Home » Articles » What really matters is what you believe

What really matters is what you believe

Tom Hanks is a titan of modern cinema, master of dramatically moving portrayals, icon of acting hopefuls everywhere, humble philanthropist, producer, director, writer, all-round thoroughly nice guy and, what many people didn’t realise, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.

With almost 80 acting and over 50 producer credits to his name, Tom Hanks has been nominated for in excess of 100 industry awards. He has scooped two Oscars, eight Emmys, one BAFTA, four Golden Globes, and was the youngest ever person to win a lifetime achievement from the American Film Institute. Boasting a career that spans 36 years, Hanks’ films have grossed over $8.5bn at the box office, making him the fourth highest grossing actor of all time. He enchanted audiences with early performances in Splash and Big; charmed in Sleepless in Seattle and Forrest Gump; riveted in Philadelphia and Cast Away, and became an icon of our time thanks to vocal duties in the beloved-by-all Toy Story franchise. Universally heralded as an incredible actor dedicated to his craft, Tom Hanks’ characters and iconic movies will surely live on to entertain many generations to come, and he shows no signs of throwing in the towel, with dozens of projects lined up for the next few years. Speaking with ITV’s Loraine Kelly, he said: “So I’m going to be 60, I feel like I’m 44, and when I was 44 I felt like I was 36, and when I was 36, I felt like I was 24. At 24 I felt like I was 18. So I feel like I’m 18. Can you tell by this high-pitched voice of mine? I even sound like I’m 18.”

Great spiritual shape

As well as keeping fit, Hanks is in great spiritual shape after converting to the Greek Orthodox faith in 1988 before marrying Greek-American Rita Wilson. Hanks and his family are said to regularly attend the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the Byzantine Quarter of Los Angeles, where in previous years Tom has been given the honour of carrying the Epitaphios during the Good Friday service. In a conversation about his faith with the Philippine Star he said, “I’ve been raised in one path after another that took me to some kind of church all the time that I was growing up. I was married in the same church where my wife was baptized in and my kids as well”, later adding, “when I pray, it’s for acceptance and grace. I think that’s the most that I can hope for.”

The actor’s route to becoming an orthodox Christian was slightly more unorthodox than most, but as he explained in an interview with George magazine, religion has always played an important part in his life. “The major religion I was exposed to in the first 10 years of my life was Catholicism. My stepmother became a Mormon. My aunt, whom I lived with for a long time, was a Nazarene, which is kind of ultra-super Methodist, and in high school, all my friends were Jews. For years I went to Wednesday night Bible studies with my church group. So I had this peripatetic overview of various faiths, and the one thing I got from that was the intellectual pursuit involved. There was a lot of great stuff to think about.”

Early years

A child of divorce and separated from his mother and younger brother, Hanks lived a nomad-like existence with his older sister and brother, chef father and two consecutive stepmothers, and by the age of ten had lived in ten houses in five different cities. Attending the First Covenant Church in his teens gave a young Hanks friends, structure and the sense of belonging that he desperately craved. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times he reflected, “because of all the people I lived with, I had a chequered religious upbringing. Then, when I was in high school, I had a serious born-again experience”, adding, “a great group of people ran a church near where I lived, and they provided a safe, nurturing atmosphere at a time there wasn’t much else I could count on.”

In David Gardner’s Tom Hanks: The Inside Story, his sister Sandra is quoted as saying her brother was “self-righteous” in his youth, “as if he had seen the light and the rest of us were in the dark”. Whereas his father commented dismissively that his son had “an adolescent faith attack”.

In a recent emotion-fuelled appearance on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, Tom was reduced to tears when he opened up about his past, admitting that his first marriage, to his college sweetheart Samantha Lewes and mother of his children Colin (38) and Elizabeth (34), was to “quell the loneliness”. Tom elaborated on this tricky time in his life, stating, “Having a kid at 21 was the greatest thing that ever happened to me because I didn’t smoke pot. I didn’t go into drugs. I was not a party boy. I went to bed at ten minutes after ten. I mean I did some idiotic stuff but the sensibility, the rules were in place and I’m not a cheater you know, I like to play by the rules. But later on you’re 27, 28 and you’ve actually learnt what to say yes to with some more judiciousness and you end up meeting that other person that’s a ‘oh she gets it’. Oh I don’t think I’m ever going to be lonely anymore, that’s what I felt when I met my wife (Rita).”

Tom first met Rita when she appeared in an episode of Bosom Buddies, the ABC sitcom that gave Hanks his big break as a cross-dressing advertising man. It was on the back of this show that he landed the lead role in Ron Howard’s Splash, and it was this cult-classic movie that made him a star. But it wasn’t until four years later when the couple got to know each other properly, co-starring in the 1985 film Volunteers. Speaking to GQ about their romance he said, “Rita and I just looked at each other and that was that. I asked Rita if it was the real thing for her, and it just couldn’t be denied.”

In a love story that quietly resembles that of indie favourite My Big Fat Greek Wedding (which was, incidentally, produced by the couple), where a young Greek woman falls in love with a non-Greek, Tom had no problems embracing his wife’s religion and culture. “I feel 110% Greek being married to a Greek,” he told Greek Reporter. “I’m more Greek than a Greek is, because I had the good sense to marry a Greek. It’s joyful being married to a Greek. It’s fantastic.”

Hollywood’s happiest couple

Today the pair, who have two sons, Chester ‘Chet’ (25) and Truman (20), are seemingly Hollywood’s happiest couple, recently celebrating 28 years of marriage. It seems the secret to a happy marriage could be religion, as in an interview that appears on YouTube’s ThinkAbouRit channel, Hanks’ wife revealed how a family that prays together, really does stay together. “I pray every day, my children pray, I pray with them, I pray by myself, we go to church, we try to live a good clean healthy life and it helps.

“God is a part of my life. Every single day I prayed to God, every day for I don’t know how many years that he would bring me somebody that I loved that loved me in the same way and he brought me Tom, so I believe in that.” Adding to the discussion on the red carpet Tom chipped in, “God is mysterious, but God works every day.”

The couple’s faith is said to be stronger than ever, having both suffered health issues. Tom announced in 2013 he’s fighting type 2 diabetes, a condition he blames on his bad diet during his 30s and 40s, “I’m part of the lazy American generation that has blindly kept dancing through the party and now finds ourselves with a malady”, he revealed to the Radio Times this May. “I was heavy. You’ve seen me in movies; you know what I looked like. I was a total idiot. I thought I could avoid it by removing the buns from my cheeseburgers. Well, it takes a little bit more than that. But my doctor says if I can hit a target weight, I will not have type 2 diabetes anymore.” More recently and slightly more dramatically perhaps, Rita was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to leave her cancer-free.

Tom’s work schedule showing no signs of waning,  either. His latest film, A Hologram for the King, reunites him with Cloud Atlas collaborator, Tommy  Tykwer, and gave them the opportunity to adapt a Dave Eggers novel, which he’ll be doing again in upcoming, The Circle. Hanks plays a desperate American salesman, ravaged by the effects of the economic downturn, who travels to Saudi Arabia to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. “This story is so timely,” he tells us, in a navy sweater and jeans. “It’s about breaking down barriers, perceptions, stereotypes, it’s a love story. It’s a buddy comedy. It’s strange, it’s warm. It deals with issues from another angle. And that’s unusual for a movie nowadays because usually for business reasons, it has to be one thing.”

The most iconic roles in history

Tom, who has potentially played the most iconic leading roles in cinematic history, is candid with us when it comes to discussing which roles he will and won’t do. “There was a time in my career where I felt I had made the same consecutive movie, five times. ‘We want you to make this film, this time you’re working with … and this time it’s in Miami. And you’ll make this amount of money for it.’ It was robbing my opportunity to be an artist. I couldn’t harness the craft, I was just rolling it out and there came a point, in my 30s where I said, “I’m not going to do that.”

“Every time I make a movie. Every time, it’s a risk, and I fully appreciate and fear that. It’s this enjoyable, nauseous balance. Every time you make a movie, you have to convince everyone that’s it’s a great idea. In order to create work as an artist, I look for something with danger, risk. That can take time to find. And when you do find it, you ask yourself, ‘Will anyone go see it if we make it?’ It’s like with this film, Tom (Tykwer) saying to me, ‘Will anyone understand this and what we’re trying to do here?’ I said the same to Bob Zemeckis while we were shooting Forrest Gump, I said, ‘Bob, will anyone see this?’ And he says, ‘It’s a minefield Tom, it’s a minefield.’ You gotta have faith in your instincts. That’s all you can rely on.”

Tom is one of Hollywood’s most philanthropic stars. The wide selection of causes appear to have links with many of his movies, highlighting his unsung altruistic approach to acting; for example, he is said to serve on the Board of Governors for the National Space Society (Apollo 13), supports four AIDS charities (Philadelphia) and even two dogs’ charities (Turner & Hooch), as well as many humanitarian, environmental, health, children and veteran dedicated causes. In 2012 Tom was honoured with an Arts for Humanity Award at the New York Public Library. Speaking to reporters at the awards he said, “You got to wake up in the morning and make the world a better place. That’s the way I was raised, that’s what my mum and dad and all the caregivers I ever had kept pounding into me, that we’re Americans and Americans take into account the common good so in that regard, I feel very lucky and very blessed that I could do that when I was able to.”