Tom Hanks rarely plays the villain. Known for blockbuster films such as Forrest Gump and Catch Me If You Can, Hanks typically acts as a film’s protagonist, not an antagonist. So when Hanks got the call about starring in the new Elvis Presley biopic as an unlikeable character, he had to take a beat.
While attending the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, the Academy Award winner revealed what it was like to go down a different path and play Colonel Tom Parker, who discovered The King.
“I’m not interested in playing a bad guy just for the sake of, ‘Before I kill you Mr. Bond, perhaps you’d like a tour of my installations.’ That’s okay, I get it, but that’s for other stuff,” said Hanks during the Elvis panel at the film festival.
“What [director] Baz [Luhrmann] tantalized me with was, here was a guy who saw an opportunity to manifest a once-in-a-lifetime talent into a cultural force.”
The 65-year-old continued, “He knew that about Elvis the first time he saw Elvis’ effect on an audience. There is a moment, very much taken from fact, where the Colonel sees some guy onstage, doing something he never heard before, wiggling like crazy, without a doubt a powerful voice.”
According to Hanks, the magic of Parker was that he was able to look beyond the surface when it came to Elvis. He says he paid attention to Elvis’ spell he had on fans. “He realized that guy was forbidden fruit, and you can make an awful lot of money on forbidden fruit.”
Hanks also said he gives Elvis’ former manager “credit for doing that very thing” and added that “the amount of ways Tom Parker cheated people out of nickels and dimes is extraordinary.”
Tom Hanks sees the good in Elvis’ ‘unlikeable’ manager
He also said Parker “was a man who brought joy into everything he did with just a little bit of larceny.” However, he joked that he had incorporated some of Parker’s mischievous methods into his own life. “You learn a little something from every role, you know,” he said with a chuckle.
Hanks took on the role after the director, Baz Luhrmann, told him, “There would have been no Elvis without Colonel Tom Parker; there would have been no Colonel Tom Parker without Elvis. A symbiotic relationship.”
Beyond transforming himself into a “villain,” he also had to literally change himself into Parker. He wore heavy makeup and prosthetics, which he admits gave him pause.
“Baz talked about the Colonel as this great carney. Knowing that, the carney’s job is to bring people to the glittering lights on the outside of town, promise them something they’ve never experienced before, and then, almost giving it to them, at a cost,” he said. “When he said that, I said, ‘I’m your man, now please show me a picture.’ When he showed me a picture of the Colonel, I thought, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ “
Elvis hits theaters nationwide on June 24.