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This article is from Issue 68: March/April 2014

Saving Mr. Hanks

From out-of-work actor to American treasure, Tom Hanks tells us the story of how his dream came true.

Tom Hanks is riding high. In 2013 alone, his two films, Saving Mr. Banks (which releases on DVD in April) and Captain Phillips, were two of the most critically praised movies of the year, garnering seven Oscar nominations between them.

But things weren’t always so easy. In every career there are highs and lows. And then there are the bottoming out moments. The moments when opportunities get so bleak, you resort to keeping library books about icons just as a reminder of what success actually looks like.

Sleepless in New York

Before the days of Forrest Gump or Woody, Captain Phillips or the tale of Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks was just another struggling actor trying to make it big in New York City. It was there that he picked up a book about one of his childhood heroes at a local library. That man was Walt Disney, the very same man who had meant so much to him as a kid growing up in a broken home on the West Coast.

“I had read a great biography literally in the 1970s,” Hanks remembers while explaining the role the book would later play in the research for his latest critically acclaimed blockbuster, Saving Mr. Banks, “a book I kept from the New York Public Library when I lived in New York and needed something to do because I was unemployed.”

Hanks says that in addition to giving “a good history of [Disney’s] early days,” the book provided a look at the struggles Disney himself had in trying to find success.

At the time, it would have been hard for the young Hanks—the one who couldn’t find a job and spent more time reading about Hollywood movies in overdue library books than actually acting in them—to imagine where his career would take him.

Today, at the age of 57, Hanks is one of the industry’s most successful actors. To date, his films have brought in more than $8 billion at the global box office. (You read that correctly. Billion.) He’s won pretty much every type of acting award there is, including two Oscars for best actor. And he’s also proved to be one of the most prolific actors of his generation, having starred in at least one film every year for the last three decades.

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