Tom Hanks relishes the position he’s in – the comfortable crevice between “America’s Dad” and the left-leaning actor who grew up in the Bay Area and at this point has little to lose in Hollywood by speaking his mind.
This was more than evident while Hanks, now 61 and a published author of Uncommon Type: Some Stories, was interviewed by good friend and collaborator Dave Eggers for a City Arts & Lectures appearance at the Nourse Theater on Tuesday night. Hanks — born and raised in the East Bay, an upbringing he recalled fondly and lengthily on stage — took equal pleasure in performing a profanity-laden impression of a restaurant owner, sardonically mocking the failure of recent movie The Circle, and decrying historical inaccuracies about John Adams in high school textbooks.
In other words, Hanks got to be himself, a luxury in Hollywood that he’s earned over 30 years of award-winning roles. That luxury of tenure includes the ability to comfortably criticize Donald Trump, and speak openly about Harvey Weinstein. (And also, to receive an ovation for declaring that he’d just pooped in his pants. You had to be there.)
Here’s what Hanks had to say about America in its current moment.
“We have elected buffoons to public office many times in our history. We will do it again. But if you look at what has happened in American history, you have not only a bit of reassurance for where we can go in the future, but also a primer for how we do it. There’s an election every two years. Quite frankly, if you’re not satisfied with where we are politically, later on in the year 2018 we could kick some f-ckin’ ass.
We have a self-correcting nation here. I don’t want to be too jingoistic or too gung-ho, but are we the only nation that has self-improvement codified into our foundation? I just saw the actual Constitution of the United States not too long ago, on display. I got chills. And when it was first written down, women did not have the right to vote, slaves and black people were considered only 3/5 of a human being, illiteracy ran rampant in the United States, and we had an indigenous population that was either being squeezed out of its land by musket, or by smallpox. And yet there it is, right there: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” We are always seeking to form a more perfect union. Perfection is a status that we will never achieve, but we can come closer and closer and closer to it.
Look, the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are examples of this before our very eyes. I grew up during the SLA, Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, the Zodiac Killer, and Charlie Finley owning the Oakland A’s. Nothing is fixed to a level of perfection, but we are closer to a more perfect status than ever before. That’s what we can always rely on.”
On Weinstein and sexual assault in Hollywood:
“I was not surprised. I can’t say I witnessed it. But here’s the truth. There are people that go into any line of work – ours, Wall Street, whatever – because it’s fun, and because you can’t believe that someone would pay you to do something that you love. There’s people that go into it because you can make a pretty good buck at it if lightning strikes, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good buck; it solves a lot of problems. There’s other people that, if they can make it work, they get to have this power of celebrity, and celebrity is in charge. You can get addicted to being somebody who can get a reservation anywhere you want, or always gets cuts in line. Those are viable reasons to go into any line of work.
There are, however, other people who go into it for one thing only: they want to hold power and influence over people, and they think that’s the coin of the realm. And the people who do that are kind of obvious — they demonstrate it in more than one way in the course of doing businesses with them. It doesn’t matter if you do good work or bad work, the end result, the main purchase that they’re trying to get is influence over you. There are plenty of people of every type, in every line of work, who say, “Here’s how power works. When I am in a position of power over you, I can reward you or I can punish you by whatever whim I choose. And that whim is sexual favors that I am going to demand of you. And if you don’t like those rules, get out of business, too bad, because this is the way it works. I have earned this position in order to hold sway over you.”
And that is sexual predatory behavior, and it is illegal, and it is cause for dismissal.
I don’t know how many women are here, but how many women in the workplace have experienced some form of predatory sexual behavior? [Nearly every woman in the theater claps.] That’s a lot of people. And it’s illegal.
I’m going to tell you that that is a portion of people, and also there are plenty people who would never do that in a million years, but that’s part of Western society. And the question is now: is everything going to change? I’m going to say yes. I think there’s going to be a sea change, and a type of discussion that’s going to be based on a code of ethics that is not an option to participate in, but is going to be a requirement.”