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8 minutes with “Captain” Hanks
Point of View

8 minutes with “Captain” Hanks

Thursday, 24 November 2016
By Frank Rousseau
Frank Rousseau

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7 min read

Having already played captains in “Saving Private Ryan”, “Apollo 13”, “Charlie Wilson’s War” and “Captain Phillips”, Tom Hanks returns as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, directed by Clint Eastwood. The artist formerly known as Forrest Gump took time between shootings to talk about his idea of watches.

On January 15th 2009, the whole world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” performed by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Flashback: after a flock of Canada geese had disabled both engines of his US Airways Airbus A320, the pilot calmly landed the plane on the icy waters of the Hudson, saving the lives of the 155 people onboard and thousands of others in Manhattan. A story like this was bound to make it to the screen, in a movie directed by Clint Eastwood who cast Tom Hanks in the title role.

How did you become involved with the film? A hero for the public, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger then became the subject of an investigation…

Of course I was aware of the amazing story, and I’d even met Captain Sullenberger at an Oscars ceremony. Someone came over and asked would I like to meet Captain “Sully” Sullenberger. Naturally I said yes, and we were able to chat a little over the course of the evening. A few years later, another miracle took place in the form of a screenplay that I read in 17 minutes flat, it was so enthralling. Beyond that unbelievable landing, it’s the story of a remarkable and brave man who was feted by the public and the media for an unprecedented exploit in the history of aviation, and who became the centre of an eighteen-month investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which looks into all civil aviation accidents in the United States. Throughout this time, Sully was under the most incredible pressure and the investigation almost cost him his career.

I still know what I need and what I'll never use. I make the distinction between what's useful, and what's superfluous to requirements.
Tom Hanks
The character you play in "Cloud Atlas" has a watch that allows him to travel through time. If you had that watch, where would you go?

Into the past. Why not the eighteenth century, when America was young. I would love to have known Lincoln. To have been able to shake his hand and tell him what a blessing he was for the United States. On the other hand, life wasn’t easy back then. There’s no denying the century we live in is “just about” fantastic. We’ve wiped out countless illnesses and diseases, and life expectancy has increased by a significant number of years. It’s true that we’re still fighting each other in certain parts of the globe, and we’ve messed up the planet with our energy-hungry industries and CO2 emissions, but overall, we’ve got nothing to complain about, right?

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
So the future doesn't tempt you?

“Future” suggests hyper-technology. There’s nothing wrong with having the latest gadgets. I for one wouldn’t be without my Blackberry. I can do everything with it: make calls, send and receive faxes, emails… So yeah, I try to stay on-trend but technology is going too fast for my liking. Right now, for example, I’m wondering what would be the point of having a sophisticated video camera on my phone when I never look at the photos I take with it! [laughs]. So I’m not a gadget freak. I still know what I need and what I’ll never use. I make the distinction between what’s useful, and what’s superfluous to requirements. I must have a natural instinct that steers me away from things I don’t need.

What's your view of connected watches?

I’m wary of the word “connected”. I’m an easygoing guy but if there is one thing guaranteed to make me raise my voice it’s when the printer at my production company isn’t connected! You’re there, trying to print a document, and nothing happens… until you realise someone has unplugged the machine. And I’m getting all worked up because the printer is U-N-P-L-U-G-G-E-D! It drives me mad. I think there’s an addictiveness to connected watches that disconnects us from reality. You quickly become a slave to the machine. They’re fun, yes, but I don’t want to spend hours tapping away at a screen the size of a postage stamp. Nor am I a technophobe, in fact I’ve even designed a smartphone app called Hanx Writer. It’s earned me a couple of hundred dollars. You type a text with your phone and it displays as old-time typewriter font [laughs].

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
So it's true that you collect typewriters…

You bet! I must have two hundred. Some of them are at home and as many again at my office. I switch them around on a regular basis.

Coming back to watches, what do you look for in a timepiece?

It has to be functional and hardwearing. And if it looks good, so much the better! I don’t like watches that are too small, now I’m getting to an age where objects appear further and further away. Nor do I like giant watches. You know, the ones the size of a hen’s egg that bang up against something every time you move.

I'm happy with a watch that does what it was originally designed to do, namely give the time!
Tom Hanks
So you like discreet watches?

Yes. I also like watches that aren’t there to prove you have enough money in the bank to pay for them. Not that this means anything, anyway. I’m sure there are people who are so mad about watches they would take out a twenty-year loan and sleep in their car just so they could add to their collection! [laughs]. Then there are the ones who inherit a beautiful watch and keep it as a reminder of the person who wore it before them. Personally, I like a watch to have numerals I can clearly see, and for the hands to be readable too. I don’t want to have to glue my nose to the dial and tilt the watch this way and that just to see what time it is. I remember meeting a guy who reeled off the whole list of things his watch could do: altimeter, chronometer, temperature… He was clearly very proud. When he’d finished, I asked him if it also gave the time! Joking apart, we tend to forget the main purpose of the objects we own. Take cellphones, for example. We’re more concerned with how much memory they have or what kind of camera lens than how clearly we can hear the person calling. So I’m happy with a watch that does what it was originally designed to do, namely give the time! [laughs].

Do you collect watches?

I have a couple. There are certain advantages to the job I’m fortunate enough to have, and watches are one of them. Plus the ones I buy. I own several Rolex, a Sea Dweller, an Explorer and a GV Milgauss. The characters I’ve played have worn all kinds of watches, from a Casio G-Shock with liquid crystal display to the Omega Speedmaster. This is the watch NASA qualified for its space missions, partly because it withstands extreme temperatures and is unaffected by zero gravity. I read somewhere that it’s the only piece of astronaut equipment available to the general public. I wore one in “Apollo 13”. I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. These men were willing to risk their lives so that every kid’s dream could become real. The whole world gathered around their TV on July 21st 1969. Wide-eyed, jaw dropping, we watched almost as it happened the Eagle module land on the Moon. The image was lousy and the sound dreadful, but what a feeling! I can still hear Armstrong’s distant voice resounding in my head with his famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was a huge deal: reality had caught up with science fiction!

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