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Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 15:31 GMT
Hanks anchors dreams on Cast Away
Cast Away
Hanks as the stranded Chuck face-to-face with cruelty of total isolation
Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks is used to grabbing headlines but his latest movie Cast Away is creating a greater buzz than Saving Private Ryan or Forrest Gump.

Cast Away sees Hanks, 44, reunited with Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis but any comparison with their previous work ends there.

The film follows courier company employee Chuck Noland as he goes through the various stages of survival when stranded on a desert island for four years following a plane crash.


I saw it like a romantic notion based on our ideal of getting away for two weeks without a phone, a watch and how wonderful we all imagine that to be

Tom Hanks

The idea sounds conventional enough, in the great tradition of Robinson Crusoe.

Yet Cast Away, which sees Hanks carry the entire two-and-a-half hour $85m film alone on screen without a heavy soundtrack, is no ordinary fantasy adventure.

What's more it is being hailed as one of the biggest risks in recent movie-making history - and of Hanks' entire career.

Still Cast Away has proved a risk worth taking. It has reaped huge box office takings in both the US and UK and acting awards for Hanks.

"It's the most personally involved I have ever been with a film," says Hanks.

Cast Away
Chuck is marooned after a plane crash

"I saw it like a romantic notion based on our ideal of getting away for two weeks without a phone, a watch and how wonderful we all imagine that to be.

"I thought it would be great to take the idea further and ask: 'But what happens next when you go beyond it being an ideal?'"

Experiment

Hanks had his original idea about six years ago while working on Apollo 13. He then began developing it with screenwriter William Broyles.


Chuck emerges not necessarily as a better man but as a different man

Tom Hanks

They agreed that Hanks' character Chuck Noland should be a FedEx employee - a practical man used to connecting people all over the world who is run by time and his connections.

The experiment - and point of the film - would therefore be to examine how Chuck first develops physical survival skills.

Then, and more importantly, it follows what happens to him mentally once he no longer has his physical needs to fully occupy his mind.

Cast Away
Chuck's first hurdle is learning how to survive physically

"Chuck emerges not necessarily as a better man but as a different man," explains Hanks.

"He has been through something that will stay with him for the rest of his life.

"And he should come away with a deeper appreciation of society and the company of other people.

"He realises that if he hadn't gone through that experience - and lost everything - he would never have come to understand what's truly important."

If the movie represented a huge learning curve for Chuck, who eventually returns to civilisation, it was equally testing for Hanks - who put himself through almost as many trials and tribulations as his character.


There is a fine line between solitude and abject loneliness but you cross that barrier in a blink of an eye

Tom Hanks

Over a gruelling 16-month production schedule - much of it spent on the remote Pacific island chosen for the shoot - the actor lost four stone and put himself through many of the tests faced by Chuck.

"I learnt a great deal - like how to light a fire for example," enthuses the actor.

"Simple things like that become hugely important and if you do them right, there is great drama to be had.

"One of the things we focused on was the nature of night time. If you don't have any form of light then things are pitch-black by 7pm.

"That's pretty formidable and becomes a huge obstacle to get past."

Pizza

But, says Hanks, the biggest lesson of Cast Away is how vital human interaction and relationships are to survival.

"There is a fine line between solitude and abject loneliness but you cross that barrier in a blink of an eye and then the question is whether you can go back and the answer is probably no."

Cast Away
Chuck's view of life has totally changed when he returns home

The view among some movie critics is that Cast Away represents a moral turning point in Hanks' acting career.

His next film is The Road to Perdition in which he plays a hit man in Depression-era Chicago who is none the less hell-bent on justice and revenge for the murders of his own wife and children.

Hanks, however, plays down suggestions that he is deliberately changing along with his roles.

"It's a job, not a life," he jokes.

As if to dispel the serious mood that has fallen in talking about the true meaning of Cast Away, Hanks concludes: "It would be romantic notion to take away that Chuck comes home more in touch with nature and the planet.

"Actually, I think that if you had been on an island for four years what you would really want would be shower, a slice of pizza and a good conversation.

"But I'm not nearly as strong as Chuck and would have given myself over to desperation much earlier."

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See also:

08 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Hanks holds box office lead
26 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Cast Away tops US box office
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