Tom Hanks Once Confessed the Real Reason He Was Cast in ‘Splash’

Nowadays, Tom Hanks is a Hollywood icon. And for many fans, it’s difficult to imagine a time when the star of movies such as Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan wasn’t regularly on the big screen. But throughout the 1980s, Hanks’ movie career was very much a work in progress. So how did the then-inexperienced film star land the lead role in 1984’s surprise hit Splash? Hanks once explained how he got the chance to become a leading man.

Tom Hanks wears a gray shirt and blue jeans as he speaks with his hands out
Tom Hanks | Reg Innell/Toronto Star

Tom Hanks was best known for TV’s ‘Bosom Buddies’

In the early 1980s, Hanks was almost exclusively known for sitcoms. From 1980 to 1982, he starred with Peter Scolari on Bosom Buddies, in which the pair play men disguised as women so that they can maintain affordable housing. Back in those days, such an outlandish premise wasn’t uncommon (see also: Three’s Company). Hanks also made guest appearances on the Love Boat, Taxi, Happy Days, and most notably, Family Ties.

In fact, Hanks’ only movies were the 1980 slasher flick He Knows You’re Alone and the 1982 TV movie Mazes and Monsters. Neither film made much impact, and both are most memorable now for serving as Hanks’ earliest roles. By 1984, Hanks became something of a movie star. That year, he starred in both Splash opposite Daryl Hannah and the sex comedy Bachelor Party. The former helped convince audiences and Hollywood he could lead a hit movie.

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Ron Howard’s ‘Splash’ made him a movie star in 1984

Given his lack of film experience, the actor knows exactly how lucky he was star in Splash. As he said during a 1989 Playboy interview, he was nowhere near the first casting choice for the film. And Hanks credits being in “the right place at the right time” for the movie which would introduce him as a credible big-screen leading man.

Splash had been a romantic leading man role, the innocent, lovesick guy who falls in love with a fish. A very well-rounded, wholesome movie. … And the reason I got to do it was that a lot of big actors turned it down. If you were a big-name guy and got an offer for a movie directed by Mayberry’s Opie Taylor for Walt Disney, you weren’t going to leap at it. … [But] it sounded great to me. I hadn’t done any movies yet. But I can’t take credit for the success of Splash and Bachelor Party‘s being hits, other than having been in the right place at the right time and having got the job.”

To Hanks’ point, director Ron Howard — who starred on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie Taylor in his youth — had only made two films beforehand. Meanwhile, such stars as Jeff Bridges, Chevy Chase, Richard Gere, Michael Keaton, Bill Murray, and John Travolta reportedly were considered for Splash before Hanks ultimately won the role.

Tom Hanks became an A-list actor just a few years later

While Splash and Bachelor Party made Hanks a comedy star, the actor wouldn’t really become the actor fans know him as today until 1988’s Big. In between, he starred in several films — some hits, others not so much — but almost all comedies. Although Big still aimed for laughs, it balanced the humor with dramatic and emotional stakes. As a result, Hanks received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

But he and Howard never stopped working together. The pair would collaborate on 1995’s Apollo 13 and then on The Da Vinci Code more than a decade later. The latter film spawned two sequels, Angels & Demons and Inferno, starring Hanks and directed by Howard. Clearly, the pair hit it off on the set of Splash so many years earlier.

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