In a wildly entertaining piece of storytelling, Academy Award winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry lead a stellar international cast in “Cloud Atlas,” directed by Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer based on the best-selling novel by David Mitchell. Hanks and Berry each appear in six different roles that represent the journey of a single soul through points along the continuum. Their characters are witnesses to moments in human history and the consequences of their actions will change their lives forever. With eloquent examples of courage, hope and wonder as well as treachery, struggle and loss, the film brings such moments into sharp focus.
At the press day for “Cloud Atlas,” which opens in theaters on October 26th, Hanks and Berry talked about their characters, which roles were their favorites, what it was like working with the Wachowskis who directed their segments, how it felt to have the weight of the film resting on their shoulders, what they think about reincarnation as a philosophy of life and the concept of finding a soul mate, and how success and celebrity have affected their lives. Hanks also discussed his upcoming Disney film, “Saving Mr. Banks,” and his debut on Broadway next year in Nora Ephron’s play, “Lucky Guy.”
Q: Lately it seems like you’re suddenly in this recharged career where you’re busier than you’ve been in years?
Tom Hanks: The kids are out of the house. All the kids are gone.
Q: What is this? Empty nest syndrome?
Hanks: I’m telling you, all the kids are gone. It’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hanks. I’ll tell you that right now. Second greatest after having the kids in the first place. When they go, holy smoke, it’s like you’re dating again. It’s fantastic. Also, we were doing an awful lot of work. It seems as though I wasn’t working, but at Playtone we were doing an awful lot of producing and writing and things like that.
Q: You’ve both got six roles each, what were your favorites and what was the most difficult for each of you?
Hanks: Let’s start saying we have favorites. Let’s start lying to the members of the fourth estate.
Halle Berry: I’ve been saying that I don’t have any favorites.
Hanks: Fess up, Halle.
Berry: Honestly, it’s hard to say. I really didn’t because that would imply that I loved being one more than the other and I really didn’t. I loved that I got to be that German-Jewish white woman or that Asian man or that gutsy, ballsy Luisa Rey who was figuring out femininity and her place in the whole movement and the old native sitting in the beginning who was completely oppressed and stuck. I loved the evolution of the characters and I loved the totality of every single one of them. Honestly, I can’t really pick one. I can’t lie. I’m sorry. You lie.
Hanks: No. I can’t lie. They were all a lot of fun. Some of them didn’t work very long. I mean, I play an actor in a TV movie playing Jim Broadbent as Timothy Cavendish and the sad thing is we were done with that in about 90 minutes. I can only prolong the discussion. Am I a lousy actor in a TV movie? Is it a lousy TV movie or is it a good TV movie? So I had this whole idea that I was in a series, and I was trying to branch out and do something dramatic, and it still was hammy.
Q: Tom, I think you can be assured though that no critics will dare give you a bad review for your performance in “Cloud Atlas.” What do you think?
Hanks: Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing? But, you see, this is how bold these guys are. Anybody else would show the critic landing in a garbage truck full of peat moss or something like that and he would survive. Nope. (laughs)
Q: Given the layers, the length and the complexity of this film, what approach did you take knowing the weight of this film rested principally on the two of you?
Berry: Well, good thing I never knew that because I wouldn’t have done it. (laughs) What I was so inspired by was that I didn’t feel like it rested on me, certainly not me. I felt like it was a classic ensemble and that every character, every part that everybody had to play, was equally as important to telling the story, and that the directors – Lana, Andy and Tom – were ultimately most important because they had to have this story all in their head.
They had to take that book and put it into a cohesive story that would translate to screen that hopefully audiences would want to follow along with. I was honored that they called me up and said we want you for it. In my mind, I thought “Do I have to come in and meet and have conversations and prove to you that I can do it, that I’ve thought about it, that I understand?” Lana said “No, we just gotta have you. That’s just how it is.” I knew that they were putting so much faith in me, and I wanted to live up to their expectation every single day. I wanted to help them make this dream that they had been carrying for years and years come to fruition.
Hanks: They wouldn’t let us panic. They wouldn’t let us come in and be freaked out about any individual choice. They were just so happy to see us every day and were so anxious to let us play in their repertory company. Without a doubt, they steered us to some degree. Specifically, I was slashing Hugh’s throat with far too much vengeance literally, and Lana was on me saying “It can’t be that. You can’t be the guy who’s seeking retribution.
It has to be a different version of that because otherwise you see the whole story of Zachary is going to be blown.” So you would think “Oh, I got this. I know what to do. Here’s the gun.” And they said “No, no, no. You’ve got to pull back on that.” That’s like a faith in us in order to get there without any corrective measure, because they could have thrown down their head sets and said “No! No! No!!!” They were very, very gentle and very inclusive in the process.
Q: In this current era of Hollywood filmmaking, how risky do you think this movie is considering its length and complicated storyline and structure?
Hanks: I think it’s as risky as “Inception” was, quite frankly. “Inception” was a complete one-off. You saw it the first time and said “What?! How many movies are in this thing? Why is this James Bond movie suddenly breaking out of this thing?” And so, there is this idea that oh my Lord, it’s original and it has creativity and it’s not going to be a simple thing. You’re going to have to catch up to it as you go along.
Well, good Lord, that’s what all movies used to be and now they’re not, without a doubt. My joke was, hey, you could bypass all of this. Just call it “Cloud Atlas II” and everybody who loved the first “Cloud Atlas” will show up and see this and say “Well I think this is actually better than the first ‘Cloud Atlas.’” Imagine that. So, this idea that it’s risky is one that the marketing people put forward and the reviewers who think it’s not going to work. That’s the antithesis of what the cinematic art should be and yet that’s where we are. So we’ll just see. People show up, they’ll forget about it.
Q: This movie pushes boundaries in every imaginable way. Having done it, have you let go of any boundaries or preconceptions about anything or turned to reincarnation as a philosophy of life?
Berry: I’ve always had that philosophy of life. I’ve always believed in that. Tom and I…
Hanks: We argue.
Berry: We differ. We fight on this subject. It just affirmed things that I’ve always believed. I think that I started off very young in my life questioning. For a while, I was studying Buddhism because that was what was in my…
Hanks: Was that during the Miss Teen America years?
Hanks: Easy now…
Berry: (laughs) I really do love him though. No, it was the bosom buddy years.
Hanks: Oh! Alright. We’ll put a hash mark on there. Well played Halle Berry.
Berry: I’ve always thought what was I before I was this and then what will I be when I leave here. I really had a hard time always accepting that at some point I’m just going to turn to dust and ashes and never be again and that the journey would stop. I believe that we are souls, kind of like a version of what our movie presents, and we come here again and again until we arrive at our highest evolution, and what happens after that I don’t know.
But I just don’t think it’s an abyss of nothingness and that we fall off and that our journey stops. I think it’s circular and we go and we go and we go. I know that there are civilizations that I think are way more sophisticated than we are and I think more sophisticated civilizations lived before us. If you think about it, how did the pyramids get made? I think people would struggle today to figure out how we could do that, but look how many years ago that kind of technology and ingenuity was able to be possible. So I just can’t believe that this is all there is. The movie helped solidify that for me, because I’ve lived that for so long and thought about it so much.
Hanks: I am a lay historian by nature and I seek out an empirical reflection of what truth is. I want dates and motivations. I want the whole story. But, I’ve always felt unconsciously that all human history is that connection from person to person to person, and from event to event to event, and from idea to idea.
For me, the movie actually in the voices of particularly Somni, in Doona Bae’s character, she actually gives a vocabulary to it that I think is quite profound. For example, in the beginning when she’s being examined by James D’Arcy, she says “Truth is singular.
Versions of truths are mysteries.” I thought holy smokes, that’s the deepest thing I’ve ever heard anywhere and I tried to get through Carlos Castaneda. I tried to do that. Later on, when she’s literally saying the thing that is quoted by Susan Sarandon as the Abbess earlier on — “From womb to tomb, we’re all connected.
Your choices reverberate through eternity.” — I think that is such a simple and profound explanation for how we are all connected that I had never thought of before. But now I’ve got it, so I think it actually supports this embracing of the mysteries that I had always been, that had been enough for me prior to making the movie.
Q: Throughout each lifetime, your characters are constantly trying to find each other and essentially you are each other’s soul mates. What are your thoughts about soul mates and do they exist?
Hanks: Listen, I knew it from the get go. I met Rita Wilson and I said “It’s all over. Something really is different now.” What I think is really beautiful about it is my favorite role is Isaac Sachs, because he is literally a version of myself where he writes down these equations and it comes up cross.
He writes the Atlas but he comes across the Cloud, this ephemeral thing. He’s on the plane. He says “I’ve fallen in love with Luisa Rey and now things are profoundly different for me.” I relate to that because that’s what I went through with my wife without a doubt. So, that happens. You’ve got to be lucky enough in order to stumble across it. I was lucky.
Berry: (laughs) I’m just going to pass on this.
Hanks: As Halle’s designated boyfriend of the day, she and I have stumbled across each other in our profession and that means it’s all different.
Q: It is interesting the contrast between the two of you, because Tom, we never hear about you except for when you’re in your movies, and Halle, we hear about you all the time, and I wonder why.
Hanks: Because she’s hounded by thugs. That’s why.
Berry: They don’t sit outside his house. I want to tell them where the fuck you live. I want to take them right to you. Sit outside his house. He’s doing some really cool stuff. Follow him!
Hanks: Oh, they lost interest years ago.
Q: You both have Oscars. You’ve both had great artistic success. How do you feel about your celebrity? Has the media made you what you are? Is it that you’re a bigger-than-life character and that people are fascinated by what happens to you?
Hanks: Oh please. There’s money to be made off of pounding this pretty girl. That’s what it comes down to. And there’s money to be made persecuting a women trying to raise her daughter. It’s an ugly, ugly fact. Often times on Sunset Blvd. I drive past a pre-school and there is literally a platoon of 18 to 32 very thuggy-looking guys who are trying to make money with their long sports lenses off of someone trying to take their daughter or their son to pre-school.
I can’t tell you how loathsome that makes me feel. Look, it’s one thing we go to premieres, take our picture. We go out to dinner, take our picture. That’s fine. We show up all the time, and if we’re out doing something, go ahead. But if you’re going to follow us just because we’re a pretty girl or we’ve had a kid or our boyfriend or girlfriend has something that’s coming out, I’m sorry, I think that’s ludicrous.
Q: It’s the kiss and curse of success and extreme beauty and you can’t get away from it.
Berry: But here’s the thing. I never wanted to get away from it. I want my daughter away from it because she hasn’t made a choice to be in this business. She needs to grow up as a little girl and be afforded all the normalcies of every other kid, and it’s my job as her mother to provide that for her at whatever cost.
That’s what I’m going to do. What’s not fair is what happens to children. They shouldn’t be subject to that. Me, I’m not complaining about me. I can deal with it. I’m a grown-up. She’s four. She doesn’t even understand. She has no mechanisms to deal with this. I don’t want my daughter to be the guinea pig, and when she’s 18 she’s a hot damn mess because I didn’t take her out of it when I have the wherewithal to do that. That’s too high of a price for me to consider paying for her.
Hanks: I’m sad that you only see the photographs, but you don’t hear what those guys yell. You do not hear what they scream at you.
Berry: What a little girl should not hear.
Q: Tom, how did you avoid that?
Hanks: Well, first of all, I’m not pretty. I’m not a world class beauty, ladies and gentlemen. I’m just a guy. I was slow going and stuff like that. I was just never that brand of news.
Q: Are you boring? Is that what you’re saying?
Berry: I’m boring. I’m really boring. I do nothing but boring. That’s about it.
Q: Halle, you broke your foot while you were making this. How did that affect what you were doing in the movie?
Berry: It affected every decision, every moment for the rest of [the shoot] and every co-star and every director and every costume designer. It was a challenge for everybody, and everybody was so gracious and supported me in every single way possible because they didn’t want me to go home. The day after it happened, I heard Lana and Andy wanted to come see me and I thought oh God, they’re surely going to give me my papers and tell me to get back on the plane because they’re bringing in somebody else. Never was I so touched and never had I cried so hard when they came and they said “No. It’s a bump in the road. We’re going to fix this.” I couldn’t believe it because there were so many actors, so much scheduling had gone on for years to make this all work, and they were willing to say “We’ll throw it all in the wind. We want you to stay on this movie and we’re going to work it out.”
Q: Do you think the movie nails what we can expect from the future such as bad food and cities with less light that project gloom and doom?
Hanks: Well, if you were to go to any place from Shanghai to Abu Dhabi to downtown Los Angeles, you’d be seeing some amazing architecture with stuff like that. Look, history, the future’s going to be one damn thing after another. I mean, there you go. There’s my clairvoyance. I can see it now. You can write this down. Oh I see it. In the future, some people will be okay. Some people will be worse off, and life history is going to be one damn thing after another. That’s what it’s going to be.
Q: For the kids out there, what do you know now that you didn’t know at 18?
Hanks: I didn’t realize at 18 that girls want to have sex, too. I thought it was a total one-way street.
Q: Tom, you’re making your Broadway debut next year in Nora Ephron’s play, “Lucky Guy.” Why Broadway now at this point?
Hanks: Because the kids are out of the house.
Q: You’ve been working with her for several years on this?
Hanks: Yeah. I knew of it for a number of years and then it just kind of came together.
Q: Michael McAlary is coming to Broadway?
Hanks: That’s right.
Q: Did you ever meet McAlary when he was alive?
Hanks: No, no. I wasn’t even aware of it. I’d lived in New York and I wasn’t familiar with the Mike McAlary that they were talking about.
Q: When did you get rid of the beard?
Hanks: I shaved that beard off as soon as we wrapped “Captain Phillips.” That went by the wayside. But now I’m torturing my wife and family with yet another version of facial hair that I keep going like this with the pen (filling it in with pen marks) in order to make it look less junior high school-ish.
Q: What was it like working in Norfolk, Virginia on that film?
Hanks: Oh Norfolk was great. Man, we saw the Navy town that Norfolk, Virginia is. Every day we were doing stuff, like touring submarines and aircraft carriers, and working with the great folks of the Navy, and discovering the perfect biscuit and gravy breakfast, for which there are a number of options in Norfolk, Virginia.
Q: What was the best one?
Hanks: I think it was Charlie’s Diner. Charlie’s was awfully good. When you order biscuits and gravy in Norfolk, Virginia, you’re getting a shitload of biscuits. I couldn’t put a dent in that.
Q: Maybe because you’re Tom Hanks they gave you extra biscuits?
Hanks: I’m not so sure.
Q: What about Walt Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks”? Is that still a go? Are you doing that before Broadway?
Hanks: Yeah, I start in a couple of weeks. They’re shooting right now but they just haven’t got to my part yet.
Q: What’s with the moustache?
Hanks: It’s for a job.
Q: So, a mustache for Walt Disney?
Hanks: Yes, sir!