Bridge of Spies: Spielberg Espionage Thriller, Starring Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance

As a child, the 8mm war movies Steven Spielberg made in his backyard were often set in World War II, a recurring subject in a number of the films he would one day direct—titles ranging from “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Empire of the Sun” to “1941” and the “Indiana Jones” films—but until now, none were set in the world of international espionage.  “I love spy movies,” says Spielberg. “I love John le Carré, the James Bond movies, Mad magazine and the infamous ‘Spy vs. Spy’ column that I grew up with, so spying has always been on my mind.”

With “Bridge of Spies,” the characters truly are the story, and James Donovan, an insurance lawyer who is lured into the powerful corridors of the FBI and CIA, is the heart of the story. When it came to casting the crucial role, the choice had always been obvious: one of the most iconic actors working today, Tom Hanks.

Tom Hanks

“There is no one better suited for this role than Tom Hanks,” says producer Kristie Macosko Krieger. “James Donovan is just an ordinary guy…he is like my best friend’s dad.  He was a guy who did his job and then gets thrown into this incredible international story. That just doesn’t happen, but people think of Tom Hanks as everyman, and that’s why he is so brilliant as James Donovan.”

Hanks and Spielberg share a unique, creative relationship, one that elevates any film with which they’re involved. Previous collaborations include “Saving Private Ryan,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “The Terminal,” as well as the Emmy® and Golden Globe®-winning HBO miniseries based on Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Band of Brothers,” and the Emmy-winning “The Pacific,” both of which they produced.

Says Spielberg, “James Donovan was what you would call a stand-up kind of guy, someone who stands up for what he believes in, which, in his case, is justice for all, regardless of what side of the Iron Curtain you are on. He was only interested in the letter of the law. And Tom’s own morality and his own sense of equality and fairness, and the fact that he does such good things in the world by wisely using his celebrity, made him the perfect fit.”

“Tom is a history buff,” adds producer Marc Platt. “You can tell this from some of the great miniseries and films he’s produced and acted in. But he also has a particular interest in this period. The Cold War and East/West Berlin politics is something he knows a good deal about.”

Based on the caliber of filmmakers already in place, Hanks, who has starred in such diverse films as “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away” and “Toy Story,” was inclined to come on board without even reading the script. Once he did, however, he knew it had the potential to become one of the most exciting projects in his distinguished career. “This subject matter has always fascinated me, because of the area and because of the time,” says Hanks. “I knew that Francis Gary Powers was a U-2 pilot who was shot down by the Soviet Union, that it was a huge international incident and that there was a trade that got him back, but I didn’t know any of the details or who James Donovan was.”

He continues, “I love reading history and finding out something brand new—particularly about a subject that I think I’m well versed in—and when that happens, man, it’s like winning the lottery.”

Hanks was also fascinated by the bond that develops between Donovan and Rudolf Abel. He explains, “What he developed with Rudolf Abel was, first, a very completely professional relationship as an advocate.  He even says, ‘I am your advocate, my job is to represent you and bring you the best version of American justice that I can surmise, and here’s what I think that justice needs to be,’ and he was dogged in his pursuit of that.  He also developed a great personal relationship with Abel because he felt as though he was fighting for a good guy, both personally and in terms of what he stood for.”

To Spielberg, Donovan represents the ideals of a genuinely altruistic person, someone who had the tenacity to put Abel’s defense ahead of his own comfort and safety because he truly believed that the law needed to be respected.  “It brought a lot of tension to Donovan’s family, the same kind of tension that I imagine my own dad went through when he told people he spent three weeks in the Soviet Union at a time when if you even mentioned the Soviet Union in the wrong way, you could be accused of complicity,” says Spielberg.

“Tom is the perfect collaborator,” adds Spielberg. “He will try anything and he’s got a thousand ideas and is open to a thousand ideas from other people. He’s this incredibly creative vessel that just wants to figure things out in a more original way.”

Says Macosko Krieger, “Watching Tom and Steven work is such a joy, such a pleasure. They are both really masters at what they do, and you can see it.  They have such fluidity and a sense of ease with each other, which really brings out the best in one another.”