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Posted on Wed, Jun. 16, 2004

Hanks, Spielberg reunite for 'serious comedy'




Knight Ridder Newspapers

Tom Hanks had this problem. Having felt, he says, incredibly grateful that Steven Spielberg had given him a chance to do the sort of part he never imagined getting, Hanks spent the weekend following the first days of shooting "Saving Private Ryan" in Cork County, Ireland, dreading a confrontation he knew he had to have.

"This movie was really a big deal for me," says Hanks. "I had been pinching myself because I couldn't believe I was doing it. And then we start working, and I see that the 2 1/2 pages of dialogue I had to shoot for the next scene were just bad, idiotic. And I knew I was going to have to talk to Steven about it, and because we were friends before we were collaborators, it was a lot harder than it would be usually with a director.

"So I get to the set, and I'm in the hair and makeup trailer fretting about this, and Steven comes in and says, 'Tom, that dialogue in the next scene is just unfixable so I'm just going to take it out. I'll cover the thing visually.' And it was at that moment I thought, you know, this thing really could work out."

Friday, the collaboration that began with "Saving Private Ryan" continues with the third feature film starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. "The Terminal" was loosely inspired by the true story of an Iranian refugee who has been living in Charles de Gaulle International Airport in France since 1988, having arrived there with no passport. (He has since proved his political refugee status, but chooses to remain in the airport.)

"We talk about various projects a lot, pass things to each other," says Spielberg. "But we seem to know which ones will be right. 'Catch Me If You Can' we sort of knew from the start would be right. Tom was on this one before me, but when I got a look at a rewrite by Jeff Nathanson, I got excited enough to want to do it together."

Hanks had already signed on to do "The Terminal," in which he plays Viktor Navorski, a citizen of a fictional Balkan state called Krakozhia. At almost the exact moment Viktor is going through customs at an unidentified New York City airport, a military coup in his country renders his passport invalid.

That leaves him unable to enter the United States or to return to Krakozhia, and Viktor's problem is exacerbated by an ambitious customs official (Stanley Tucci) who does his best to be unhelpful.

As part of their research, Hanks and Spielberg spent a day with customs and immigration officials at Los Angeles International Airport, where they were taken to what is called, without irony, says Spielberg, "the secondary room."

"It's where people who have problems with their papers or status, or who have simply tried to innocently bring fruit or something prohibited in the country, go to wait and wait some more," says Hanks. "These aren't people suspected of being terrorists; they're just people who don't understand the rules or are caught in some bureaucratic snafu. Man, if you ever have an urge to see some really sad faces, that's where you want to go."

Neither Hanks nor Spielberg wanted to make a movie full of sad faces. Their "Terminal" is a place where an angry Indian immigrant (Kumar Pallana) or a sad stewardess from Nebraska (Catherine Zeta-Jones) can, with help from people very unlike them, rediscover the best parts of themselves. It's where a shy Mexican food service worker (Diego Luna) can find the courage to declare his affection for the suspicious African-American immigration clerk (Zoe Saldana), who daily stamps "rejected" on an ever-hopeful Viktor's visa application.

"It was more comedy than I've ever done before," says Spielberg, "but we've been calling it serious comedy. I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of making a movie that's nothing but jokes. But I've definitely been lightening up after 'Ryan' and 'Schindler's List,' and that's a conscious thing."


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