TORONTO - Tom Hanks does a lot of things. He wins Academy Awards. He stars in blockbuster movies. And now he does one other thing. He directs.
"That Thing You Do!," which Hanks directed from his own screenplay, opens today. Hanks also stars in his directorial debut, as Mr. White, manager of the fictitious Wonders, a rock 'n' roll band from Erie, Pa., that had one hit in 1964 with - you guessed it - the Beatles-sounding "That Thing You Do!"
"This really is about the British Invasion and American pop culture," said Hanks, 40.
"All of my brothers and sisters were older than me and were very much plugged into it. I was (about) 7 in 1964 when The Beatles were first on `The Ed Sullivan Show,' which, of course, I remember very well.
"But what I remember just as well is The Dave Clark Five on `The Ed Sullivan Show' in the subsequent weeks. As a matter of fact, they had The Dave Clark Five on `The Ed Sullivan Show' so much that I was convinced that The Dave Clark Five was way better than The Beatles because they had this string of very catchy, beat-heavy songs - `Bits and Pieces,' `I Like It Like That' and they just kept coming."
There's another thing that Hanks does. He makes his debut as a songwriter in "That Thing You Do!," having written or co-written nine tunes on the soundtrack. Unlike many period films, "That Thing You Do!" doesn't mine the Baby Boomer Top 40 gold mine from the 1960s. All the songs are originals.
"We originally thought we could use obscure B-sides of popular songs, but they all belong to catalogs that are awfully expensive and are difficult to get. So, if we're going to be doing the effort and spending the money to get something that may or may not be brand-new for somebody, (I said), `Let's just do something original and make some brand-new music.' "
Hanks co-wrote the songs with Gary Goetzman, one of the movie's producers (the others are Edward Saxon and Demme). Goetzman has written or produced songs for many recording artists, including Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Chaka Khan and The Staple Singers. Also helping with the songwriting was Mike Piccirillo.
"We would get together in a recording studio in the (Los Angeles area's San Fernando) Valley and just literally, just say, `Well, there should be something here, like that opening tune (`Lovin' You Lots and Lots'), like some bad Burt Kempfer, Johnny Mann Singers - absolute stupid, mundane, happy, tambourine kind of thing.'
"And that's how all of the really bad songs in the movie originated," said Hanks, who admitted, "I know the same seven and a half chords on the guitar that we all do."
The title song was written by New York City's Adam Schlesinger. His song was selected from some 300 submitted.
Hanks began writing the screenplay for "That Thing You Do!" over three months while promoting "Forrest Gump," the megahit for which he won a best-actor Oscar.
Hanks chose the story of an aspiring American rock 'n' roll band cashing in on the British Invasion (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al.) because he's a rock drummer wannabe.
"When I was a kid, and still when I go to rock 'n' roll shows - which I do like every seven and a half years - I'd be fascinated by the drummer. I always have liked to see the drummer.
"I would fantasize that I was such a good drummer (that) Ringo would leave the Beatles and that John, Paul and George would hear about this fabulous drummer, even if he was only 8 years old, and they'd want me to join them on tour - sort of like they did with Jimmy Nichols (who briefly toured with The Beatles) when Ringo got sick."
But when it came time to cast the part of Guy Patterson, drummer for The Wonders, in "That Thing You Do!," Hanks had some trepidation:
"Guy was truly the hardest part to cast in the entire movie. . . In order to find Guy, I had to find this mix of someone who could pass himself off, who could be considered to be the hippest guy in Erie, Pennsylvania . . .
"When Tom (Everett Scott) came in - the resemblance to myself at that age - it was unbelievable. I said, `I can't cast this guy. It's ridiculous.' I even said, `Are you sick of of hearing about how much you look like me?' And he said, `Yes.'
"But when they started working with him and they saw the end result of how good he was and how he handled the material and how he was communicating this kind of level of contentment in the character, I thought, `Well, this is kind of perfect.'
"I mean, this is the first guy that Mr. White (played by Hanks) meets, and he will certainly see the resemblance between the two. He sort of begins to shape them (The Wonders). He says, `Well, I look cool in sunglasses, so this dude (Guy) may look cool in sunglasses.' "
Hanks said that his starring in "That Thing You Do!" was more or less needed for 20th Century Fox to green-light the project. "That wasn't a prerequisite for me doing the movie, but I gave it to them and I said, `And, I would also like to play Mr. White' because I knew that would help me get the movie made. And it's not a bad part, too."
Hanks said that despite the critical acclaim for "Philadelphia" and the box office phenomenon of "Forrest Gump" (third-highest-grossing movie - $327 million - behind "Jurassic Park" and "E.T."), he still had to make a case for "That Thing You Do!":
"The success of your latest film only carries so much weight when it comes down to the next one because you have to start all over again. You don't have to go very far to see examples of someone who was in a hit movie and then was not in a hit movie."
Hanks said nothing in his experience as an actor prepared him for the arduous task of directing a feature motion picture.
When filming began Nov. 28, 1995, in Orange, Calif. (standing in for Erie), Hanks said there was a surreal quality:
"We got together and they (the actors) were sitting where they were supposed to sit. And they all knew the words. And they all said it. And I felt that literally everybody on the set, all 112 people, looked at me at like the same exact moment. . . I was unable to move, speak, nod - something. That took a moment, and then I said, `OK. Very good.' "
One day, Hanks was so preoccupied that he didn't recognize his own wife, Rita Wilson, who plays a cocktail waitress in the movie.
"That morning I showed up at the set with a huge, huge cup of ice and Gatorade. I was so tired by then I didn't even know it was my wife. I thought, `She's a very attractive lady, and I hope she's going to be nice to me.' And it was her (Wilson)."