[This page of the interview contains several spoilers]
They all dissolved into laughter, and Andy continued the story. "So now, by the time you get to the last one, you've gotten each of the hooks in each of the stories, one at a time, and then we get to the end, we set that last hook, Zachary gets his premonition, and then someone mentions Sonmi, and then Sonmi's door opens, and that's the first time we've deviated from the structure. She walks over to Jim Sturgess, and Jim Sturgess says, 'You've got a choice. You can either stay here, or you can come with me,' and that's like the only other time that we're talking to the audience. The first time is 'I have a disdain for tricksy gimmicks,' and then 'you can either stay here or you can come with us'. And then the movie kicks off."
One of the things that will help sell the film is the presence of Tom Hanks, which I assume also helped get the film funded. He's beautifully cast in the film, and it's a huge performance from him, or maybe I should say performances, since he plays characters in each of the six stories. When Sam Mendes was getting ready to make "American Beauty," one of the actors he wanted for Lester was Tom Hanks, but his agents got as far as the scene with Lester masturbating in the shower and passed on it, telling Mendes "this is not a Tom Hanks film." When Hanks met Mendes at the Oscars and heard about that, he immediately told his agency to send him challenging scripts in the future and to let him worry about what is or isn't a Tom Hanks film.
Lana seemed delighted by the story and said, "We owe Sam Mendes a present, then."
There are things Tom Hanks does in the film that we've never seen him do, and language we've never heard him use, and for some audiences, it will be a shock to see certain things happen.
Lana asked, "You mean like slitting Hugh Grant's throat?"
Andy belly-laughed as he said, "Tom Hanks cuts Hugh Grant's throat open," which is perhaps one of the more disturbing things you can say as you belly laugh, but I know what he means. It's outrageous to see Hanks upend his image this completely.
Lana continued, "And to see that expression on his face of remorse and horror. I am in love with Tom Hanks. You're right, he is so intelligent, and he knows film as well as or better than any actor we have ever met. He watched just a tiny piece of the film when we were doing ADR, and he just intuitively knew so many things. 'Oh, I love that cut, and how you went from that to that, and that is incredible! And you're doing this cut and that cut because of this, and that's amazing.' He saw the shot of the critic being thrown off the balcony, and he was laughing. He was like, 'He fucking hits the floor! He doesn't hit the car!' And we were like, 'Yes! That's the point! He misses it! They always land on the car!'"
Hanks carries certain expectations with him when he's cast in a role, and for some audiences, they may not be prepared for what he does in "Cloud Atlas." I asked if part of the reason they cast him was specifically so they could play against that iconic weight he carries.
Tom answered, "The whole idea of him being the most relevant everyman actor since Jimmy Stewart invited even more this idea that the characters he's playing are having this very particular evolution, the idea that the best of us can come from the worst of us. He's an evil murderer, but there's this learning process, and meeting this girl once, twice, and then finally realizing he's going to have to change, and when he meets her in the '70s, there's that feeling that even though he's working for the, you know, the evil empire, maybe he can help her. Maybe he can do something better. And then he fails and he dies, and so he comes back as the writer, and do you remember the moment when he sees Halle Berry in the bar, and you think, 'Oh, there she is! Go! Go!' But he doesn't. He decides to do bad instead. He decides to do something very bad and kill the critic instead."
Tom stopped and fixed me with a pointed stare as he realized what he'd just said. "Well, I don't know how bad you can consider that to be."
Both of the Wachowskis started laughing at that, all of them looking at me, and finally Tom regained some composure and continued. "So he keeps going, and ultimately he meets her again in the far future, and he gets to really, really change. He gets to change perspective. He becomes this new being who sees the moral consequences of things. And the idea of having this person who slowly, complicatedly learns to be a better person be played by this particular actor that has such an iconic dimension to him that it's not like… him being the bad guy is so much more impressive because you don't know it that well. And at the same time, because he can pull it off so amazingly… he sort of embraced it, and he enjoyed getting to be evil, like when he's playing Dr. Goose, there's this potency of… you trust him to be decent… and once you find out that he's poisoning Ewing, it's shocking. You think because he's Tom Hanks, oh, he's this quirky doctor, and he's going to save him. How nice to have him around. He's going to protect him, like maybe protect him from the bad captain or something, and he's the horror. If it had been somebody we are used to seeing in ambiguous roles, you would have immediately projected it all differently."
Lana jumped in. "But you're right that the moment we started thinking about Tom Hanks, we got so excited by the idea of him doing these roles. Yet at the same time, we were wondering if he was the engineer behind the Tom Hanks image, you know? We were like, what if we send it to him and he's like, 'What? Are you insane? Why would you offer this to me? I would never do this.' So it was experimental. We knew it was something that would transcend the 'Tom Hanks movie' definition…"
Andy said, "And we didn't know him at all, so…"
Lana continued, "So we sent it with a note. 'Are you interested?' And he was like, 'Let's meet!' And we had our most insane meeting of all time…
I told them that I read about that meeting in the recent profile done on them in The New Yorker, and it reaffirmed for me that Hanks is one of the most genuine people in the business, someone who has reached a point where he does what he wants because it intrigues or challenges him, and because he's well aware of what he can do with his movie-star clout.
Tom agreed. "He really is like that. I know we said that before, but we went through so many meetings trying to cast this, so many meetings with actors, and it would always end with, 'Great. Let my people talk to your people.' And he was just like, 'I'm in. Let's go.' And he meant it. There was no call a few weeks later to duck out of it."