Tom Hanks at first resisted the offer to take on the role of Fred Rogers. I think that’s a sign of great wisdom on his part.
Who in their right mind would take on the role of one of the most recognizable and beloved figures in children’s television, a man who has been nearly canonized in recent years? Mess that up and the public might be exceptionally unforgiving.
But when he realized he’d have the chance to work with director Marielle Heller, Hanks revisited his decision. He placed himself in her capable hands, and this week the long-anticipated film It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood arrived in theatres.
It takes moxie to lace up those casual shoes and fill that red cardigan, and Hanks has it. Here’s how:
Moxie needs new words to describe it.
Hanks is often called the “everyman” but I think what we really mean when we say that is he is the “everyhero.” The characters he chooses to play – and arguably the man himself – are basically kind and decent, but have some flaw or challenge to overcome. We cheer him on as he faces those flaws and overcomes them. He’s perhaps someone we could aspire to be.
Hanks didn’t start out as an Oscar-winning actor. He couldn’t even get cast in plays in college. Instead, he turned to community theatre and worked steadily over time to hone his skills.
I might never possess Brad Pitt’s enviable good looks or Dwayne Johnson’s incredible physique or Fred Rogers’ otherworldly capacity for kindness, but maybe – just maybe – I can see myself in Tom Hanks. He demonstrates for me that with commitment, humility and moxie I can grow every day to become the best possible version of myself.
Moxie means pursuing humanity.
It takes discipline to physically transform yourself for a role. Hanks has gained and lost significant weight for various roles he’s played over the years. He dropped considerable weight to take on his Oscar-winning role in the movie Philadelphia. And remember when he grew that long, shaggy beard for his role in Castaway?
But I’m most fascinated by the real discipline he practices daily. He is by nature a charmer and a showman. He knows how to enter a room and win it over, using his quick-wittedness. Think Robin Williams, but less frenetic.
As a long-time Hollywood A-lister, there’s little demand for him to listen just for the sake of listening. His life is filled with people asking him questions and hanging on his every word. But Hanks disciplines himself to be present and tune in.
“There’s an acronym that I’m using now in my own life – W.A.I.T., wait – which stands for ‘Why am I talking?’” Hanks said in a recent interview on The Ellen Show. “You should just sit and start listening to everybody who comes your way and you’ll be amazed at what you learn.”
Playing Mr. Rogers helped him hone that skill even more.
As a person who is passionate about interviewing the interesting and influential, this makes me think about my own commitment to truly listening not just to the people I interview, but to everyone I encounter. Do I have the moxie to WAIT?
Moxie means being a team player.
He might be one of the most recognizable people in the universe, but Hanks doesn’t take that as a license to make himself the center of the universe. On set and everywhere else he shows up, he’s on time, prepared, humble and doing all he can to create a good environment for the people he is working with.
For example, in preparation for shooting Saving Private Ryan, Hanks and other cast members were tasked to experience military training under the tutelage of a former Marine. The weather was bad and the training was difficult. Other cast members were ready to throw in the towel, but Hanks rallied them to see the training through. He certainly could have walked away and gone on to shoot the movie. But his director thought the training would be valuable, and Hanks was committed to the process. He brings that humility and work ethic to every project.
He also brings the fun. He lightens the mood with gentle, self-deprecating humor, doing things like snapping silly selfies on other cast members’ unattended phones.
“I like being part of an ensemble,” he told PEOPLE magazine. “Anybody can make it a miserable day by being cranky or self-centered, by thinking it’s all about them instead of all about the whole.”
For Beautiful Day, he called the director of his latest film “boss” throughout production. It’s an important signal in a culture that hasn’t been welcoming or receptive to directors who are women.
If you could ask Tom Hanks any question, what would you ask?