Tom Hanks Shares Secrets of His Movies

Hanks opens up about research for his war films and the key to their success.

December 5, 2012, 4:57 PM

Dec. 6, 2012— -- Tom Hanks is no stranger to audiences around the world. He's also no stranger to war and the United States military. He has starred in some of the world's most popular war films and is a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry.

Hanks is now taking his hard-earned wisdom and sharing it with Army veteran Gabriel Posey, an aspiring screenwriter, as part of ABC News' Standing Up For Heroes series.

He and I discussed "Saving Private Ryan," which is undoubtedly one of his most memorable films. Hanks said that when Steven Spielberg approached him to star in the movie, he was drawn to the director's "cinematic brilliance and expertise" and the film's unique take on war, which gave Hanks an understanding of war that laid the foundation for future work.

"When 'Saving Private Ryan' was done, I had in my head oceans of information that came out of everything that I read, particularly the first-person histories, and I just thought, 'This is rich and it's different, and this more than the movie that we made,'" Hanks said. "So out of that came 'Band of Brothers,' which led to 'The Pacific,' which lead to any -- even current things that go on, because I find out that there is nothing better than a true story well told, so we keep finding them."

Hanks' war films are more personal for the 56-year-old actor than some fans may realize, and he brings to them his keen sensitivity to the personal sacrifice service men and women make.

"When they left they had no kids and now they've got two kids," Hanks said. "Or left three little ones and a spouse, a husband or a wife, and now they're coming back to kids that are teenagers, that are in college and a wife or a spouse that is going to have a tough time being able to identify with what has gone on."

Many soldiers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when they return home from combat, but that, Hanks says, is something that could be helped.

"Many of their families said this: 'Dad never talked about the war, all the time that we were growing up, but we remember the screams at night,'" Hanks said. "What prompts those screams and what effect does it have on the entire household? You know, somebody really needs some time to work that out. And I think that's one of the things that we can probably make happen a little easier."

Hanks has done films about World War II and the Vietnam War, but he said he doesn't plan to do one about Iraq or Afghanistan in the near future.

"One of the finest war movies, or most authentic war movies, was 'Apocalypse Now,'" Hanks said. "I saw it in 1977. That's about four years after the fact. The cosmic aspect of the work, the cosmic aspect of what people went through requires a distillation, and I think that distillation process can only come through time."

His advice to veterans returning who have an interest in producing a film about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

"I would say start the process now. Start the process, it's not going to be a quick one," Hanks said. "If you want to get into, if you want to tell this story, begin now because you're going to have to test that material and let it distill and let it filter for a while. Because otherwise you'll probably be coming up with a didactic piece of filmmaking that says you must think this way. In order to truly address it, you need time. Time to distill what really want on and time for the participants to distill what it did to them. That takes a while to get to."