Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Director Mike Nichols Interviewed

     December 20, 2007

A few weeks ago I attended the international press day for “Charlie Wilson’s War” as a reporter for the website (Collider’s partner in Brazil). Since there was no domestic press day for the movie and with the international press getting one, the Omelete guys sent me in their place so we could run the interview here in English and then on their site in Portuguese.

So, as a result, I was able to participate in a small press conference with Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Director Mike Nichols for their new movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Since none of the actors need any sort of introduction, I’ll just give you a bit on the plot… The film tells the outrageous true story of how one congressman (Tom Hanks) who loved a good time, one Houston socialite (Julia Roberts) who loved a good cause and one CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who loved a good fight conspired to bring about the largest covert operation in history.

The movie is quite good and it probably helped that it was written by Aaron Sorkin, one of the best writers working in Hollywood. But instead of me just saying how good it is….you can watch this 8 minute clip that Universal just released. It’s the scene when Tom Hanks’ character meets Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character for the first time and it’s a great exchange between the two. Or you can go here and watch all the movie clips I posted a few weeks back…

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you missed my exclusive interview with Tom Hanks when I got him to tell me what was going on with “The Pacific” – the sequel to “Band of Brothers” that takes place in – you guessed it – The Pacific, go here.

Otherwise here’s the press conference. Enjoy.

Tom Hanks: Thank you for that gracious 4:00 in the afternoon applause. Couldn’t be less interested.

Question: I’d like to ask Mr. Nichols how do you think Charlie would have fared in the modern political climate because one senses that newspaper reporters today may have been quite tenacious in exposing his lifestyle.

Mike Nichols: Oh, I think Charlie would have been invited any time in history because he does something that you don’t see very much in politics. He tells the truth and he tells the truth about himself. I think there are very few times in history including even now in which for no other reason than it’s so disarming when a politician is the first to attack himself. Charlie had always done that.

Question: And Tom, knowing the nature of some of your countrymen, do you think that after the film’s released some editorials may be blaming Charlie for 9/11?

Tom Hanks: I can guarantee that there will be any number of editorials or pieces that are going to be written in the bloggisphere on web spaces and actually old fashioned newspapers that you hold. It will say blatantly were it not for Charlie Wilson there would not have been a 9/11. And in fact there might be even some people in this room that are already composing that very, very piece. Now, that’s their job, there job is to make things easy. Their job is to find simple targets. Their job is to point out the most obvious villains whether there’s any authenticity to it or not, it doesn’t matter. They’ll go ahead and do it. It will be specious and it will be incorrect and it will be wrong but it’ll be good copy, you know? It’ll be a fascinating thing. If they wanted to study history a little bit more they could go back to almost any one of the chapters in western society’s involvement with that part of the world be it Winston Churchill drawing a line on a map or Lawrence of Arabia discovering the aspects of living amongst the people of the desert or they could go back to when a little piece of sperm went up a fallopian tube to find an egg and put was fertilized Osama Bin Laden. They could do anything they want to whether or not they’re going to be completely accurate or not is not really going to matter to them.

Mike Nichols: Okay, that’s it. Could you please just refer all your questions to Mr. Hanks.

Philip Seymour-Hoffman: I second that.

Tom Hanks: I’m drinking from the cup of knowledge even as we speak.

I would like to address the question to Tom. First I’d like to say I like the 2 Wilson movies that you have done now. What do you expect from the upcoming election from the new President in regards to the war and who are you going to favor or have you chosen it yet?

Tom Hanks: Well, I have already voted. On the 1st Tuesday of November I went down to my local polling place, I paid attention to the final last 19 months of campaigning, I paid attention to the Republican candidates—all 42 of them. I weighed the 32 Democratic candidates and I made my choice. Now, the polling place wasn’t open for some reason. It usually is on the 1st Tuesday of November. There was no flag. There were no ladies handing out cookies. There were not ballot boxes so I just wrote Chris Dodd on a piece of paper and shoved it under the door. So therefore I have voted for Christopher Dodd already because I believe he has big Mo on his side and he will lead America as well as any grey-haired man with a full head of hair possibly can. So I have voted, thank you very much and I believe Chris Dodd has already been sworn in as President of the United States and already airports and railroads are being built where there never were airports and railroads thanks to President Chris Dodd. It’s 4:00, so I’m not saying it’s my best material…

Mike Nichols: I believe that is exactly the answer the lady was hoping for.

Q: I would like to know, Mr. Hanks, when you first optioned the book with Mr. Gerchman, what captured your imagination—maybe all of you on the podium can answer this question—what this story is all about for you?

Tom Hanks: Well, I have spoken. I have so much material I don’t…

Philip Seymour Hoffman: No, you shouldn’t but it’s life. I was saying earlier today and I’ll stick with it that the thing that got me from when I was reading the book and also ultimately the screenplay was that I was taking in these characters who’s liabilities became their assets and that’s how I see it. Your liabilities in certain circumstances would actually become your assets in another. That there would be somebody that actually wore their liabilities on their sleeves moved me and that’s how things get done intrigued me. I think that’s very true. I think that’s how things get done. That the flawed part sometimes this screwed up weird troublesome part of a person is the thing that ultimately drives them through something that most people would run from and that your liability could be your assets and vice versa. That’s the thing that really touched me about the story.

Q: Can the others answer quickly?

Mike Nichols: I can just say very quickly that one of the…I think it’s brilliant and true and it certainly drew all of us and what finally draws you to most drama is that it’s the unexpected things about people and in fact in life even. The unexpected things that seem to be drawbacks that are somehow transformed into their better qualities. But I also think that now more possibly than any time in history except for the people around Marie Antoinette is it true that everybody’s just sitting around not doing anything much about what’s happening except forming more opinions and expressing them endlessly to each other. All of us are doing that. That to see something in which someone unarguably made a difference and bring down the Soviet Union is definitely making a difference. It’s not open to interpretation. Of course he/they didn’t do it alone. Nobody’s really claiming that. It’s not that at all. It’s that it’s a concapination of events that’s happening in Czechoslovakia, and it’s happening in Berlin, and it’s happening all over the world and they had a large part to do with it. Wouldn’t it be nice to say that about just anything now?

Q: Julia, do you have a comment on this?

Julia Roberts: I don’t.

Tom Hanks: She’s cold. She’s cold, cold, cold.

Q: Mr. Nichols, I’m from the Czech Republic and I spent 10 years of my life under Soviet rule, but still the film—the story of it—cutting between good and evil, I thought it kind of unfair but the Soviets were portrayed as the evil incarnate. Was it for the story to be more understandable or did you feel like making some subtleties about the Soviet’s?

Mike Nichols: I have an unreasoning prejudice against any leader who kills and is responsible for the death of 15 million people. I’m just funny that way.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about each of you how you were inspired by Charlie Wilson and how you can make a difference in today’s world?

Tom Hanks: Well, the thing that’s most impressive about Charlie Wilson is his lack of hypocrisy. Quite frankly I wish he was still in Congress today and if he was running, I would vote for a guy who’s as free to face hypocrisy as Charlie Wilson. I asked him at one point how did you keep winning these elections. I mean, you did drugs, you drank, you chased women, you were a notorious drunk, womanizer. And you came from a county by the way in which drinking is illegal. He comes from a dry county. They don’t even sell alcohol in the county from Texas. How did he win? And he said “well, because I never lied about my behavior.” He never pretended to be something that he wasn’t. That’s hard thing to do. You have to be a man of a certain type of character in order to live your life that way, but he did and I can say that although I am nothing at all like Charlie Wilson in so many ways, I’d like to be like Charlie Wilson with that character trait.

Q: And how can you make a difference? Can you make a difference?

Tom Hanks: You can make a difference by supporting—by coming to a conclusion of what is right and what is wrong and never wavering from that and supporting it in every chance you get. And doubling it!

Julia Roberts: I think they showed the power of the individual in a way that is inspiring in every day life and I think as I had said earlier, you were there, just talking about everybody has to do what is appropriate to their life and where they’re compassion is and for me I have a home life. I have a family and so that difference is that we try to make are primarily local and environmental and you know, we compost and do tiny little things that hopefully will raise our tiny people into big people with bigger ideas and stronger convictions and a wider scope than the home where they started so that’s what we do. What do you do Phillip?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I was trying to think what the question was again. I’m so sorry.

Julia Roberts: Do you compost? It’s a simple question.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: Do I compost? Oh yes I do oh compost of course I do. I just did right now. (lots of laughter) Anyone? Anyone? Just give me one. What Tom said—he’s one of the most disarming guys that you’ll meet and as my friend Bennett says he’s a great hang. You can just hang out with the guy and talk about anything. He’s incredibly intelligent and he’ll be very honest about how he feels about it and you’ll get his opinion and you’ll be able to discuss your opinion and it’ll be okay. Someone asked me that earlier too—will you vote for him if he was running today? And I would because it would make me feel good to know that someone like that was in the House there. So yeah.

Q: This question is for Mr. Hoffman. Do you have any Finish or Helsinki connections?

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I could. I love working the mike. I don’t know but you know what? Maybe. I mean look at me. Maybe. Why do you ask? Is there something that you know that I don’t?

continued on page 2 ———–>


Q: A question for Julia and Tom–both of you have been superstars for almost 2 decades now and with that comes some unwanted attention. I was wondering how are you dealing with this because I guess in 20 years there’s a learning curve, you know what works and what doesn’t work for you so I’d like to know what are you doing to make sure and what do you have to do differently from a normal person actually so you can keep a personal private life?

Julia Roberts: Tom has grown accustomed to my attention to him. I don’t call him late at night anymore, but he’s adjusted to the attention I give him over the last 20 years very nicely.

Tom Hanks: I’ve found that in order to maintain my average normal guy persona as well as the health of my family to keep the international press conferences to a minimum of 2 or 3 a year and get to the dentist as often as possible.

Q: Julia can you tell us something about the fashion of your character. She’s blonde like a diva. Did you work a lot on your image and was it your decision to be blonde?

Julia Roberts: Well, I think that we did everything that was physically possible for me to look as much like Joanne Herring did at this time as we could. I think that’s pretty close exactly how she looked in those years with the blonde hair and very stylish, beautiful well presented gal. She was our sole inspiration.

Q: A question for all the actors—Tom, Julia and Phillip? You had played a fictional characters, how difficult is it to play the character and 2 of the characters are still alive I believe, so what is the difficulty?

Tom Hanks: Well part of it is a little easier because they do dress the way the dress and they look the way they look so you don’t have to create that. You sort of have to study it and re-create it, which takes a lot of work but that’s a different discipline. I think the thing that’s difficult about playing somebody who’s really alive is to not screw with their motivations. They had reasons for doing what they did. They had drives. And you can’t just alter that willy-nilly in order to make a different movie. I think you have to find out what drove them to make the decision that they made and I think you have to be authentic in your representation of what those motivations were. And that’s not easy to do.

Julia Roberts: Just adding to that because I agree with anything Tom has ever said in his life, but just to also be respectful to who they are now. I mean, we are talking about something from 20 years ago and you want to I think respect where they’ve come in those 20 years and where they reside in their minds and their hearts now and try to be authentic to what the story is we’re telling and still respect the people that they are. If they’re different, if they’ve changed opinions about things, if their motivations are different now towards politics or not so it’s a balance of who they were then and who they are now.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: I think that…I find it helpful to look at every character as if it’s fiction. I don’t know if that’s helpful because ultimately it’s an interpretation. I can’t be the guy. I’ll never be the guy. And it’s something that I need to let go of because I’m not the guy. I remember an acting teacher telling me years ago saying “if you were the person you’d be insane.” It’s like that’s right. So the times I’ve played somebody that’s a real person I know there’s certain guidelines like Tom was saying motivation and things but ultimately I need to go with that because ultimately I’m going to be interpreting what I think that person did and it’s going to be something artful. So that’s what I do with parts with people who don’t exist if that’s helpful.

Q: This is for Tom. I heard the money you are getting for Angels and Demons makes you the highest paid actor in Hollywood history?

Tom Hanks: No, that’s not true. No. I’m going to get paid money in order to do that if it actually happens but there’s no such thing as the highest paid actor. I wouldn’t be interested in that. A deals a deal. That’s not true.

Q: My question was….

Tom Hanks: What am I going to do with all the money? (lots of laughter)

Someone asked a question I could not understand

Tom Hanks: …the strike has stopped everything and this happens every now and again and I understand I was told by one of the crack journalist in the room that the writer’s have turned down the offer that came out of the top secret negotiations. Is this true crack show business experts? Nobody knows anything. They were just snoring over here–my crack team of show business experts. There are a lot of movies that aren’t going to happen that were slated to happen between now…and I don’t think anything was going to be in production after June 30th anyway in preparation for the potential Screen Actors Guild strike. What has altered now is this wait for studios that thought were going to be able to have films in the can shooting in the spring that might not happen for a number of films. But I can guarantee you also that there’s a bunch of people out there scrambling to get their movies made because the scripts are ready to go. It’s going to be across the board and people are going to be affected and it’s only a matter of time before that starts trickling down to caterers and carpenters, and stage medics and the guys responsible for running the cameras during press conferences like this. For a while there’s not going to be much going on, so that’s just the way it is.

Q: I have a question for Mr. Nichols. Someone said this is such an American story and maybe you could comment on that with your background having grown up in Berlin or having spent the first years of your childhood…and coming to this country. Would you agree to the statement?

Mike Nichols: I’m not sure I know what an American story is after Huck Finn. It’s not that I don’t think it exists I just don’t know what they are. I think that…I was sort of mulling over my much too fast as a smart-ass answer about making Russia the villain, because as I’ve been thinking about it, I was thinking about all the terrible things that came with communism started in the wish for something that is better than democracy or fascism on both ends and that the most horrible thing about what happened is that the people that—almost countless—people who’s lives were destroyed and who ultimately died because it started with their impulsive generosity of wanting to do away with privilege and class and to do something in which people were more the same than they have been in any of these systems. And of course, it was used against them in the most terrible way and that’s really sort of what I meant rather than what I said. As far as an American story is concerned, American stories started out as America did about a search for freedom and individuality and expressing things that were new having to do with democracy and trying to deal with the inequities in everyone’s lives. I don’t know what an American story is now. I think it’s easier to find for instance an East German story where you look at…I think about it quite a lot which is the lives of others. I think the most extreme the circumstances the more possible for a great work of art about those circumstances and the more in general lies and hard to pin down the circumstances, the more difficult it is to find a story that—what is an American story? Can you name one? I’d like to. A Place in the Sun” I guess was an American story at that time. It’s not an American story now. I think that the uses of a democratic government as explored and employed by Charlie, yes, I think that aspects of it and that way in which we all think of all politicians as manipulative and certainly now as responding only to what is required in terms of public opinion, I think the idea of–it goes all the way back to Frank Capra in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Those were American stories and they were about one person holding out. One person insisting on something that is inherent in the American system being the most important thing. That says I think this is a very American story because he’s acting to begin with the three of them, they’re acting on their own in the way that the Frank Capra movies that happened also. And the way that in this case it became a kind of example of what it means to make a difference. Whether that’s possible now, we’ll wait and see.

Q: I have a question for Tom, Julia and Phillip. As actors you have all done political based movies before and you also as actors have traveled the world and have experienced other cultures, other political systems first hand. So I wonder if you’re work or using any experience you have had any influence on your point of view on politics these days? Have you become more interested in it? Have you become more active? Anything like that?

Julia Roberts: I think based on the climate of the world you’re forced to stand for something or step aside at this point. How active one is I think it’s tricky as a public person, the activeness you take in a public way—for me personally—I find it an interesting dilemma. I consider myself an active person when it comes to my political convictions but maybe not necessarily in a open forum because I’m conflicted about that and what that impact really means or what would be the point of everybody knowing everything that I stand up for because as an actor you have to have some kind of mystery left for people to be fully convinced of you as somebody else and what they believe in and what they stand for. But I think we live in a world today where you have to be active. To be passive is to agree with all of it and I just don’t.

Q: Tom?

Tom Hanks: Well, it’s not so much about the work that we’ve been able to do, but visiting around the world and shooting in other places but I’m surprised at the age of 51 that you—you live your politics. I don’t think it’s necessary for us as celebrities to go out endorsing. We end up living our politics. I’m happy to pay taxes. I pay a lot of taxes and I’m glad I get to. I’m not a guy who’s saying hey, I should not have to pay this amount—of course you should pay more taxes than anybody else. And we do things like I drive an electric car and if you were to look at the lifestyle that I lead, by and large, you would probably assume that I’m a Democrat who votes liberal candidates for liberal causes and it’s true. I think we should have a better health care system than we do. Why America has the crappiest health system in the industrial world is beyond my comprehension. We’re America. We should have the best. Why we have the public education system that doesn’t really educate its kids like say Finland does is beyond my comprehension. We should be better than Finland. No offense to Finland—it’s a fine country in every way shape and form. We should be raising kids that speak more than one language—we don’t. We should have kids that maybe have to go to school for a half a day on Saturday to do something for the community—we don’t. Now does that make me…it makes me a guy who has political thoughts but as far as being political active I think I’m politically practical. I do live my life in a practical way that I guess is representative of my political choices but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go stand next to a guy in a Scooby Doo outfit that is endorsing Chris Dodd for President of the United States. I’ll let Scooby Doo’s fans make their own decisions but I’ll just live my political choices. Thank you very much.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: What’s interesting me the most—I grew up in a political household so I almost rebelled against it, if that makes sense as a kid because my mom and it was all around me and there was something about it that I needed to rebel against. I remember I was into my late 20’s when I actually started getting involved in it again because I could own it for myself. I’ve been quite interested and quite involved in finding out about the political temperature of the time as much as possible, but that said, the traveling and the work I’ve done the most fascinating thing to me about it is perceptions. I’ve been endlessly fascinated about one country’s perception about another. It’s the most interesting thing to me when I go someplace and I talk to the people there and their perceptions of America or other countries and our perceptions of them and how you should see the communication—there’s so much missed communication. The clarity of communication is so fogged up by all the politicians and the media or whatever you want to say. That’s a very fascinating thing to me and it always has been and a very enlightening thing.

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