The two films that came out of Tom Hanks’ Oscar runs

Tom Hanks
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Tom Hanks has picked up two Oscars for Best Actor – and each award has a knock-on effect that led to another film being made.

It’s little revelation that being in the running for an Oscar – get ready for your violins – is gruelling work.

Since now convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein pretty much revolutionised Oscar campaigning in the early 1990s, it’s become established that it’s a merry-go-round of interviews, touring the world, promoting a film, and attending lots of ceremonies in the build up to the Academy Awards that otherwise you wouldn’t go to. You need to fight for your gong, and merit is just part of the battle.


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It’s a nice thing to be in Academy Award contention of course, but it does come with a sting. There’s no guarantee of a statue, it can eat up months of your time you hadn’t accounted for, and even if you do win, you might smack someone in the face and derail your career. It’s a tightrope.

Take, for instance, a movie such as Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, a film that ultimate won its writer/director his first Academy Award. From the first interview he did to the last, I count that he was promoting the film for about seven or eight months once it became clear it was an awards contender.

Onto the story in hand.

Tom Hanks experienced the same when Forrest Gump found itself on an Oscar charge in 1994 into 1995. Initially thinking he would just have to do the requisite press for promoting a film of its ilk, he ended up doing a ton more once it became clear that there was a strong chance of Oscar gold. Given that Oscars effectively mean your film has some degree of long tail into the future, it’s a prize still worth grasping.

Hanks thus found himself from the summer of 1994 through to around March of 1995 continually on the move, continually promoting the film. He’d just come off a similar run for the previous year’s Philadelphia too. Hanks had other projects he wanted to get going, but was struggling to do so given his commitments to Gump.

Forrest Gump would win Hanks in the end his second Oscar, and take home Best Picture amongst its many gongs too (defeating fellow Best Picture nominees that year that included Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and the hugely underappreciated Quiz Show). But even by the time he took to the Oscar stage, one of two films was coming to life as a consequence of his back to back awards successes.

He’s told the story a couple of times, but he explains it in particular on a vintage episode of The Kevin Pollak Chat Show. You can find that here.

There, he talks there about how he never had a particular drive to direct, as some actors do. Yet he found himself travelling around, sitting in hotel rooms, waiting for interviews, and realising he had a period of time to get something down on paper. He started jotting down ideas, and the nucleus of the wonderful That Thing You Do! came together.

If you’ve not seen the film, do seek it out. A 1964-set love letter to the music of the era, about a young band enjoying their one-hit wonder. It’s PG-rated too, and Hanks’ pen also contributed to some of the songs. Not this one, though…

At this stage in his career, Hanks was on top of the world, and let’s face it, his armchair is still in a similar place. As such, he could take project to a studio and the path to getting a relatively low-key film made was clearer to him. Once he’d completed the script, he realised he probably had to direct it too, and that he’d struggle watching someone else trying to bring something so close to his heart to life. He declares himself an instinctive actor but not an instinctive director, but still, he shepherded the film into life, where it became a modest initial success.

He’s admitted that he feared the film would appear and then disappear. Released in the 1990s, it was trickier for a film to get a second life unless it became a video hit or found itself in regular rotation on TV. But as Hanks admits, to his happiness, the film has bubbled on, and streaming has done it a few favours too.

The other film to come out of Tom Hanks’ Oscar runs is a story better known. The year before he won Best Actor for Forrest Gump, Hanks had picked up the same gong for his work in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia.

Hanks’ acceptance speech on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in March 1994 was full of appreciation. In particular, he named his high school drama teacher, and called he and a classmate of his “two of the finest gay Americans”.

The teacher’s name? Rawley Farnsworth, a mentor of Hanks’, and what the immediate reporting in the aftermath of the speech didn’t recognise was that Hanks had contacted his old teacher in advance to check if he could mention him should he win. Farnsworth had kept his sexuality secret during his teaching career, but by now was long retired. He was touched to have been remembered, and talked about it here. He had also given permission for his sexuality to be discussed.

But the story that quickly span out of this was that Hanks had invertedly outed Farnsworth, in front of a live audience of tens of millions of people. Newspaper headlines at the time were not shy about this. As the old cliché goes, sometimes, you print the legend.

But this confluence of circumstances soon had another impact.

Producer Scott Rudin, a man in more modern times under the microscope of bullying allegations, quickly saw an opportunity. He came up with the idea for the comedy In & Out, that’d take the fictionalised version of what happened with Hanks’ Oscar speech as its catalyst. He hired screenwriter Paul Rudnick – who’d penned the wonderful Addams Family Values – and a screenplay came together.

The resultant film came about quite quickly. Directed by Frank Oz, with Kevin Kline leading the cast, In & Out was a box office hit in its own right, albeit one that didn’t trouble the Academy Awards. And remarkably, within a couple of years, two Tom Hanks Oscar runs had generated in different ways two different ways.

Hanks is next due on screen in A Man Called Otto, and may yet pick up another Oscar nod for his supporting turn in this year’s Elvis. And who knows – if he has a long campaign for the gong again, we might get another film or two out of it…

Lead image: BigStock

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