The Pacific: Tom Hanks Interview

pacific300War! What is it good for!? Well, making groundbreaking TV miniseries’ apparently.

We all know that Tom Hanks is not a violent man (except if someone threatens Jennoiy of course) but the executive producer of ‘the most expensive television programme ever’, was more than happy to talk about the making of the new ten-part blockbuster.

The Pacific starts at 9pm on Monday 5th April on Sky Movies Premiere.

Where does the story of The Pacific begin?

The story begins in the consciousness of two of the main principals. We have the actual combat memoirs of Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale) and Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello). Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed, is a magnificent piece of personal reportage. He was a young man who was desperate to go to war.

Robert Leckie is a completely different beast. His war memoir is called Helmet For My Pillow. It’s a vision of what it was like to be young and a Marine and off fighting this war that, when you were up close, made no sense. He had a dysfunctional background and sort of went into the Marine Corps as a piece of experiential surfing. It was what was going on, so he went there.

We start after Pearl Harbor, so, essentially, the world that these young men live in has been completely turned upside down. These were two able-bodied young men, with different attitudes. No real sense of “I must do it for Americaâ€?, but a much more personal mission for each of them, which is “I couldn’t live with myself unless I participatedâ€?.

The third character we have is John Basilone, who saw what was coming on. He’d been in the army for four years, he’d gone through the Philippines, and he knew that the Marines were going to be at the forefront of any fighting. His attitude was, “This is what I’m trained for. I’ll go off and fight this, and I’ll be with the Marines, because they’re first.â€?

Was it important for the actors to go through boot camp?

Oh, yeah. Preparing and doing research is de rigueur for any job like this, and we had Dale Dye, the retired US Marine Corps Captain who has made it his life mission to take “Foo-foo actors and turn them into something that vaguely resembles a Marineâ€?. You cannot pretend to be exhausted or pretend to be wet and miserable. So we took every cast member into the jungles of Australia. It was not a pleasant place, and they were put through a very aggressive training course. I’ve been an actor in these circumstances, and when you have a problem you are used to turning to your agent to fix it. Instead, you’re relying on yourself and, lo and behold, a guy playing your corporal or captain comes along and helps you out with it; it takes you out of the individual realm of being an actor, into the reality of what the circumstance must have been. These guys relied on each other and they themselves became the motivation for everything.

You went through that experience with Saving Private Ryan. What advice did you give the actors?

My advice to all of them was: “Just do it.â€? You’ll be amazed at what you go through when you do stand guard duty from three o’clock in the morning to 5am. No way would I have thought that anything could honestly be gained by that, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. As an actor, you don’t really have to do this. You can be back in your hotel and say, “I just need to show up for wardrobe fittings and rehearsals and when we shoot.â€? But the challenge was can you just do what you’re told? Can you make all the mistakes and recover from them? And it pays off a great deal.

Talking of doing what you’re told, was there any point where you desperately wanted to get in there and direct a scene?

No, because we worked on this thing for so long and we were constantly in flux as far as trying to tell the story. We started off with this idea that we were going to do things that no one had ever seen before. I said to the cast, writers and directors, “If you’ve seen it in a war movie already, you’re not going to do it in this one.â€? And it was arguably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had as a professional storyteller. There was no dictatorial point man on all of this, it was always “Does anybody else have a better idea on how to move this thing forward?â€?

Is there one part of the series that you’re proudest of?

The war in the Pacific was a war about terror and racism. In Europe, around 98% of the time if you were an enemy soldier and you threw your hands up, the war was over for you. This was not the case in the Pacific. The Pacific was white people fighting yellow people with an absolute hatred for everything the other side stood for. It was a look at war for the future. We’ve fought that brand of war and we’re still fighting it now.

So, we have a moment that takes place on Peleliu, in which two characters are doing something that is so horrible and yet it was common. They were just waiting, surrounded by the blown-apart corpses of both American and Japanese soldiers, and, absent-mindedly, one guy starts throwing pebbles into the skull of a dead soldier. Just like you’d flip cards into a hat. When we can come across moments like that I can’t help but think, how can we ask those guys to come home and go back to their banks, or go back to school after that? Well, the truth is that’s what you ask somebody to do every time you ask them to go to war. And I’m very proud that in The Pacific, we’ve achieved something in showing human beings doing something they’ve never been shown doing before.