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Tom Hanks Fondly Recalls Jonathan Demme, a Filmmaker Unafraid to Break the Rules

Hanks won his first Oscar for his performance in Demme's "Philadelphia."

Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme

AGF s.r.l./REX/Shutterstock

Before he was one of the most revered actors on the planet, Tom Hanks was best known for more comedic performances in films like “Big,” “The ‘Burbs,” and “Turner & Hooch.” That changed when he starred in Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia,” for which he won his first Academy Award; the second, for “Forrest Gump,” came just a year later. As part of Entertainment Weekly’s efforts to recall those we lost in 2017, Hanks has shared his fond recollections of a filmmaker who wasn’t afraid to ignore the rules.

Prior to their collaboration, Hanks was simply a fan of Demme’s. “I took my wife out on one of our first dates it was to go see his Talking Heads concert film ‘Stop Making Sense,’” he recalls. “I remember ‘Something Wild’ was a fantastic movie, ‘Married to the Mob,’ then of course ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ I think I had been in the audience when ‘Silence of the Lambs’ won best picture in 1992. But I had never met him. He was a mystery to me.”

That changed with “Philadelphia,” of course. “I think the boldest thing that he did, and this was again him breaking the rules, was ‘Philadelphia’ was pretty much conceived despite the idea ‘nobody is going to pay to see a movie about this. You get AIDS and you die?’ A lot of people are afraid of it, and they’re not going to want to go see a movie about a subject matter that’s too painful.”

Demme didn’t just make a movie about AIDS — he cast performers who were actually living with it. “There were a lot of people in ‘Philadelphia’ who had AIDS and they were scattered throughout,” remembers Hanks. “Some of them played people with AIDS and some of them played people who did not have AIDS. Ron Vawter was certainly the biggest part of that.” Read his full thoughts here.

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