‘Saving Private Ryan’: Steven Spielberg Didn’t Want Tom Hanks to Shoot Anybody – How Hanks Convinced Him

Saving Private Ryan was the first of many collaborations between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. They produced HBO miniseries together, and reunited for films like Catch Me If You Can, Bridge of Spies and The Post. In a recent interview, Hanks revealed that Spielberg didn’t want him to shoot anybody in the World War II classic. Hanks pushed back on the acclaimed director.

Tom Hanks holds up a bullet in 'Saving Private Ryan' but argued with director Steven Spielberg
Tom Hanks | CBS via Getty Images

The New York Times published a new interview with Hanks on June 15. After talking about his upcoming movie, Elvis, The Times looked back on Hanks’ career. When it came to Saving Private Ryan, Hanks revealed he had to convince Spielberg to let him play a real soldier. 

Tom Hanks wasn’t going to sanitize World War II in ‘Saving Private Ryan’

By 1998, Hanks had made the transition for comedy to drama via films like Philadelphia, Apollo 13 and Forrest Gump. He still had to convince Hollywood he could be edgy. That would come later with The Green Mile and Road to Perdition. Even Spielberg wasn’t sure if America was ready to see nice guy Hanks kill Nazis in Saving Private Ryan. 

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“On Saving Private Ryan Steven Spielberg said, ‘I don’t think I want to see John Miller fire his gun and kill Germans,”” Hanks told The New York Times. “I told him: ‘I’m sorry, Steven. You’re not going to get me all the way over here and turn me into some other guy just because you don’t want Tom Hanks to kill soldiers.’” 

Tom Hanks had the same argument on ‘Forrest Gump’

Forrest Gump has scenes in the Vietnam War. Hanks said director Robert Zemeckis was also wary about having Forrest fire on the Vietcong. 

“There’s the scene with the ambush in Vietnam, and Bob Zemeckis originally wanted Forrest to be confused and run away,” Hanks said. “I said, ‘Bob, why am I playing a soldier who is really good at his basic training without then showing me slapping in my clip and firing a set of rounds?’” 

The actor did object to a direction in another movie 

The conversation came up because of a question about Charlie Wilson’s War. Apparently, Hanks didn’t want to show Wilson snorting cocaine. He won that argument with director Mike Nichols, too.

“It was never in the script to show Charlie Wilson snorting coke,” Hanks said. “I would have done it. I didn’t care. Those kinds of choices are in every single movie.”

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However, Hanks’ reasoning was that a cocaine scene might have overshadowed the rest of Wilson’s actions. Hanks related it to a deleted scene from the 1930s King Kong.

King Kong picks up the log and knocks a bunch of guys off and they fall down into the ravine and break some of these viny things across the bottom. That’s all you see in the movie. In the first cut, though, those viny things were spider webs and out of a cave crawled the biggest spider you ever saw. What the filmmakers discovered was that after seeing those big spiders, the audience was not afraid of King Kong. so they cut it. There is that thing that can happen in a movie where, if you show the giant spider, it might blow your real story out of the water. Anyway, with Charlie Wilson, not snorting coke was not spiders in King Kong

Tom Hanks, The New York Times, 6/15.22

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