playing Bickham, a drug-addled psychotic, in Don Petersen's "Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?"

After making his feature debut in "Me, Natalie" (1969), Pacino portrayed his first leading role (another drug addict) in "Panic in Needle Park" (1971), and it was his terrific performance in this quirky picture that helped director Francis Ford Coppola persuade an extremely skeptical Paramount to accept him as Michael Corleone in "The Godfather" (1972). In retrospect, could anyone else have played what is tantamount to the greatest role of modern American cinema? Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro may have earned Oscars for their work as Vito Corleone in the original and its equally compelling sequel, "The Godfather, Part II" (1974), but it was Pacino's Michael that dominated the two movies, maturing from a cherubic war hero to the steely-eyed man who can coolly order executions, including that of his own brother Fredo (Cazale). He was the right actor at the right time to play the lonely tyrant, and his finely calibrated, dark volatility perfectly embodied the alienation and moral tumult of the decade.

Trading on the moody romanticism of his sad, sunken eyes, Pacino become a major star of the 70s, enjoying a four-year career roll practically unmatched in film history. In one searing performance after another, his brooding, anti-authoritarian, streetwise figures reflected the cynical mood of the times. Crossing to the other side of the law to portray the tightly-wound hippie cop of Sidney Lumet's "Serpico" (1973), he continued establishing his tragic, hair-trigger persona as Sonny, the bungling bisexual bank robber exposed to the glare of the media as he holds hostages in Lumet's "Dog Day Afternoon" (1975). Take Pacino out of either of these films, and the director's flavorful NYC atmosphere notwithstanding, it is much ado about nothing. Tucked amidst the career-making turns, there was also his underrated gem in "Scarecrow" (1973), a road movie co-starring Gene Hackman, which removed the actor from his typical inner city environs. His breakdown after hearing from the bitter wife he has abandoned that his son is dead (though the audience knows better) is one of his finest moments on screen.

Inevitably, Pacino had to make a false step after such an impressive string of well-written and forcefully rendered characterizations, and it came with "Bobby Deerfield" (1977), which cast him as a sports car racer involved in a maundering romance with Marthe Keller. "...And Justice for All" (1979) seemed like a move back to terra firma, but its mix of sadness and satire didn't come off, with Pacino displaying lots of angry flash but little complexity or soul. "Cruising" (1980), meanwhile, elicited either scorn or outrage from audiences and critics alike for its ridiculous, simplistic and hateful story of an undercover cop who infiltrates New York's gay scene to find a killer and ends up being "corrupted". "Author! Author!" (1982), Pacino's first outright comedy, was a mildly enjoyable attempt to channel his intensity and energy in a new direction, and his performance in the remake of "Scarface" (1983) was, like the film, over-the-top but undeniably potent. Unfortunately, a case of incredible miscasting placed him in the dull, superficial saga of 1776, "Revolution" (1985). The nadir of his film career, it drove him from the screen for four years while he reassessed the situation.

Unlike many stage-trained actors who abandon the theater when their movie stardom ascends, Pacino has never been far from the footlights, often likening stage work to tightrope walking as he did in the Los Angeles Times (June 29, 1999): "When you walk the wire in a movie, it's not easy to walk, but it's painted on the floor. But when you walk it on the stage, it's 100 feet high without a net." He won his second Tony Award for "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel" (1977), reprising the starring role he had played in a Boston production earlier in the decade, and has several times essayed the villainous "Richard III", not to mention portraying Marc Antony in a 1988 NYC production of "Julius Caesar". He also enjoyed a long association with David Mamet's "American Buffalo", playing Walter 'Teach' Cole from 1980-83 in a variety of venues, both off-Broadway and on, as well as on tour in the USA and Great Britain. Though asked to play the role in the 1996 film version, his loyalty to others previously connected to the project resulted in Dustin Hoffman assuming his signature role.

Pacino rediscovered his zest for film co-directing and producing "The Local Stigmatic", a pet project (adapted from a play he had once acted in) which he has occasionally showed privately and continues to tinker with to date. Harold Becker's sexy, urban thriller "Sea of Love" (1989), provided the perfect comeback role as a streetwise cop-on-the-edge who falls for a murder suspect (Ellen Barkin at her most sizzling). Aided by an excellent, witty script by Richard Price, Pacino brought great depth to his loner clutching at a second chance with the femme fatale, and his impassioned reaction when one particular twist seems to clearly indict Barkin ranks right up there with his best work for the screen. After amusingly parodying his previous gangster roles with an appropriately outlandish turn as Big Boy Caprice in "Dick Tracy", he dusted off his Michael Corleone for "The Godfather, Part III" (both 1990), then poignantly played a short order cook recently released from prison opposite a game (but miscast) Michelle Pfeiffer in Garry Marshall's "Frankie and Johnny" (1991), although audiences did not flock to see the actor's softer side.

Pacino fared far better in the 1992 adaptation of Mamet's blistering "Glengarry Glen Ross", picking up a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination as the real estate office's dynamic hotshot. That same year, he finally copped the elusive Oscar (after eight nominations) for his bravura star turn as the unabashed, hoo-hahing blind veteran cutting loose on the town in "Scent of a Woman", a slight story ennobled by his winning portrayal. Similarly, his prison-sprung drug lord in "Carlito's Way" (1993) showed that his way with gutter-tough poetry and his talent for various ethnic characterizations could be as riveting as ever. Michael Mann's "Heat" (1995) paired Pacino's high-strung police detective opposite De Niro's professional thief, marking their first appearance on screen together, and though both received high marks from reviewers, the lion's share of the praise went to writer-director Mann. That year also saw him age himself to beautifully render the grandfather in "Two Bits", a Depression-era family drama too slow and delicate to realize its full potential.

Former NYC deputy mayor Ken Lipper scripted "City Hall" (1996), which cast childhood friend Pacino as a compassionate NYC mayor embroiled in a corruption scandal and teamed him for the first time with another Bronx native Danny Aiello. Though a descent into implausible melodrama compromised its compelling beginning, another project that year stands as one of the most intriguing of his career. Pacino had worked four years on "Looking for Richard" (1996) before finally unveiling it to great acclaim. Distilled down to two hours from more than 80, this documentary-style film about the actor-director's staging of "Richard III" explored the relevance of Shakespeare to people in every walk of life and proved there was a limited market for his inspired vision. He was back on Broadway as director and star of Eugene O'Neill's "Hughie" in 1996, his first visit to the NYC boards since his 1992 performances in "Salome" and "Chinese Coffee", the latter becoming his next pet project as filmmaker. He finished shooting it in 1997, but his modus operandi established on his two previous films has remained the same. As of 1999, it was still in post-production.

If the 80s had been inimical to Pacino's talents, the 90s were turning out to be his most productive decade yet. He delivered an atypical, introspective turn as a low-level gangster in Mike Newell's "Donnie Brascoe" (1997), a tremendous story of two men who grow to love one another. As far removed from Michael Corleone as you can get in the mob food chain, Pacino's world-weary Lefty is both tragic and pathetic, but most of all he is intensely human and real, inspiring our understanding if not our sympathy. The always fine Johnny Depp in the title role raised his acting level a notch in keeping with the high standards set by his co-star. If Pacino was back to his old scenery-chewing tricks as a lawyer who just happens to be Satan in "The Devil's Advocate" (also 1997), well, who better to watch go over-the-top than a master at pulling out the stops. A small man of immense power, he was at his intense best as rabble-rousing "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman in Mann's "The Insider" (1999), an ambitious Hollywood attempt to examine journalism, and then closed out the decade in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday", playing an aging football coach.

Pacino's next major role was as the sleep-deprived Detective Will Dormer in the crime thriller feature "Insomnia" (2002), writer-director Christopher Nolan's English-language remake of Erik Skojdbjaerg's 1997 Norwegian film, in which Pacino starred opposite Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. The film received wildly mixed reviews, but each of the actors were roundly praised for their performances. Less appreciated was the Hollywood send-up "Simone" (2002), with Pacino playing a nearly washed-up director who revitalizes his career by secretly creating a digital actress that perfectly executes his every command and becomes a major star. Not only was the movie's fable style tale a bit too wafer-thin, Pacino seemed a bit at sea with the material and gave one of his less impressive performances. Next up was 2003's "The Recruit," in which he played a manipulative CIA instructor who complicates the life of rising young agent Colin Farrell, and a supporting role in the dismal Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez mob comedy "Gigli" (2003), in which he reunited with his "Scent of a Woman" director Brest to play a federal prosecutor whose mentally disabled younger brother is kidnapped. Pacino's turn as Roy Cohn in HBO's acclaimed TV adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play "Angels In America" (2003) earned him a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television and an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie.

In 2004 Pacino was able to bring one of his favorite Shakespeare plays to the big screen with director Michael Radford, playing the bitter Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice"; although the anti-Semetic overtones of the play make it difficult to adapt in the social climate of modern times, Pacino effectively portrayed the moneylender's claim for his pound of flesh as driven by a realistic anger over the loss of his daughter to a Christian man, compounded by his shabby treatment by the people of ghettoized Venice. Pacino returned to his scenery-chewing style in “Two For the Money” (2005), playing Walter Abraham, a sports wagering consultant who takes a former college basketball star (Matthew McConaughey) under his wing after learning that he has a knack for predicting games.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Tom Cruise

Engagingly sexy with a wall of perfect teeth and a grin to defrost the coldest of hearts, Tom Cruise exploded onto screens during the mid-1980s in a series of teen roles that made the most of his athleticism and revealed the boyishly handsome star's charisma. The actor quickly graduated to adult superstar status and by decade's end had held his own opposite both Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman as each garnered Best Actor Oscars in his company. By the mid-90s, he was indisputably the most powerful movie star of his generation, only bested by the relatively grizzled Harrison Ford as the world box-office champ, and by the end of the millennium he had surpassed even Ford, becoming Hollywood's most bankable star with five consecutive films grossing in excess of $100 million prior to the release of the hotly anticipated "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), Stanley Kubrick's directorial swan song. Cruise had managed this feat without developing an insufferable movie star ego, perhaps his greatest accomplishment of all--and yet in 2005 his public behavior veered far from his usual genial image, even though his career was still flying high.

A peripatetic childhood saw him attend a dozen schools by age 12, and when a knee injury derailed his wrestling ambitions, Cruise turned to acting, landing the role of Nathan Detroit in his high school production of "Guys and Dolls" and dropping out in his senior year (school had long been a problem for the dyslexic Cruise) to pursue the dream full-time. By 1981, Cruise was in Los Angeles where he met Paula Wagner, then an agent at Creative Artists Agency, who would subsequently guide his film career. After making his feature debut in a small role in Franco Zeffirelli's notorious Brooke Shields-starrer "Endless Love", he gained attention in a showy supporting role as an increasingly lunatic gung-ho cadet in "Taps" (both 1981). He next landed his first starring role opposite "older woman" Shelly Long in "Losin' It" (1983), a middling teen coming-of-age comedy. Prospects brightened when he persuaded Francis Ford Coppola to cast him in a small role as a tough guy in "The Outsiders" (1983), though he failed to stand out amidst teen heartthrobs like Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, C Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio.

Cruise gained celebrity in the superior teen sex satire "Risky Business" (also 1983) as an anxious, affluent, suburban teen poised precariously on the brink of young adulthood, creating a resonant protagonist for young Reagan-era audiences. He even put on some extra pounds to emphasize the softness and vulnerability of the character who flirts with illicit capitalism. In a star-making scene, Cruise, clad in a button-down Oxford shirt, Jockey briefs, and cool shades, played air guitar and danced wildly to Bob Seger's anthem, "Old Time Rock'n'Roll." This celebrated sequence provided a key to the actor's subsequent mega-success: he was an attractive but fairly regular guy to whom audiences could easily relate. Intriguingly, the part also showcased Cruise's magnetic sexual appeal much more effectively than many subsequent screen roles.

Cruise performed well in a more naturalistic mode in "All the Right Moves" (1983), a sober high school football drama which pitted him against hot-headed coach Craig T Nelson that fared modestly at the box office. He next grew his hair long and made the wrong move donning green tights for Ridley Scott's colossal fantasy flop, "Legend" (1985). Cruise, however, solidified his star status and established his onscreen persona with one of the signature hits of the 80s, "Top Gun" (1986). Defiantly politically incorrect, with flying sequences edited to the rhythms of pop tunes, the film functioned as both Navy recruiting ad and glossy romantic adventure. No longer the engaging boy-next-door, Cruise's Maverick was a prototype for roles to come, a cocky loner who plays by his own rules, confronts a crisis, then is triumphantly transformed.

Not content to be a matinee idol, Cruise crafted his career carefully, teaming with talented directors and co-stars for "The Color of Money" (1986) and "Rain Man" (1988). The former, Martin Scorsese's sharply made, nicely textured sequel to 1961's "The Hustler", cast him as a talented but arrogant small-time pool hotshot, a younger, greener version of Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felsen. They made an eclectic pair, Cruise's boisterous All-American boy versus Newman's seasoned con man, and though the old stud picked up the Best Actor Oscar, he was clearly passing the mantle to the new stud, and not just on the screen. The time spent talking with the politically-active Newman had a profound consciousness-raising effect on Cruise who would later choose Oliver Stone's extremely anti-war "Born on the Fourth of July" (1989) to counter his contribution to the jingoistic "Top Gun". He broadened his serious dramatic credentials in his work with director Barry Levinson on "Rain Man", playing another self-centered hotshot whose relationship with his autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman) changes his life. Hoffman shone as the idiot savant and took home Oscar, but Cruise was equally important to the Oscar-winning Best Picture equation.

For Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July", he did not have to share the spotlight (with anybody but the man at the helm who snared the Best Director Oscar for his efforts) and earned his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for a hard-hitting portrayal of paraplegic, anti-war activist Ron Kovic. Cruise then stumbled a bit with his next two projects. Though "Days of Thunder" introduced him to love of his life Nicole Kidman and inaugurated a long-term association with screenwriter Robert Towne, it suffered from an inordinately short editing period, causing Cruise (who also received a "from story" credit) to remark: "My regret is making a movie to meet a release date like that. Big mistake. I won't do it again." Scalded by critics, it still raked in $166 million worldwide, but there was no saving "Far and Away" (1992), a goofy period romance co-starring Kidman ("The honeymoon project, that's what we call it. I loved making that movie. It's a picture I look forward to showing to our kids in a few years"). He returned to box office clover after that critical and commercial disappointment, successfully confronting an iconic Jack Nicholson in Rob Reiner's highly popular court-martial drama, "A Few Good Men" (1992).

Cruise's hotshot lawyer bent on toppling his corrupt bosses in "The Firm" (1993) could have been a brother to his character in "A Few Good Men". Despite a stellar supporting cast (i.e., Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter and Wilfred Brimley, among many others), he shouldered carried the smooth adaptation of John Grisham's giant bestseller, tackling the deceptively difficult character with a vibrancy that guaranteed a successful box office for his first thriller. Director Sydney Pollack (rebounding from the disastrous "Havana" 1990) and his outstanding team of scriptwriters (Towne, David Rabe, David Rayfiel) brought a few extra plot twists and added some dramatic and ethical complexity to the attractive and entertaining tale.

Cruise then raised eyebrows--and more than a few hackles--by accepting the central role of the vampire Lestat in David Geffen's lavish production of Neil Jordan's "Interview With the Vampire" (1994). Many balked at the idea of the All-American go-getter playing the decadent, ambisexual European predator of Anne Rice's novel. Rice herself was the harshest critic as she traveled about the country trashing the casting decision while on a book tour. Sporting blond locks and blue contact lenses (his eyes are naturally green), Cruise eventually won Rice's approval and generally positive (if hardly enthusiastic) notices. The film was also notable for teaming the superstar with less familiar heartthrobs Brad Pitt, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas. Although Cruise was only 32 at the time, there was a peculiar sense of his passing on the baton. (Ironically, Pitt was only a year younger.) In any event, the film earned mixed reviews while doing brisk business.

Cruise was all but omnipresent in the media as he aggressively promoted his feature producing debut, the post-Cold War espionage movie "Mission: Impossible" (1996). Based on the fondly remembered 60s TV show, the project had languished in various development hells before Cruise got involved. This marked the inaugural project for Cruise/Wagner Productions, the company the actor formed with his one-time agent in 1992. Rumors abounded about his clashing with director Brian De Palma over budgetary and story matters. Nonetheless, despite international location shooting, high-tech stunts, computer-generated visual effects and last-minute re-writes by a stellar assortment of scripters (including his buddy Towne again), "Mission: Impossible" came in on time and under budget at approximately $67 million (Cruise deferred his $20 million actor's salary). Though many critics deemed it an extravagant but cold vanity production with a confused storyline, most admired the cinematic technique, and the mixed reviews didn't inhibit ticket buyers, proving the actor could attract crowds to a movie that didn't entirely make sense.

The sweetly offbeat romantic comedy "Jerry Maguire" (1996), in which he played the eponymous, shallow, back-stabbing sports agent, provided a sort of mid-career breakthrough for Cruise. For years he had portrayed irresistible smoothies, turning the world on with his smile while piloting fighter jets and driving race cars. Though it was a classic Cruise performance, bursting with the usual cocky charm and boyish charisma, there was an added dimension of desperation and a new maturity to his screen persona. He had played characters who had been up against the ropes before but perhaps never for so long or so convincingly. Here was a slickster whose powers had failed him, exposing a seldom seen vulnerability which made his eventual comeback that much sweeter. This time, the critics and moviegoers reached consensus, and Cruise garnered his second Best Actor Academy Award nomination. Three years would pass before he returned to the screen, though he and Wagner would produce "Without Limits" (1998), Towne's biopic about fabled long distance runner Steve Prefontaine.

Cruise took himself out of the game at the height of his career to work with Kubrick on "Eyes Wide Shut", starring opposite Kidman for the first time since "Far and Away". Far from feeling hostage to the famous perfectionist's obsessive vision, the pair relished their brush with genius, diving in to share the adventure with eyes wide open. "For me it was no sacrifice. He became a dear friend and a mentor. Sometimes I'd look at him and think, This guy made '2001'! I'll carry the experience the rest of my life." The director gained the couple's trust as only a true friend could. When he filmed Cruise and Kidman in the nude scene that opens the film, Kubrick closed the set and operated the camera himself, intensifying the intimacy among the three of them. Sex and violence have long resonated as twin bogeymen in the rhetoric of the moral majority, but sex that is not degrading or a joke has been curiously absent from commercial cinema for some time. Though time will tell if Kubrick's swan song can revive the erotic impulse and its consequences as viable mainstream fodder, "Eyes Wide Shut" is a significant notch in Cruise's artistic belt, one well worth the tens of millions of dollars he gave up as the 18-week shoot ballooned to 52 weeks over 15 months.

Following the arduous shoot with Kubrick and the mixed critical and box office reaction to "Eyes Wide Shut", Cruise took on a pivotal role in Paul Thomas Anderson's ensemble drama "Magnolia" (1999). Playing a cocky sex guru who runs seminars designed to empower men, the actor offered a charismatic turn that was alternately chilling and humorous. Having taken a role in an ensemble piece, Cruise reminded audiences and reviewers alike of his capabilities as a dramatic actor and earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. He segued back to leading parts in more high profile mainstream work reprising his role as Ethan Hunt in the big-budget, special effects laden "M:I-2" ("Mission: Impossible 2" 2000), directed by John Woo. For a variety of reasons, the film's shooting schedule fell behind forcing the release date to be moved back several months and for Cruise to postpone his long-awaited teaming with director Steven Spielberg on the futuristic thriller "Minority Report."

Before tackling that film, Cruise reunited with his "Jerry Maguire" helmer Cameron Crowe for an American remake of the perception-bending 1997 Spanish film "Abre los ojos" aka "Open Your Eyes." During the making of that film, titled "Vanilla Sky" Cruise endured a very public and acrimonious split from his Kidman, and while the reasons were never revealed he clearly laid the blame at her door, even as he entered into a relationship with his "Vanilla Sky" co-star Penelope Cruz (Cruise and Kidman later amicably worked out their divorce battles for their children's sake in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001). "Vanilla Sky" (2001) opened to mixed reviews, seen as a competent and often compelling puzzle with a somewhat unsatisfying endgame, and Cruise's performance as David Aames, a successful publisher finds his life taking a turn for the surreal after a car accident with a obsessive lover, was seen as appropriately intense but perhaps a little over-the-top in his efforts to subvert his pretty boy looks with Hollywood-made scars. The actor was finally given the opportunity to work with Spielberg on "Minority Report" (2002), a crackerjack collaboration filled with skillful action sequences and a thought-provoking expansion of sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick's premise of a future where police use precognitives to prevent murders before they happen. Playing Detective John Anderton, the head of the special unit who finds himself the subject of a manhunt after the psychics predict that he will commit a murder, Cruise is in top heroic form on the run from his own officers.

Up next Cruise turned in one of his more nuanced performances for director Ed Zwick in "The Last Samurai" (2003), playing Capt. Nathan Algren, an alcoholic veteran of Custer's battles with Mative Americans who travels to Japan to help Westernize the Imperial army, only to be captured by a rebellious samurai leader (Ken Watanabe) and embrace the ways of the bushido code, finding his lost honor along the way. Although the film follows the slightly patronizing white-man-embraces-and-improves-indigenous culture template of movies such as "Dances With Wolves," Cruise's initial anguish and his subsequent reclaiming of his own soul were skillfully and subtlety conveyed by the actor, earning him a Golden Globe nomination. The actor's hot streak continued unabated with another of his best roles, the cold-hearted assassin Vincent who highjacks a good-hearted L.A. cabbie (Jamie Foxx) to drive him on his deadly rounds in director Michael Mann's "Collateral" (2004). Wearing a gray wig and beard stubble, Cruise used his trademark intensity to his advantage in a rare villainous role, while his inherent charm also gave the character a compelling quality.

Cruise's personal life overshadowed his professional career in 2005 when, after just a few weeks of dating, he and actress Katie Holmes--who was at 26 was 16 years younger than Cruise--announced their romance to the world just weeks before both of them had major summer movies heading to theaters (Cruise, the Steven Spielberg-directed "War of the Worlds"; Holmes, the franchise re-starting "Batman Begins") . The media instantly speculated that the romance was a massive publicity stunt, and the couple's often unconvincing interaction and their relentless media onslaught added fuel to the fire: within just a few weeks of the announcement, Cruise made a bizarre fist-pumping appearance on Oprah Winfrey's talk show to proclaim his love for Holmes, jumping on the host's set furniture and dragging a seemingly reluctant Holmes before the cameras; Holmes presented Cruise with a career achievement award on the MTV Movie Awards; Holmes, who had been quoted years earlier that as a girl she dreamed of marrying Cruise, denied even thinking about their age (or height) difference; and both appeared separately before David Letterman to further spin their love story. Meanwhile, Cruise had long been a proponent of the often mysterious, Hollywood-centered Church of Scientology founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (he credited his studies there with "curing" him of the dyslexia that plagued him since his youth, among other benefits; rumors abounded that his faith contributed to his split with Nicole Kidman) and the actor took an active role in promoting the religion around the globe. At the onset of the Holmes romance, he also was reportedly instrumental in opening up the very secretive church and inviting journalists to sample its practices (Holmes also began taking Scientology courses, and dumped her Hollywood handlers in favor of his). The couple's apparent happy ending came just days later, when they announced their engagement in Paris. However, he also launched into a uncharacteristic war of words with his former "Endless Love" co-star Brooke Shields after she described taking antidepressants to relieve her post-partum depression in her book Down Came the Rain, with Cruise criticizing Shields for being "irresponsible," claiming her career was over and suggesting that vitamins would have been a better alternative treatment. Also, rumors ran rampant that Paramount was waflfing over proceeeding with "Mission Impossible 3" due to concerns about Cruise, but the studio ultimately moved forward on the film. And there were more curious on-camera incidents, including a sharply worded exchange with "Today Show" co-host Matt Lauer in which Cruise aggressively derided psychiatry as a "pseudo-science,"provoking a formal rebuke from the American Psychiatric Association. Nearly lost in all of Cruise's public appearances was his film "War of the Worlds" itself, which was another mostly masterful exercise in cinematic suspense and terror, bouyed by a strong performance by Cruise as Ray Ferrier, a working class deadbeat dad who must suddenly protect his two children during a horrific alien invasion.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tom Hanks

Few could have predicted back in 1980 that one of the leads of a sitcom about a pair of slippery, wisecracking ad men who cross-dress in order to keep a cheap apartment in a women's hotel would emerge as one of the country's most beloved entertainers by the end of the century. Tom Hanks rose from the star of a cult comedy series ("Bosom Buddies", ABC 1980-82) to a respected Oscar-winning actor and Emmy-winning producer with an equally successful secondary career as a writer-director.

Blandly attractive, projecting a nice guy, Everyman persona, this California native experienced by his own account, a relatively unhappy childhood. After his parents' divorce in the early 1960s, Hanks, along with his two older siblings, went to live with their father, a cook who went on to two more marriages. Spending most of his formative years in the San Francisco Bay area, Hanks developed an interest in acting, receiving encouragement from one of his drama teachers Rawley Farnsworth, whom the actor cited in his 1994 Academy Award acceptance speech. Dropping out of college, he interned at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival under the guidance of famed Irish director Vincent Dowling and made his professional acting debut with the troupe in 1978. After a brief and unsuccessful stint in NYC, Hanks earned his first mainstream exposure opposite Peter Scolari in "Bosom Buddies".

A guest appearance on an episode of "Happy Days" led to a fortuitous introduction to Ron Howard. When Howard set about casting the male lead in "Splash" (1984), the director hired Hanks for the role of a boyishly charming produce vendor who falls in love with a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). Proving a likable and engaging screen presence, he seemed assured of becoming a light romantic comedian. The amusing but sophomoric "Bachelor Party" (1984) followed as did a string of comic misfires (e.g., "The Man With One Red Shoe" 1984; "The Money Pit" 1986) that nearly ruined the actor's career. Of the films of this period only "Nothing in Common" (1986), in which Hanks played a selfish workaholic who begins to bond with his ailing father (Jackie Gleason), was perhaps the best.

1988 proved to be a turning point for Hanks with two parts that demonstrated his versatility. He offered a strong turn with dramatic overtones as a volatile, brash and ambitious stand-up comedian who first mentors and then competes against a rising female comic (Sally Field). Hanks surprised many with the depth of his characterization. That same year, he also displayed his winning charms as a teenager trapped in the body of a 35 year old man in the winning "Big", helmed by Penny Marshall. The one-two punch of these roles proved there was more to the actor's craft and abilities and he was rewarded with critics' prizes and an Oscar nomination for "Big".

Trying not to repeat himself and avoiding typecasting, Hanks accepted a string of leads in projects that perhaps sounded better on paper than in their execution. "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990) first teamed him with Meg Ryan but their chemistry was dissipated by a meandering script. Although he might have seemed a bold choice to play the Wall Street wheeler dealer at the heart of "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (also 1990), Hanks proved to be grossly miscast in what proved a muddled mess. After a string of unsuccessful pictures, the actor reportedly campaigned for the change-of-pace role of the boozy coach of a distaff baseball team in "A League of Their Own" (1992). Although director Penny Marshall considered him wrong for the part, she nonetheless hired him. Gaining weight and taking a character proved a popular choice with audience members, although many reviewers concurred with Marshall's original instincts. Much more successful was a reteaming with Ryan in Nora Ephron's paean to romance "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993). Again displaying both his earnest charm and a flair for light comedy, Hanks offered glimpses into the sadness and loneliness of the widower father he was portraying.

"Philadelphia" (1993) finally solidified his standing as a leading dramatic actor. Some carped over his casting as a homosexual lawyer with AIDS who is fired from his firm and files a discrimination suit; despite having an onscreen lover, his character was presented almost as asexual who disappointed many in the gay community who had hoped for a more realistic depiction of their lives. Still, Hanks rose to the challenges and delivered a poignant, moving performance that earned him the first of his back-to-back Oscars. (He himself realized he was the "safe" choice for the part as he indicated in interviews at the time.) Newly anointed in Hollywood with epithets like "the nicest guy in show business" or "the new Jimmy Stewart" for his stalwart persona, he went on to stretch further playing a Southerner with a low IQ who through happenstance takes part in many of the defining moments of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Hanks displayed the proper whimsy required for this man-child who was fond of sappy sayings (i.e., "Stupid is as stupid does", "Mama always said life was like a box a chocolates, never know what you're gonna get") and built a consistent characterization. The film, which touched a chord with moviegoers who cheered Forrest's survival and triumph over one adversity after another, became the year's highest-grosser (in excess of $300 million) and picked up six Academy Awards, including Hanks' second as Best Actor.

Now ensconced in the pantheon of cinematic heroes, Hanks reteamed with Ron Howard to tell the story of the ill-fated 1970 NASA mission of "Apollo 13" (1995). Playing real-life astronaut Jim Lovell (a role earmarked for Kevin Costner by the film's screenwriters), the actor served as a the anchor and delivered yet another fine performance. Rounding out that year, Hanks provided the vocals for Woody, a cowboy threatened by the more sophisticated razzle dazzle of Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) in "Toy Story", the computer-generated animated fable of friendship.

For the next couple of years, Hanks honed his screenwriting, producing and directing crafts. He wrote and helmed the genial 60s-era comedy-drama "That Thing You Do!" (1996), about a band who achieves success with a single hit. While not a blockbuster, the film demonstrated his flair for eliciting strong performances from a cast of relative unknowns (Hanks had a featured role as a slightly mysterious manager who represents the group) and for camera placement and pacing. He further enhanced his skills wearing several hats on a dream project, the 13-part examination of the history of the US Space Program, "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998). In addition to executive producing the series, Hanks helmed the first segment, wrote four installments and acted in the penultimate episode, sharing the 1998 Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries with co-producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. After nearly two years away from the big screen, he returned in a prestige project cast as an army captain on a mission to locate a missing soldier behind enemy lines in Steven Spielberg's highly-praised "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). As Miller, the actor traded on his 'good guy' persona but colored the performance with hints of a dark side. While some of his co-stars were reduced to fleshing out two-dimensional stereotypes, Hanks was given a more complex role and offered one of his finest screen performances, earning his fourth Academy Award nomination as Best Actor. Later that same year, he wrestled with the ghost of James Stewart when he co-starred a third time opposite Meg Ryan in Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail", an updating of the 1940 Stewart-Margaret Sullavan classic "The Shop Around the Corner". Hanks then reunited with his "Private Ryan" cohort Barry Pepper to play prison guards who become involved with a mysterious prisoner in "The Green Mile" (1999), an adaptation of Stephen King's novel. Further stretching his thespian muscles, he collaborated with "Gump" director Robert Zemeckis on "Cast Away" (2000), which took the unusual step of interrupting filming to allow the actor to drop an appropriate amount of weight for his role as a man trapped on a deserted island. His bravura performance -- for nearly a third of the film, Hanks was onscreen alone -- brought him renewed critical acclaim and yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination.

After his experience portraying a veteran in "Saving Private Ryan", Hanks became active in the creation of a memorial to the men and women who fought during WWII. He and Spielberg also joined forces to executive produce the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" (2001), adapted from historian Stephen Ambrose's book which followed the soldiers in the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from their training in Georgia in 1942 through their participation in the Normandy Invasion. (Hanks additionally directed one episode of the miniseries, for which he earned an Emmy .) The actor then took on an atypical role, portraying a 1920s Chicago gangster seeking revenge for the death of family members in "The Road to Perdition" (2002)--the film prompted mixed responses but Hanks' efforts were roundly praised, though the actor's inherent likeability slightly undermined the professional killer that he played . His next film reuntied him with Spielberg and cast him as real-life FBI fraud investigator Carl Hanratty who was on the trail of the youngest con artist ever to make the Most Wanted list, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio). Eqaul parts downtrodden and dogged, Hanratty was one of Hanks' most distinctive on-screen creations and stood in perfect contrast to DiCaprio as the film's glamorous lead--this time Hanks' likeability served his underdog character well, and the actor convincingly convenyed Carl's unlikeable aspects as well. Indeed, the part seemed to mark Hanks' departure from charming leading man roles to dazzling character turns, a la Jack Lemmon and James Stewart . Also in 2002, Hanks the movie producer scored a mega-success with the unexpectedly popular comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which Hanks' part-Greek wife Wilson had discovered when it was still a one-woman show created by star Nia Vardalos.

Hanks' next trick was a return to his wacky comedic roots--indeed, even quirkier territory than he'd plumbed before--in the Coen brothers' remake of the cult classic British film "The Ladykillers" (2004); playing the verbose, guffawing Professor Dorr, Hanks created a bizarre and distinct character who polarized critics. The actor re-teamed with Spielberg for a third time with "The Terminal" (2004); Hanks, again trying on a heavy accent, played Eastern European immigrant Viktor Navorski, who through a quirk of international politics and passport law becomes stranded in a New York City airport terminal, where he takes up residence and becomes involved with many of the terminal's temporary inhabitants--despite a strong performance and smart direction, the film utlimately failed on a story level. Hanks then reunited with Zemeckis and took up the challenge of playing multiple characters in the ambitious CGI-animated adapatation of the popular children's story "The Polar Express" (2004), using the groundbreaking Performance Capture technology to digitally morph his physical performances into his on-screen roles as The Conductor, Hero Boy, Santa Claus, the Hobo and the Boy's Father, which were subsequently woven seamlessly into the film's computer generated environments.

  • Also Credited As:
    Thom Hanks, Thomas J. Hanks
  • Born:
    on 07/09/56 in Concord, California
  • Job Titles:
    Actor, Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Songwriter, Hotel bellboy, Sold peanuts at Oakland Coliseum
  • Brother: Jim Hanks. younger; born on June 15, 1961
  • Brother: Larry Hanks. born on January 26, 1953; teaches at University of Illinois
  • Daughter: Elizabeth Ann Hanks. born on May 17, 1982; mother, Samantha Lewes (aka Susan Dillingham)
  • Father: Amos Hanks. divorced Hanks' mother in 1960; had custody of Hanks and two older siblings; married two more times; died in 1992
  • Mother: Janet Turner. divorced Hanks' father in 1960; retained custody of Jim Hanks; remarried several times
  • Siblings: has numerous half-siblings and stepsiblings due to parents' marriages
  • Sister: Sandra Hanks. born on July 31, 1951
  • Son: Chester Marlon Hanks. born on August 4, 1990; mother, Rita Wilson
  • Son: Colin Hanks. born in 1977; mother, Samantha Lewes (aka Susan Dillingham)
  • Son: Truman Theodore Hanks. born on December 26, 1995; mother, Rita Wilson
Significant Others
  • Wife: Rita Wilson. born c. 1956; married 1988; mother of Hanks' second and third sons; met on the set of "Volunteers" (1985)
  • Wife: Samantha Lewes. were college sweethearts; married in 1979; mother of Hanks's older two children; separated in 1985; divorced in 1987
  • Skyline High School, Oakland, California, 1974
  • California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, California, theater, 1976-77
  • Chabot Junior College, Hayward, California
  • --- Will unite with director Ron Howard to portray professor Robert Langdon, in the film adaptation of "The Da Vinci Code" based on Dan Brown's bestseller (lensed 2005)
  • 1978 Made professional debut as Grumio in "The Taming of the Shrew" at the Riverside Theater in Cleveland, Ohio
  • 1980 Co-starred in the short-lived cult ABC sitcom, "Bosom Buddies"; played an advertising trainee who pretended to be a woman in order to live cheaply at a women-only hotel
  • 1980 Film acting debut, "He Knows You're Alone"; was paid $800
  • 1982 First TV-movie, "Rona Jaffe's 'Mazes and Monsters'"
  • 1983 Had recurring role as Uncle Ned on the NBC sitcom "Family Ties"
  • 1984 First leading role in a feature film, "Splash", directed by Ron Howard
  • 1986 Gave a finely nuanced performance as a workaholic advertising executive who tries to reconcile with his ill father (Jackie Gleason) in the bittersweet "Nothing in Common"
  • 1988 Delivered as strong turn as a bitter stand-up comic in "Punchline"; co-starred opposite Sally Field
  • 1988 Earned first Best Actor Academy Award nomination for "Big", directed by Penny Marshall
  • 1990 First screen pairing with Meg Ryan (who had multiple roles) in the uneven comedy "Joe Versus the Volcano"
  • 1990 Starred as Sherman McCoy in Brian De Palma's ill-fated screen version of "The Bonfire of the Vanities"
  • 1992 Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • 1992 Rejuvenated career after a string of box-office disappointments playing the character role of the boozy baseball coach in "A League of Their Own"; seceond collaboration with Penny Marshall as director
  • 1992 TV directorial debut, "None But the Lonely Heart" episode of HBO's "Tales From the Crypt" series
  • 1993 Directed and acted in "I'll Be Waiting", a segment of the Showtime series "Fallen Angels"
  • 1993 Portrayed a gay lawyer with AIDS who sues his law firm for wrongful termination in "Philadelphia"; won Best Actor Oscar
  • 1993 Proved a fine romantic lead opposite Ryan in the Nora Ephron-directed "Sleepless in Seattle"
  • 1993 With Gary Goetzman, formed the production company Clavius Base
  • 1994 Received consecutive Best Actor Academy Award as "Forrest Gump". a slow-witted Southerner who lives an extraordinary life; first collaboration with director Robert Zemeckis; Sally Field played his mother
  • 1995 Portrayed real-life astronaut in "Apollo 13", directed by Howard
  • 1995 Voiced the cowboy Woody in the computer-animated feature "Toy Story"
  • 1996 Feature screenwrting and directing debut, "That Thing You Do!"; also played featured role of the band's manager amd wrote songs included in the film
  • 1998 Co-executive produced the 13-part HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon" about the NASA space program; also acted in, scripted and directed episodes; co-produced with Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and others; show won Emmy Award as Outstanding Miniseries
  • 1998 Headlined the Steven Spielberg-directed "Saving Private Ryan", playing a captain leading a team of soldiers in search of the missing private; garnered Best Actor Academy Award nomination
  • 1998 Third teaming with Meg Ryan, the romantic comedy "You've Got Mail"; directed by Nora Ephron; a loose remake of "The Shop Around the Corner"
  • 1999 Reprised voice of Woody in "Toy Story 2", originally planned as a direct-to-video release, film received a theatrical distribution
  • 1999 Starred as a prison guard in the period drama "The Green Mile". adapted from Stephen King's novel
  • 2000 Co-starred with Helen Hunt in "Cast Away", directed by Zemeckis; played a man stranded on a deserted island; production was halted to allow Hanks to lose an appropriate amount of weight to reflect the character's emaciation; received Best Actor Oscar nomination
  • 2001 With Spielberg, produced the HBO WWII-themed miniseries "Band of Brothers"; also scripted and directed episodes
  • 2002 Cast as the FBI investigator perusing the U.S.'s youngest Most Wanted con man in "Catch Me If You Can," directed by Speilberg
  • 2002 Co-starred with Paul Newman in "The Road to Perdition"
  • 2004 Cast as the voice of The Conductor/Hero Boy in the animated film "Polar Express," directed and screenplay by Robert Zemeckis
  • 2004 Received a People's Choice nomination for Favorite all-time entertainer
  • 2004 Starred as a southern professor who puts together a group of thieves to rob a casino in the remake of "The Ladykillers," a film by Joel and Ethan Coen
  • 2004 Starred in the romantic comedy "The Terminal," as Viktor Navorski, an immigrant who becomes a resident of a New York airport terminal; directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • 2005 Elected a vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
  • Made guest appearance on ABC's "Happy Days"; first met Ron Howard
  • Moved to New York
  • Spent three seasons performing with the Great Lakes Theater Festival in Ohio working with Vincent Dowling