NEW YORK (AP) – Since contracting COVID-19 in March, Tom Hanks has been, by most measures, busy. He and his wife, Rita Wilson, flew home after recuperating in Australia, where he had been shooting Baz Luhrmannâ€™s Elvis Presley film. He hosted a from-home episode of â€œSaturday Night Live,â€ an already distant enough memory that it takes a beat for him to remember it. And he saw his new World War II naval drama â€œGreyhoundâ€ steered from theatrical release by Sony Pictures to Apple TV+ – the streaming serviceâ€™s biggest movie yet.
But heâ€™s mostly been taking it day by day.
â€œThereâ€™s sort of an ongoing physiological maintenance for your brain and for your body that weâ€™ve been following through,â€ Hanks says, speaking by video conference from his home in California. â€œWhat can you do but try to bind up the hay in neat little bundles. Thatâ€™s what weâ€™ve been doing. Just going into the barn with the baling machine, saying, â€˜Well, we got all this hay. Letâ€™s at least stack it up and get it ready for the next day.â€
For many, Hanksâ€™ contraction of COVID-19 was the first loud alarm bell that went off in the early days of the pandemic. If â€œAmericaâ€™s Dadâ€ could get it, so could anyone. The decision to go public with their diagnoses, Hanks said in a recent interview, was twofold. He didnâ€™t want any rumors about why the production was shut down. And if he was going to serve as an overdue public service announcement, so be it.
â€œWhy hide from the facts?â€ he says. â€œThese were the facts.â€
The ordeal, one experienced with varying severity and symptoms between Hanks and Wilson, gave him a perspective on differing national responses to the coronavirus. The comparison with Australia, Hanks grants, isnâ€™t a favorable one for the United States. But he says, thereâ€™s no need for â€œanother dump truck to unload all the things that have gone wrongâ€ in the U.S.
â€œHere we are. And letâ€™s just all do our part, eh?â€ says Hanks. â€œCan we not all just wear a mask and social distance and wash our hands? It sounds pretty simple to me, and if you have a problem with that, I certainly wouldnâ€™t trust you with a driverâ€™s license. Chances are youâ€™ll drive as fast as you want to, never use your turn signal and aim for pedestrians.â€
Before the pandemic, â€œGreyhoundâ€ was going to hit theaters in early June, smack in between â€œWonder Woman 1984â€ and â€œTop Gun 2.â€ “We were going to fight like the scrappy runt of a litter in order to get somebody to pay attention to us,â€ says Hanks, chuckling.
Now, â€œGreyhoundâ€ will head straight into homes as a marquee event with little competition of similar scale or star power. A Tom Hanks-led, special effects-laden WWII movie is a weight class above most straight-to-streaming options in this strange summer movie season. Disney+ has â€œHamilton,â€ but Apple TV+ has Hanks.
The film, made for about $40 million and acquired by Apple for a reported $70 million, is a taut 88-minute naval drama about a lesser-seen theater of WWII, the Battle of the Atlantic. Hanksâ€™ character is a humble captain for the first time shepherding a convoy of boats across the Atlantic, guarding them from attacking German U-boats while traversing the â€œblack pitâ€ â€“ the middle ocean territory bereft of air support. All heavy waves, faint sonar blips and evasive maneuvers, the film takes on almost mythical qualities.
â€œWhen everything went kablooey, we began to imagine: â€˜Well, we have this movie about the stasis of characters in the middle of something of which they have no idea how long itâ€™s going to last,â€™” says Hanks. “We didnâ€™t expect a worldwide pandemic to mirror the theme and the action of the movie.â€
â€œThis is just about yesterday, today and tomorrow,â€ Hanks says. â€œThose three days are pretty much all humanity has.â€
â€œGreyhoundâ€ has long been a pet project for the 63-year-old actor. He wrote the script, adapted from C. S. Foresterâ€™s 1955 novel â€œThe Good Shepherd,â€ a book first given to him by his late friend and â€œSleepless in Seattleâ€ director Nora Ephron.
â€œIt just stuck with him,â€ says Gary Goetzman, Hanksâ€™ producing partner and co-founder of their company, Playtone. â€œAs happens with him, heâ€™ll ruminate about a certain idea, it goes in his blender, and one day he just put a script on my desk and very much wanted to make it.â€
Hanks had approached others to write it and met with other filmmakers. But they tended to envision a grander version of the film.
â€œI said, â€˜I love you so much but thatâ€™s not the point of what weâ€™re trying to do,â€™â€ Hanks says. â€œWeâ€™re trying to condense this. Weâ€™re trying to get as much coffee in the can.â€
Instead, he found a director in Aaron Schneider, a veteran cinematographer who last helmed 2010â€™s â€œGet Low,â€ with Robert Duvall.
â€œTom always called it â€˜the perfect little 90-minute movie,â€™â€ Schneider says. â€œFrom the beginning, his point of entry was about maintaining this almost hyper-subjective point of view in terms of this captainâ€™s experience. You would throw the audience into his world, sticking to over his shoulder.â€
Hanks, of course, has been in similar worlds before. Heâ€™s been a captain four times previously: â€œSaving Private Ryan,â€ â€œApollo 13,â€ â€œSullyâ€ and – his last time manning the bridge – â€œCaptain Phillips.â€ A voracious reader of history, heâ€™s returned frequently to WWII. With Seven Spielberg, Hanks is currently developing for Apple a third miniseries, following â€œThe Band of Brothersâ€ and â€œThe Pacific.”
For Hanks, whose father served in the Navy, his attachment to the era goes deeper than DNA. It’s about connecting to the wartime mentality of survival and sacrifice.
â€œIâ€™m asked by every journalist, â€˜Why do you keep going back to World War II?â€™â€ says Hanks, donning a vaguely European accent. â€œThe answer is because I come back to that position of the stress upon a human beingâ€™s psyche. It doesnâ€™t have to be a captain, necessarily, on board a destroyer in the middle of the North Atlantic. It can be on an 8-year-old kid or a 24-year-old woman or even a 54-year-old man back in the United States wondering, â€˜Are we going to live or die? Are we going to be free or not? How long is it going to go on?â€™ To me, thatâ€™s the human condition in every circumstance, even in today in 2020.â€
The film had just weeks of post-production remaining when Hollywood shut down. During that time, a modern-day Navy captain, Capt. Brett Cozier, was removed from command on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt after pleading for permission to take crew members ashore during a COVID-19 outbreak on the ship. In Cozier, who like Hanks later tested positive for the virus, Hanks saw the kind of character heâ€™s often drawn to playing.
â€œI thought,” said Hanks, â€œthat guyâ€™s kind of badass.â€
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP