Post, The: Interview with Tom Hanks about Spielberg’s Timely Movie

Research for Playing Ben Bradlee

Tom Hanks: The degree of competitiveness that Ben Bradlee had just straight as a guy wanting to be number one was amazing.  At the time, the Washington Post was actually in a bit of a death battle to be the number one newspaper in Washington. Because there was the Washington Star. Does anybody remember the Washington Star? That had been the most popular well-read newspaper and the Post had long been either an also ran or even in third place for a while. So him coming into this job, he didn’t want to be the second-rate newspaper in what was considered to be a bit of a backwater. He wanted to be the number one newspaper in the most important city in the world.  He took on the competitors locally as well as certainly the New York Times naturally on this story, he just wanted that great red meat of circulation and importance and credibility. It just happened to intersect with the movie at the same time, Katherine Graham was about to become the Katherine Graham that she became who not only owned the paper but ran it and truly published it as well as, just so happened, an attack on the 1stAmendment of the Constitution of the United States. So I think for him, I think these weeks were the trifecta for Ben. He loved every moment of what when on and he was fearless as opposed to being chucked into jail. At the same time he had great affection but that’s not the actual word, but I would say respect, with an equal amount of empathy for what Katherine Graham had already gone through up to this point. So he was more than just a pirate who was telling her the way things had to be. He knew, in the movie it’s demonstrated certainly by Sarah Paulson’s scene, which you don’t understand what this lady’s been going through.

Bradlee ended up having to put together the true possible cost that it was going to be to Katherine Graham, a woman who had already been sidelined by both her father and her husband. He husband had committed suicide. She was left, in some ways, holding a bag which her name was going to be on but she wouldn’t actually wield the power. That was quite a combination of respect and empathy? You guys are journalists so maybe you might know what the word would be better. But it was palpable.  He did talk about it in both his book and the documentary footage that I saw later on.

Trust in Journalists

TH: The first question I get a lot of times is, what do you make of fake news? There’s always been fake news.  It was fake news at the time the framers of the Constitution wrote it. There were partisan newspapers all throughout America, Philadelphia, New York, Boston. It’s not the concept of there being fake news, we all get to read what we want to read and decide whether or not we buy it or not. Or hear what we want to hear or watch whatever. It’s not hard to discern what propaganda is. It’s not impossible to figure out that the people who are putting out this news story are doing it for very specific reasons. We could see where truth is being cloaked, or outrage is being manufactured. We can get that. We can also understand that there are organs out there, they’re members of the 4th Estate that are trying to get down to a provable, source approved, multi collaboration on what the truth is. And when we read it we get to decide how much we’re going to invest in it or not. The question is, it’s not do you trust journalists, I think the question is, do you trust the motivation behind what they’re covering and why. We all know that television news must be profitable; they must make a lot of money. Well guess what? They might cover only the more salacious stories. You might have to live through Monica Lewinsky for the better part of a year and a half. At the same time they might not be really anxious to talk about what possible horrible things are in this very product because this very product pays them billions of dollars in the course of the year. You take that exactly as it is. But, when there is out there and there is something like, name it, the Washington Post or some of the newspapers you guys work with, you could figure out what their modus operandi is and why they’re going for that, that’s up to us.

Fake News

TH: Fake news–lies–has always been out there. What has not existed in the United States is the true spirit of our democracy as it comes by the only Amendment we actually sort of need to be America which is the 1st Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. As long as we have that and no tyrant, no elected official, no religious figure, no owner of a certain corporation can stop you from publishing what you want to publish. That is I think absolutely…we don’t have to worry about that just now. And if there is an assault on the 1st Amendment, as almost happened in 1970, almost happened again in 1974, could be happening again in 2017 or 2018, guess what we get to do? We get to go to the polls and vote our reaction to that. And if enough people go to the vote, it’s just like I said to a very probing journalist earlier today, it’d be just like if everybody decides to pick up a piece of litter and put it in the trash can. If everybody does that you know what you have? A clean, spotless city.

Voting as Duty and Obligation

TH: If everybody goes and votes you know what you have? You have the government that the people want. And if you don’t vote you know what you have? You get the government you deserve. So there is no reason to distrust anybody out there because you know what, I will choose whether or not to believe what you write or not. I think that covers it, don’t you? I think we can stop now. 

Teaming with Spielberg and Streep–Why It Took So Long?

TH: I don’t know. I wasn’t a good enough singer to be in “Mamma Mia.”  I was the boss, I should have been able to make that happen don’t you think? I had to convince my wife. Consternation more than anything else. I was never involved in something in which there was a part for Meryl Streep and Meryl was never in anything in which there was a part for me. All I can tell you is that when we read this in February, we started shooting it in May and we finished in July and it’s coming out in December, so this was a rocket and I think no small amount because Steven Spielberg saw a movie he wanted to make in here, which changed quite a bit in the course of doing it.

Meryl latched onto this moment, when Kay Graham became Kay Graham and I would have done this, I would have played Ben Bradlee in this circumstance with anybody. I think I had four, maybe five very specific two-hander scenes with Meryl. I think there were five scenes between Ben and Katherine. I think only four made it into the movie but those were the most exciting, magical days I’ve had on a set in all of my career.

Meryl Streep

You get to do a lot of cool stuff in movies. But this movie was made on sets in which two people came in a room and said very adult things one to each other, for three, four, five pages. And to be able to do that with the artist who I think is the greatest actor to have ever been asked to perform on celluloid, La Streep, I can’t say it was a dream come true because I was terrified at the prospect of doing it, but when it was done I felt as though I had been elevated by somebody who is incredibly gracious and sharing in their process. She was just like a member of the ensemble, meaning she was just like every other actor who has ever been in a movie but we all know she is unlike anybody who has ever been in a movie.

 

Politics

TH: I’m not a political guy I don’t need to get into anything. But I will say that I believe, how do I put this? I think there are people in our government who are both incurious and ignorant about our history and about our foundations and our institutions. And I think the current occupier of the White House is one of those people. How about that?

Special Meaning of the Part

TH: The part was special and it’s for very selfish reasons. One is because I knew Ben Bradlee. I had dinner with Ben Bradlee on a number of occasions. I met him through Nora Ephron. I’ve been friends with his wife for a while and we got together and talked about Ben quite a bit. So I had had exposure to him, this is back in the 90’s when we were doing a lot of work with the World War II memorial that’s on the Mall in Washington D.C. So I got to know Ben a little bit and Sally as well. That was one aspect of it. So knowing the man and then reading his autobiography and seeing all the video, all the research that I did on him, it was familiar. I knew the guy, I heard his voice, I heard his meter and his cadence and his personality in everything that I saw. So it was familiar to me. The other aspect, I also worked with and was a great admirer of Jason Robards. Jason Robardsplayed Ben Bradlee in “All the President’s Men”, a movie in which Kay Graham does not make an appearance by the way, outside of a brief sort of reference. So between these two great icons, these great monumental men, one who was the guy and the other guy who became the embodiment of the guy, came a particular…I don’t want to be one of those actors who throws around words like challenges, but this was the greatest, this was one of the greatest challenges because I was not the first guy to play the part. And yet, Ben Bradlee said in one of the…he does part of a profile by the Pointer Institute, he said well you know and then they came out with that movie, you know, and now you know, everybody knows who I am, the first thing they always say, well you certainly don’t look like Jason Robards.  Well then you can take that and realize that there is no finality to a manifestation of Ben Bradlee. There are other elements that one has to get to. And I had this one thing, I must say, that was in my pocket in regards to this movie “The Post”, it’s not Ben’s movie, it’s about Katherine Graham. It’s about Katherine Graham becoming Katherine Graham. And so therefor I am a key member of an ensemble that is meant to support the bigger, truer, more personal story that isn’t just about history and headlines and the record, it’s actually about a very, very private relationship between two people. And so that gave me a type of leeway that went farther than…it had to be something between a mimicking of the man and an interpretation of what he went through.

Spielberg

TH: Steven Spielberg is a taskmaster. I asked him permission to go down a couple of avenues, which he let me go. And there was other times when he said, periodically he’d come up to me he says, not so growly, not so growly. Because if you talk to anybody that knew Bradlee, the first thing they do is they talk like that. And he said, we don’t want that but we want that. So you’ve got to find the perfect mix to it.

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