Entertainment Movies Tom Hanks talks Disney and dieting
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Tom Hanks talks Disney and dieting

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While playing Walt Disney in the upcoming comedy-drama Saving Mr. Banks, Tom Hanks discovered some surprising commonalities with the great innovator, synonymous with the magical world of Disney.

“Walt Disney was an artist and a filmmaker who loved storytelling, but Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) may also be something we have in common,” he says.

“It’s known that Walt Disney had Attention Deficit Disorder, and I don’t know if what I have is clinical ADD but I can tell you that I’ve turned it into a lucrative living – and I recommend it to anybody,” he laughs.

“I was never a problem child and didn’t cause trouble in school, but I was always waiting to be fascinated by and enthusiastic about something which usually came along about every ten minutes.”

Is the ‘nicest guy in Hollywood’ feeling a little passive aggressive, perhaps? He laughs. “It might explain why I’m a bit cranky.”

Like most American kids who grew growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, Hanks’ childhood trip to Disneyland represented the pinnacle of his childhood memories.

“Walt Disney was as ubiquitous to my growing up as Elvis Presley and Smokey the Bear. We watched him every Sunday night on TV and he’d talk about Disneyland, but when I went there, that was like, ‘Oh my God, I’d died and gone to heaven’.”

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Hanks, pictured with Emma Thompson in a Saving Mr Banks scene, says the film is her triumph. Photo: Supplied

Saving Mr. Banks also stars Emma Thompson who plays P.L. Travers, the revered author of Mary Poppins. Although the movie focuses on the combative relationship Disney endured and enjoyed (but mostly endured) with her in securing the rights to film her famed novel, much of the movie comprises flashbacks of her turbulent life in Maryborough, rural Queensland, back when she went by the name Helen Goff.

“This is really Emma’s movie,” Hanks says, graciously. The two-time Oscar winner can afford to be generous. Having made a success of playing sympathetic ‘everyman’ characters, exemplified in such movies as Philadelphia (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Cast Away (2000), Hanks’ films have amassed more than $US8.5 billion worldwide, giving him a reported net worth of $US350 million. His most recent movie, Captain Philips, has grossed over $US100 million to date, and earned him Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Best Actor (with his third Academy Award nomination presumably days away).

As always, Hanks does his best to deflect those well-recorded achievements and is quick to mention his less successful films.

“Remember, Larry Crowne,” he smiles, referring to the 2011 box office bomb also featuring Julia Roberts in a middle-aged romance.

Health being life’s great equaliser, Hanks, 57, has to be more vigilant these days due to his recent Type II Diabetes diagnosis, which he incurred partly due to one of the job requirements of an actor – gaining and losing vast amounts of weight.

We met at at London’s Dorchester Hotel for high tea – minus the scones, jam and clotted cream. He sips black tea. “There’s no sugar in this tea,” he says, stirring his cup loudly.

Is the ‘nicest guy in Hollywood’ feeling a little passive aggressive, perhaps? He laughs. “It might explain why I’m a bit cranky.”

For A League of Their Own, he gained 18 kilos, for Philadelphia he lost 12 kilos, and for Cast Away he gained 18 kilos and then had to lose 27 kilos.

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Hanks developed Type II diabetes as a result of gaining and shedding cast amounts of weight for films like 1992’s A League of their Own. Photo: Supplied

“Listen, I’ll never gain a lot of weight again for a job. That’s a young man’s game anyway and I don’t think my body could take it, much less my liver and kidneys,” he says. “Gaining 40 or 50 pounds (18-22 kilos) you can do in your 30s, maybe in your 40s, but when you’re almost 60, I am not going to put my body through that, plus I don’t want to be that jowly ever again. So I just watch my blood sugar and I’ve changed the way I eat and the way I exercise.”

So, for argument’s sake, what if he were to be offered an ungodly amount of money conditional on him gaining weight for a potential Oscar-nominated role?

He slams his fist on the table, smiling. “I’d say, ‘I’ve got grandkids I want to see grow up and I got knees I don’t want to blow out’. I’d say, ‘Have fun. Get a younger man to do it’.”

Saving Mr Banks is released in Australian cinemas nationally on January 9.

Michele Manelis is an Australian film writer based in Los Angeles. She is a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press.