Tom Hanks on his new film, Weinstein and Trump

Tom Hanks, seen here at the debut of Springsteen On Broadway in New York earlier this month, stars as legendary American editor Ben Bradlee in the upcoming Steven Spielberg feature The Papers.
Tom Hanks, seen here at the debut of Springsteen On Broadway in New York earlier this month, stars as legendary American editor Ben Bradlee in the upcoming Steven Spielberg feature The Papers.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Even Tom Hanks gets star struck.

But it was a document, rather than a celebrity, that inspired awe in the Oscar-winning actor.

Last Saturday, during a VIP tour of the National Archives collection, he approached the glass-enclosed Constitution. The self-professed history geek covered his eyes with his hands and recited the Constitution's preamble from memory.

It seems the National Archives Foundation picked the right recipient for its highest honour, the Records of Achievement Award, granted to individuals "whose work has cultivated a broader national awareness of the history and identity of the United States through the use of original records".

Hanks was recognised for his work as an American storyteller, both on-screen as an actor and offscreen as a film-maker, philanthropist and now author.

Nearly 250 history fans feted him last Saturday night with a black-tie dinner and a one-on-one discussion with documentarian and past Archives honouree Ken Burns.

As US archivist David S. Ferriero noted in a news release, "no actor has covered the span of 20thcentury American history as broadly as honouree Tom Hanks".

His roles in films such as Philadelphia (1993); Forrest Gump (1994); Apollo 13 (1995); Saving Private Ryan (1998); Captain Phillips (2013); and Sully (2016) have won top honours and brought important periods of American history to modern audiences.

Hanks said he takes his de facto role as America's history professor very seriously.

"You must constantly cherry-pick the accurate, truthful details of behaviour and procedure because, for good or for bad, people are going to look at that and say, 'Oh, that's what really happened back then,'" he said in a red-carpet interview.

"And the more often you get that right, the better service you do."

A collector of typewriters and a distant relative of former president Abraham Lincoln's, Hanks is also a voracious reader of history. (He is now reading Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow.)

He also opened up about his preparation for his role as legendary editor Ben Bradlee in the upcoming Steven Spielberg feature The Papers. To date, he has devoured every book, piece of film and sound bite he could get his hands on. He also had a private sit-down with Bradlee's widow, veteran Washington Post writer Sally Quinn, to learn about "other sort of particulars" that cannot be gleaned from paper and video.

When studying a new character, "you try to distil it down to an essence that you can carry with you every day", Hanks said.

"Ben Bradlee knew that he was the coolest guy in the room because he loved his job and he knew he had a power of persuasion. He knew that he was skilled in some ways, but, more than that, I think he loved it more than anyone else did."

He also touched on current affairs, including the back-and-forth between US President Donald Trump and Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson over the contents of a military condolence call to a Gold Star family.

"It just seems like it's one of the biggest cock-ups on planet Earth, if you ask me," Hanks said. "This is a tragedy of the utmost consequence and it goes much longer beyond who's going to come out on top of the news story. I think it's very sad."

When questioned about the recent sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, he called it "a watershed moment" not just for women in the acting world, but also for women in all industries.

"Are we at a place where a new brand of, say, a code of ethics, is going to be put forward, that everybody better wise up and start paying attention to and perhaps obeying? I think absolutely yes," he said.

He suggested that one look to the Archives for guidance in dealing with today's tumultuous world.

"People are upset about what's going on today. They're furious, they're frustrated, they're worked up," he said onstage.

"I say, 'Well, if you are concerned about what's going on today, read history and figure out what to do because it's all right there.'"

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Tom Hanks on his new film, Weinstein and Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe