The enticing combination of showman director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet) portraying the life of the showman extraordinaire Elvis Presley on-screen, and starring one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, Tom Hanks, is surely bound to be a recipe for success!
The King himself is played by actor Austin Butler, but it’s Tom as the bad guy, Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, who is rumoured to be in line for an Oscar for his incredible performance.
Parker was the Machiavellian overseer of Elvis’s career, helping him shoot to global stardom, not only as a rock ‘n’ roll singer but also as a Hollywood movie star. However, it’s been argued that he mishandled Elvis’ affairs and took an excessive amount of the profits for himself.
“He was both a genius and a scoundrel,” admitted Tom in a recent interview for The Late Show. “He was a very disciplined man, but also a guy who - when you've been around him - you might want to check your wallet to make sure you still have all those fives and tens.”
Keen to portray this strong character as accurately as possible, Tom certainly did his research. He and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, even had dinner with Elvis’s daughter Lisa in the hopes of getting a better take on the man. Tom was taken aback by her reaction.
“I was expecting to hear stories about the distrust she had for Colonel Tom Parker over these many years. And she said, ‘No. He was a wonderful man, and I wish he was alive today. He took really great care of us. He was a scoundrel in his way’.”
For a huge movie star, Tom is refreshingly down-to-earth about his career. “I have been crazily fortunate,” he acknowledges, readily, of the stellar success that has led him to the summit of Hollywood’s ‘A’ list.
“But... sometimes I think I would be better off, and I would make a better contribution to humanity, if I felt the same way I do about acting as about something practical, such as laying bricks, or fixing cars or problems with heating and air conditioning. I could really improve some people’s lives on that. But unfortunately, that stuff flummoxes me and I flee from it.
I wish I could fix your screen door with the right kind of rubber tubing and the right kind of screwdriver. But if I tried, I would be there for four hours and you would still have to call somebody to fix it.”
But Tom (65) nearly didn’t make it as an actor at all. Thirty-four years ago, young Tom was just another face in the Hollywood crowd: a veteran of a moderately successful television sitcom show, Bosom Buddies, and a romantic comedy film, Splash, that had done well but not led him anywhere much. He was 31 years old, divorced from his first wife, actress Samantha Lewes, with two small children to support and no great job prospects to speak of.
“But that’s why the unemployed actor is either the greatest job to have or the least great,” he says now. “Because if you have some degree of faith, and confidence in your ability, and a bit of sheer serendipity, you can walk into a building at 10.15 in the morning with nothing, and walk out at 10.27 with the job that will change your life.”
In his case, the job was a film called Big, a fantasy comedy of 1988 in which he played a small child transported into the body of a man. When he took the role, he says, his main thought was that he would be able to pay his rent and buy Christmas presents for the family.
As it turned out, the movie became a global phenomenon, winning fervent fans and rave reviews worldwide. He has not looked back since.
Nowadays, of course – as one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood, and producer of TV series such as Band Of Brothers and movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding – he has an estimated net financial worth of a jaw-dropping $350 million, and can afford to buy Christmas presents into the next millennium. But none of this would mean much without someone to share his life with. Step in Rita, his companion of 36 years, spouse of 33.
So what’s the secret to a long-lasting marriage in notoriously fickle Hollywood? “You’ve got to pick the right person!” he chuckles.
“Really, there is no secret – it’s just the pursuit of happiness to keep going and keep going until you meet the love of your life.
“I was lucky enough to run across Rita in the first place and smart enough not to let her go when I’d found her. Simple as that.”
These days Tom is a granddad – thanks to sons Colin and Chet, they have three granddaughters, whom Tom says are the light of his life.
“We’re the cool grandparents. I spend every possible available moment with them,” he says, “which is sometimes not nearly as plentiful as I would like it to be.
“They’re fascinating and they’re curious, and my desire as a grandparent is just to soak up as much of their essence as is possible ... and sit next to them at dinner time to steal the good food off their plate!”
See Tom in the new Elvis film in cinemas nationwide from June 24