You may have heard of the man who appears on the cover of this month's issue of Esquire, alongside Emma Watson. Tom Hanks is one of the handful of above-the-title leading men to have dominated American cinema over the past four decades, a Hollywood star of the old school who has never allowed his celebrity to overshadow his work, only to allow him the opportunity to make that work more varied and more visible.
The star of films as diverse and iconic as Splash, Big, Sleepless in Seattle, Apollo 13, Toy Story, Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, The Da Vinci Code, Captain Phillips and Bridge of Spies, the California native has five times been nominated for the best actor Oscar — and won it twice, for Forrest Gump and Philadelphia.
At 59, Hanks' career is in as robust a state as ever. A director and producer as well as an actor, he has a number of high profile projects in the works, including The Circle, an adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel, in which he stars alongside Emma Watson.
They are not here to promote that film, though, but to talk about HeForShe, Watson's campaign to bring men into the fight for gender equality.
Emma Watson: Are you a feminist?
Tom Hanks: Yes I am. We are in the Third Millennium. We have thousands of years of human history under our belts. If we are not continuously moving towards equal rights, equal opportunities and equal freedoms for every member of the human race — not just that half that is male — then we have squandered all we have learned.
EW: I know you have both sons and a daughter. I was really moved to hear how much you support your wife in her work. I don't want to pry into your private life but have you thought about gender equality in the way you have parented and in your marriage?
TH: My mother got out of unhappy unions and marriages on her own — she was an only child after all. She went to college as she worked and raised more kids than just her own. My sister called her own shots the same way. My wife and my daughter have yet to allow themselves to be defined only by the man in their lives. The women I have worked with and those I seek inspiration from have had different perspectives on all there is to have an opinion on in this world, and I have always learned from listening to them. My support of those women and those in my family has been the same as it has for any man or any of my sons.
EW: You have been very supportive of same-sex marriage. I spoke a lot in my speech to the UN about the importance of seeing gender on a spectrum instead of as binary, and being inclusive of where everyone fits on that spectrum. Would this be something you would like to speak about? Is there a connection there?
TH: Look at us human beings! Each of our fingerprints is unique. Our eyes are just as varied. Just as no two snowflakes are the same, neither are we. We are as singular as those lines and ridges on our palms and fingers. Our gender is defined the same way. We love who we love, we are passionate for those who stir us. The directions our love takes us in are infinite. Not just two boxes marked EITHER and OR.
EW: Why did you agree to support the HeForShe campaign by appearing on the cover of Esquire?
TH: I find Emma Watson as fascinating as she is accomplished. Time spent with someone as dedicated and as smart as she is is time well spent.
EW: I know you are interested in politics and in business. Do you think female involvement is important? Did you see that Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian President, has made his government 50:50?
TH: I saw that and predict that Canada will be run 50 per cent better than before.
EW: You are no stranger to working with strong women. One of your most famous films, Big, was directed by Penny Marshall and you starred in A League of Their Own alongside Geena Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute to campaign for gender equality in film. But Hollywood is far from equal, on screen and off. Of the top films in 2013, women accounted for only 30 per cent of all speaking characters. Female characters are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire in G-rated [family] films. Or look at the Oscars. The LA Times reports that Academy voters are 76 per cent male, 93 per cent white, with an average age of 63. Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. No woman of colour has ever been nominated. Why does this matter?
TH: Because the art form of cinema becomes less of an art, and no longer holds the mirror up to nature when women are reduced to being only hot or nurturing. The great films make us all recognise ourselves up there on the screen, even when the characters are women from a different time and maybe speak a different language. When rules of gender and character dictate what stories are told and by whom, when women are required to be only hot or only nurturing, they no longer are full dimensional humans. That's not art, and it brings less enlightenment to the world. The economics of motion pictures makes faith in voodoo equal to those in a Vegas casino. Bets on making money are made on hunches, odd rules and track records. "Men have a certain touch with material, you can tell by the T-shirts they wear!" "Women directors play with different instincts because they often have babies!" Outliers come along much more often than are admitted. Television is a different matter. There are more women in starring roles, writing and running shows, and even in executive suites. The movies will catch up...
Photography by Art Streiber, styling by Sarah Slutsky, hair by Christian Wood, make up by Jane Galli, grooming by Jetty Stutzman