When Tom Hanks received the Cecil B. deMille Award at the Golden Globes in 2020, Charlize Theron told a moving story that seems to sum up the actor.
A newbie in Hollywood auditioning for Hanks’ film That Thing You Do, Theron said she was a mess. After her first read, she felt she blew it. “I had somehow forgotten to breathe,” recalled Theron, who had idolized Hanks since she was a child in South Africa.
Hanks looked at Theron and said, “I’m so sorry Charlize, do you mind just giving me five minutes? I have to step out. I’ll be right back and we’ll do that scene again.”
According to Theron, Hanks didn’t need the five minutes, but he knew that she really did. “He saw a nervous, sweaty young actress failing to mask a panic attack in a thick South African accent. That’s the kind of man he is. This is why we love Tom,” explained Theron.
In a career that has spanned four decades, Hanks, who turns 65 on July 9, 2021, has played everyone from a Big boy and war heroes to a grizzled former baseball star to Mister Rogers and a cartoon cowboy. “He has introduced us to America’s unassuming heroes,” Barack Obama said when Hanks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “He has allowed us to see ourselves, not only as we are, but as we aspire to be.”
As his frequent collaborator, Steven Spielberg said when Hanks received the The Kennedy Center Honors in 2014, “He is an artist of the highest caliber whose brilliance is exceeded only by his modesty. And Tom’s art comes completely from his heart.”
In fact, when accepting the Cecil B. deMille Award, an emotional Hanks spoke directly from his heart. “A man is blessed with a family sitting down front like that. A wife who is fantastic in every way, who has taught me what love is. Five kids who are braver and stronger and wiser than their old man is. And a loving group of people who have put [up] with me being away months and months and months at a time,” said Hanks through tears. “Of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here if they didn’t have to put up with that. I can’t tell you how much your love means to me.”
And we love Tom Hanks too. From his early roles as a young actor to an established A-list star, check out 25 photos of Hanks through the years.
Tom Hanks’ most memorable roles
As a young Philadelphia lawyer with AIDS, Hanks’ protagonist is fighting not only for his life but for the legal protections of others, receiving help from attorney Joe Miller (Denzel Washington).
Apollo 13 (1995)
Based on the real-life events of the Apollo 13 lunar mission, a crew of astronauts (led by Hanks as real-life Capt. Jim Lovell, along with Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon) must navigate a safe return to Earth after a serious mishap en route to the moon.
Toy Story (1995–2019)
Through this four-movie Pixar franchise, beloved toy cowboy Woody (voiced by Hanks) and his intergalactic pal Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) must save their friends from a ruthless kid neighbor, a shady toy salesman, an evil stuffed bear and more.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Hanks’ Capt. John Miller leads his men through a dangerous search and rescue mission for Private Ryan (Matt Damon) during World War II’s Normandy invasion.
Cast Away (2000)
He must save only himself, but that seems like an insurmountable task for a FedEx executive trapped on an island after becoming the lone survivor of a devastating plane crash. (Though he tries, he tragically cannot save his volleyball friend, Wilson.)
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) joins forces with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Texas socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to aid Afghan freedom fighters battling Soviets in this biographical comedy-drama.
Captain Phillips (2013)
At the helm of the U.S. ship Maersk Alabama, Hanks reenacts Capt. Richard Phillips’ harrowing real-life adventure of protecting his crew from Somali pirates (including a breakout role for Barkhad Abdi) who hijack the ship and take them as hostages.
Playing another real-life commander in trouble, Hanks’ Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger must make a daring emergency in the Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 is damaged by a flock of flying geese.
The Post (2017)
Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) struggle with how to cover revealing government details about America’s involvement in Vietnam in this historical drama revolving around the Pentagon Papers.
During World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic, Hanks’ U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause must lead an Allied convoy safely across the ocean while being tailed by German U-boats. —Dillon Dodson