How a Softball Game Led Ron Howard to Cast Tom Hanks in the Film That Made the Oscar-Winning Actor Famous

Ron Howard and Tom Hanks
Ron Howard and Tom Hanks | Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time.

This was quite true for actor Tom Hanks who discovered in the 1980s that it was saying yes to a softball game, not a cocktail party or an after-anything party, that led to his first huge hit film.

Hanks was nervous during his ‘Splash’ audition

Tom Hanks on the set of 'Splash', 1984
Tom Hanks on the set of ‘Splash’, 1984 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In a 2015 conversation with BuzzFeed, Hanks opened up about how he thought he’d blown it during his audition for the 1984 film about a man who falls in love with a mermaid. He starred with Daryl Hannah, Eugene Levy, and the late John Candy in the still-beloved movie.

“We had a read-through of it and I was very nervous,” he said. “I was trying to score with all my lines and trying to get a big reaction or a laugh because that’s all I had done on TV is sell a script on Mondays and shoot it on Thursdays.

“And afterwards, Ron took me to the side and he said, ‘I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to get laughs, but your job is not to get laughs. Your job is to love that girl.’ So I thought, ‘Oh my God, one day in and I’m already getting a stern talking-to from the boss. I’m doomed with this thing.’ But that movie turned out good!”

How Hanks and Howard met

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In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Howard described meeting Tom Hanks for the first time. It was 1984 and both men were relative novices as a director and actor. Splash was Howard’s third directorial effort, preceded by the 1982 hit, Night Shift and 1977’s Grand Theft Auto. As for Hanks, he had so far only acted on television.

“I first met Tom Hanks because he was doing [1980s ABC sitcom] Bosom Buddies on the Paramount lot. And I had left [Happy Days] but he was a pretty good athlete and is. And our Happy Days softball team needed an extra player at some point for a trip to Portland, Oregon.”

Howard cast Hanks successfully in ‘Splash’

The former Andy Griffith Show actor discussed that it was his assistant who had been mentioning Tom Hanks’ name to him as a possible lead for Howard’s film, Splash.

“Tom Hanks went along,” Howard said. “I remember sitting on the bus next to Tom, talking. My assistant…when we were doing Splash, she was the one who kept recommending Tom Hanks and saying, ‘You know, he’d be great in it, I loved Bosom Buddies. It just got canceled.'”

The softball game, as it turned out was Howard’s opportunity to finally meet the actor. He didn’t forget Hanks when it was time to cast Splash.

Happy Days’ writers also wrote the script for Splash and were recommending Hanks as well, as Howard explained.

“He had also just done a guest shot on Happy Days. So when [his assistant] mentioned Tom Hanks, [the writers] said ‘Yeah he was great in that episode that we did of Happy Days,’ which I hadn’t seen. But Tom came in and won the role.”

Asked if he felt he had been taking a huge risk casting Tom Hanks in the lead on Splash, Howard explained that wasn’t the case at all.

“Commercially, yes,” he said. “Creatively, not at all. Because he came in and auditioned and I could see that he completely understood this character and the tone of the comedy that we were trying to do. He was a great fit.”

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