The winning Spielberg-Hanks partnership started out in 1986, and in considerably less lauded company that it exists in today, when Spielberg produced Hanks’ knockabout comedy The Money Pit. It took 12 years for the director to call on Hanks to star in one of his own movies. That was Saving Private Ryan (1998), the epic
war endurance test that cemented their relationship. Now, their fourth collaboration, Bridge of Spies, is about to be released in cinemas, and there are justifiably high hopes for the dream duo to ace it again. “Steven and I have a pretty good shorthand,” Hanks tells us. “I would come in with an enthusiastic idea for how to go
about the scene and Steven would say, ‘That’s great, because what I want to do is play it all the way from back here, and if you’re moving around like that, that’s where the eye is going to go.’ When you show up on Steven’s set, it has already been built, not only physically, but in his head. Your job is to do exactly what he wants you to do.”
Bridge of Spies is another war-time film based on real events, but this time it’s far more cloak and dagger than it is in the trenches. Spielberg directs Hanks as James Donovan, an American lawyer recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, in order to ‘swap’ him for the captured American U-2 spy plane pilot, Gary
Powers. Donovan’s battle is therefore both legal and ethical – how to defend a man whose gunsights have been trained on the citizens of your own country? “And that’s why Tom was the perfect fit for the part,” says Spielberg. “His morality and sense of equality and fairness, and the fact that he does such good things in the world by wisely using his celebrity, made him ideal.
He is the perfect collaborator. He’s this incredibly creative vessel that just wants to figure things out in a more original way.” Spielberg, 68, recalls The Cold War and the anti-Soviet sentiment in the US. And as we talk, he looks back on the real events, and what compelled him to tell this story. “Growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, everyone had heard that Powers’ U-2 spy plane had been shot down and he had been put on public display at a very public trial, but the story kind of ended with a spectacular shoot down,” he says. “I didn’t realise that something had happened subsequent to his capture, which was this very backroom exchange, this spy swap for Abel, a Soviet spy, and Powers, the American spy pilot. When I first heard the story I said, ‘This sounds like a movie. Did this really happen?’ Trust me, we checked.”
Shooting took Spielberg to Berlin, which was of special significance culturally and historically to the director, who also directed the masterpiece Schindler’s List. “We shot the actual bridge sequence at the Glienicke Bridge, which is right next to Wannsee, where the Wannsee Conference with Eichmann and the other architects of the Holocaust met for the first time, and atthe Berlin Wall, which was really symbolic,”
Spielberg says. “We built about 300 yards of the wall ourselves, and when we shot those scenes I looked at the wall and thought to myself, ‘Was Berlin really divided like this?’ It brought back a time in my life when walls started to go up all over the world, most of them invisible walls, but walls nonetheless.” Hanks describes this movie simply as an “introduction to The Cold War” (although, we suspect if Spielberg had taught history more of us would have stayed awake in class) and is full of admiration for its director. “Steven thinks in cinematic terms,” Hanks says. “His ability to tell important story moments just by what he does with the camera is the
reason he’s Steven Spielberg.”
Bridge of Spies is out in cinemas across Dubai on Thursday November 26.
Three top war films
Paths of Glory (1957)
Kirk Douglas’ lawyer-colonel is tasked with mounting a courtroom defence of three innocent soldiers. Based on a real-life episode of French soldiers executed for “cowardice”, Kubrick’s movie so angered France’s government that it couldn’t be screened publicly there until 1975. Ooh la la, etc.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
So much of the vocabulary of the modern-day war picture comes from this movie, an operatic Vietnamset tragedy shaped out of whirring helicopter blades, Wagnerian explosions, purple haze and Joseph Conrad’s colonialist fantasia Heart of Darkness. Iconic and unforgettable.
Jean Renoir co-wrote and directed this superlative WWI story about two French aviators who are captured by a German captain (Erich von Stroheim, perfectly cast as a mannerly despot) and shuttled between prisons. The duo plans a great escape, but they are imprisoned by as much by social class as the metal bars around them.