When the Nixon administration was in the White House he attempted a cover-up of epic proportions – Tom Hanks says that in a world of fake news the truth stands tall.
RISING Before you filmed The Post you met the real-life executive editor, Ben Bradlee, who you play?
TOM HANKS, ACTOR ‘His job was to find the truth, to put it out there and let people decide. Simple and clear. I remember meeting him, he said to me: “Tom, I always said, you gotta make sure what you put on the front page is the truth. Because if it isn’t, you’re going to be tasting it for a long time. And it doesn’t taste nice.”’
‘That had a powerful resonation. His passion for the truth, to go deep and discover the truth hidden deep underground in these secret vaults, putting it out there and on the record. The truth is what makes us great, the access to the truth, which is at the cornerstone of our democracy. The Nixon administration tried to alter the first amendment, the first point put down on paper by the founding fathers, and that’s monkeying around with our constitution.’
RISING What about Donald Trump calling the Washington Post, among others, fake news?
TH ‘What the current administration is doing is maybe subtler that what happened to The Washington Post back then, because if they were to attempt to shut down, if they were to attempt to silence an organisation today, it would be total consternation.’
‘What the current administration is doing is far more insidious in it’s assault, it’s putting the idea out there, that these are not the truths and diluting the waters. It’s muddying the waters by delegitimising the truth, and this is why when telling the truth in this form, there cannot be a sliver of question, a sliver of doubt. It has to be concrete and entirely encased. Because if not, it gives the opportunity to seize upon that and run with it. So journalism has to get it right. Because if you get it right, you can’t argue with it –you can have a different opinion but you can’t argue with it.’
‘There are a lot of lies out there, there’s always been fake news, but the truth stands tall’
RISING How has the landscape changed, as you see it?
TH ‘The difference now is lies and marketing, and falsehoods exist side by side with the truth, promoting the adage: “You can’t believe everything you read.” And that is true beyond doubt. But there are also many things you must believe, you have to believe. There are a lot of lies out there, that’s nothing new, there’s always been fake news, but the truth stands tall. And standing in the way of that truth being published and disseminated to a wider audience, which is a violation of democracy, that’s the centre of this story.’
RISING The timeliness of The Post movie is uncanny – that 1970’s battle between government and press is still going on?
TH ‘It’s always going to be topical, isn’t it? With every administration, there is always a gauntlet laid down between congress and the media, that will never change. It’s a constant tug of war. Obama experienced it, so did Bush, so did Clinton, now the current… There’s this push and pull between church and state. And yes, right now the press is under siege.’
‘We’re in the middle of a period in history where reason is being pummelled in a colossal assault never witnessed before. But the truth in its purest form is a powerful entity. This movie is timely not only in politicians lying and concealing the truth in order to curry favour but also the position of women fighting for their position in the workforce. Issues that could not be more in the forefront of our public and individual consciousness.’
RISING You’ve played a string of real-life heroic figures, including Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot that landed in the Hudson – what draws you to them?
TH ‘I like being able to focus on people who actions help make us less cynical about life. When you look at someone like Chesley Sullenberger, here's a humble man who did his job very calmly while under enormous pressure and saved the lives of 155 people aboard his plane. I'm interested in the stories of guys like him who do something extraordinary when faced with a difficult situation or circumstances. I'm fascinated with those life-changing moments and I enjoy putting myself in their shoes.’
RISING Is that why you'd rather play a man like Sully as opposed to ‘bad guys’?
TH ‘I’ve played some not-so-nice people but I would rather play characters who face up to challenges and say something more positive about the human condition. I find it interesting to learn how people find something within themselves and rise to the occasion. That's what Sully did. He's the shining example of a man who performed with the highest level of professionalism and showed such grace under pressure.’
RISING We read you said The Post co-star Meryl Streep was ‘high maintenance’?
TH ‘I stand by that! What a nightmare, haha! I’m not going to say diva but, draw your own conclusion! What I learned from working with the greatest talent ever committed to celluloid, is she does it just like everyone else. She carries trepidation, nervousness about how it’s all going to work. She actually chastised me for not forewarning her that Steven doesn’t do rehearsals, haha. And inherently chasing an undiscovered timbre within the script, sitting down with her to do that, I learned Miss Streep does it like everybody else does and unlike anybody else can. What am I saying, she is the greatest actor, her work stands for itself. Nobody can touch her. The intimidation factor is real!’
‘The only thing that really matters is what kind of work you're doing now and in the future’
RISING How do you measure success in your career?
TH ‘For me, the true measure of success is artistic longevity. I don't like to look back on my past work because there's nothing I can do to change that, and the only thing that really matters is what kind of work you're doing now, and in the future. I simply try to stick to the path that's taken me this far and I hope that keeps on working for me.’
RISING Do you have any specific things you look for in each film or role you play?
TH ‘I’m very instinctive. I just start reading the script and if after the first 15 pages I think: “This role has to be mine and I don't think anyone else could do it better,” then I'll do it. Maybe it's just a matter of self-centeredness and competitiveness but I think most actors are like that.’
RISING They say all art takes risks – when do you take them?
TH ‘Every time I make a movie. Every time, it's a risk, and I fully appreciate and fear that. It's this enjoyable, nauseous balance. Every time you make a movie, you have to convince everyone that's it’s a great idea. I did a movie called Larry Crowne that I acted in, directed, produced and I thought it was a great idea but nobody else did, haha! It was a risk and sometimes risks don't always succeed. When it does succeed, it's powerful.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for The Post, which tells the story of one of history’s biggest cover ups as the Nixon government attempts to gag America’s leading newspapers over the Vietnam War.