his 1 History-Making Movie Role Changed Tom Hanks’ Life

The year 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of Tom Hanks‘ true watershed year as an actor. During the summer of 1994, he played one of the most iconic films roles of all time in Forrest Gump.

This was just a few months after Hanks won an Oscar for one of his most important roles of his career: Playing lawyer Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia.

Many movie analysts noted its 25th anniversary earlier this year. What’s most important about the film isn’t just how it pumped new acting life into Hanks. It also became a revolutionary film in how those suffering from AIDS were depicted.

In the case of Hanks, it opened his own eyes to the reality of those who were suffering and dying from the disease during those days.

Hanks fought to get the role to reinvent his acting persona

Tom Hanks on the red carpet
Tom Hanks | Michael Tran/FilmMagic

By the time 1993 rolled around in Hanks’ acting career, he’d grown tired of playing many of the same lightweight roles he’d been given over and over. Even though he was very popular at the box office thanks to numerous hits through the late 1980s and early ’90s, he wasn’t really growing as an actor within the realm of drama.

Up until this time, the closest he came to doing serious dramatic work was in some brief moments of Punchline, or Bonfire of the Vanities. Latter was really a satire, though, making Hanks the true go-to star for any type of comedy, starting with Splash in 1984.

There was one very early moment when he did display some dramatic chops. The forgotten and cheesy 1982 TV movie Mazes and Monsters had Hanks playing a 20-something guy who becomes so assimilated into a role-playing game, he loses sight of reality.

Having this 11 years prior on his dramatic acting resume is one reason it took director Jonathan Demme by surprise when receiving a call from Hanks about being interested in tackling Philadelphia for the big-screen.

Based on Hanks’s research, the role opened his eyes to a wider world

Today, everyone knows Hanks as an actor with complete astuteness about everything, including placing larger perspectives on history and our current times. Thanks to many TV documentaries he’s produced about the history of our nation over the last 60 years, he understands the context of reality better than anyone in the world of pop culture.

Around 1993, he still had some ignorance about what was going on in the world of those who had AIDS. His research for the role of Andrew Beckett exposed him to the reality of how the disease really progressed in people. At the time, he still didn’t understand what it did to people, including not really knowing anyone close to him who’d suffered from the disease.

Some might say this was kind of late in the game in the world of understanding what AIDS was doing to the world. Many icons like Princess Diana had already shown compassion for those with the disease in the ’80s by showing them some physical care and proving it wasn’t contagious. An insular comedic actor being able to understand this was a major breakthrough.

And so it was Hanks found himself in a more sobering world, plus understanding his place in it to help bring an important cinematic message to the masses.

Despite the accolades, not everyone loved the film

A few in the gay community thought Philadelphia didn’t go far enough in depicting the reality of how gay people lived while dealing with AIDS in a premedical science advancement era. From Hanks’s perspective, it was important the film just teach the importance of compassion rather than be overly explicit in gay love scenes.

What those critics think now 25 years later is still a mystery. Looking back, it’s easy to see how much of a big deal it was in shifting American thoughts about those dealing with AIDS and in giving those suffering equal medical/legal rights.

Of course, the film took Hanks to Oscar status, followed by Forrest Gump doing the same for a rare double Oscar win. Most people in the world usually cite a year when they had some kind of epiphany in their life. One has to think Hanks will always cite 1993/1994 as the time when he grew as a person as much as becoming one of America’s greatest thespians.