It’s news to Tom Hanks that “Forrest Gump” is turning 25, partly because for him, nostalgia has yet to kick in: “It’s never gone away.”
Looking back now, the award-winning feel-good drama (which celebrates its anniversary Saturday) has endless bona fides. It nabbed six Oscars, including best picture, best director for Robert Zemeckis, and best actor for Hanks – his second in a row after winning for “Philadelphia.” “Gump” ruled the box office in 1994, scoring $330 million and beating out “The Lion King” for the top spot, plus launched a litany of memorable Gumpisms (“Life is like a box of chocolates”), as well as the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant franchise.
A rousing success in hindsight, for sure, though back in the day, “it was an absolute crapshoot,” Hanks tells USA TODAY. “It’s a really crazy, unique motion picture without a doubt. And it’s a movie in which the great moments that resonate are going to change depending on when you’re watching it.”
The memories come roaring back easily for Hanks, who starred as the slow but good-hearted title character. Forrest recounts decades of his almost unbelievable life story for strangers he encounters at a bus stop, from being an Alabama football star and becoming a ping-pong champion to uncovering Watergate and inspiring John Lennon’s “Imagine.” But he speaks most fondly of his beloved mom (Sally Field) and troubled love Jenny (Robin Wright).
“Gump” (which has a new anniversary release out on Blu-ray and digital HD platforms) filmed in the latter half of 1993 mostly in the South, and Hanks recalls one production stretch of 27 consecutive days all over the Eastern seaboard.
Hanks and Zemeckis had fights with Paramount Pictures about the cost of Forrest’s epic cross-country run and wrote the checks themselves. “There was just all sorts of stuff, like can we really even call it ‘Forrest Gump’ in this day and age?” (Among the potential issues: Forrest was named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, and “gump” is another word for a dim-witted person.)
When filming the bus-stop scenes in Savannah, Georgia, with pages and pages of dialogue, Hanks remembers asking Zemeckis, “Is anybody going to (care) about this?”
But the director was always very open, Hanks adds. “He said, ‘I can’t have the director and the star of the film not be soulmates. You need to tell me anything and I need to feel comfortable telling you anything. And if that’s the case, I will open up every frame of this movie to you.’ ”
By the time Hanks was recording Forrest’s narration, he figured out that they’d found not only the character’s voice but also the voice of his signature common sense. “Instead of saying, ‘After that moment, we were together like peas in a pod,’ Forrest doesn’t understand what these kind of cliches are. What he knows is that his mom always made him peas and carrots. So it became, ‘We went together like peas and carrots.’
“Bob was always saying, ‘What do you think Forrest would do here?’ and I would put it through this kind of sieve,” Hanks says. “It ended up being not the way to approach all movies after that, but it was the beginning of a shift in me as an actor to say, ‘Ah, my job is to behave, not to sell.’ ”
The scenes that “really broke” Hanks when he saw them onscreen were the ones about Forrest’s experience in Vietnam and his friendship with Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise), but he says everybody has their own relationship to the movie. “If you land on it, depending on what’s happening right now, you’ll kind of go, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize this was such a ‘boing’ moment the first time I saw it.’ ”
However, he doesn’t think “Forrest Gump” is an all-purpose salve for trying times: “I’d be very suspicious of anybody who says, ‘We really need this movie now.’ That sounds like talking points from the studio. I don’t believe that.”