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Today, Tom Hanks is a two-time Academy Award winner and acclaimed actor even for those movies that didn’t win awards. It may be hard for fans of modern Tom Hanks movies to realize that there was a time when Hanks doing drama was considered a risk. Hanks said there was a much simpler reason he was allowed to start taking those risks in the ‘90s.

Tom Hanks wears a spacesuit and holds a globe in 'Apollo 13'
Tom Hanks | Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Hanks appeared on the Smartless podcast on Nov. 1. When hosts Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, and Jason Bateman asked Hanks about his transition to dramatic roles, Hanks said it was simply a benefit of aging into them.

Hanks told his agent he wanted to make serious Tom Hanks movies 

Throughout the ’80s, Hanks was known as a funnyman thanks to movies like Splash, Bachelor Party, Dragnet, and Big. Big had some dramatic moments, and in between he’d also shown range in Nothing in Common and Punchline. A League of Their Own was a turning point before Hanks played a lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia.

“Look, I’m not big on this kind of stuff but there was one time I was sitting around with my crack showbiz expert who works for CAA,” Hanks said on Smartless. “And he said to me, ‘What do you want to do?’ And I said, ‘I want to play grownups, I want to play people who’ve been through bitter compromise.’ I was in my mid 30s by that point.”

Fortunately, the industry was ready for grown-up Tom Hanks 

Hanks credited Nothing in Common and Punchline as stepping stones. He noticeably omitted the misfire The Bonfire of the Vanities. However, he said the real turning point was nearing 40 by the time he made Philadelphia. After that, he played Forrest Gump from college age to middle age, and then played astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and a World War II Captain in Saving Private Ryan.


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“You have to get older,” Hanks said. “Garry Marshall gave me a great role with Jackie Gleason in a movie called Nothing in Common. David Seltzer wrote and directed with Sally Field Punchline and then Big came along.”

The early Tom Hanks movies were for young Hanks

Hanks doesn’t look down on early Tom Hanks movies. He just recognizes that he outgrew them. You can only play a bachelor settling down for so long, or a college grad fleeing to the Peace Corps in Volunteers.

“There’s a movie that you make when you’re 27 and in your early 30s, I made a number of them,” Hanks said. “I turned 27 the day we wrapped the motion picture Splash. It was the last day of shooting, we were in the Bahamas. We had a cake that was actually for the wrap. Hey, let’s celebrate the last day of shooting with a cake. Someone with a tube of toothpaste added in icing on the cake ‘Happy Birthday Tom’ because they found out it was my birthday.”