Tom Hanks wouldn't screen 'The Post' at the White House, decries attacks on First Amendment

Tom Hanks plays famed newspaper editor Ben Bradlee in Steven Spielberg's upcoming drama The Post. Here, the two-time Oscar winner discusses the man he plays (and also knew); the issues the film raises; and why he would refuse to go to the White House for a screening of his movie.

When did you first read the script?

I read the script independent of Steven [Spielberg]: “Oh, Steven’s interested in this? Oh, sure! I'll read it, haste-post-haste.” I said: "Well, look, this is ridiculously timely, and the even better part of it is: this is the story of the week that [Washington Post publisher] Katharine Graham became Katharine Graham.” It had a very human element to it. I felt immediately that this was not just going to be a museum piece, but it was going to get into very, very human details of essentially these two people — Graham and Ben Bradlee. He had a love for the woman, because he had this great empathy for what she had been through. He had great respect for the class that she demonstrated through her entire life. But [he also] had a very strict determination of what a newspaper's job was. Ben knew the role of the Fourth Estate in society. So, all that stuff put together, I thought, was a pretty prescient story. It had an awful lot of parallels to 2017.

What was your first conversation with Steven about?

Steven's first thing, as I recall, was: "I want to know more about the Pentagon Papers themselves. I want to know what is in them. And we're going to have to figure out a way to make them understandable to the audience." From that came meetings with [the original whistleblower] Daniel Ellsberg to fill out more of those details: What was in the Pentagon Papers? And what was really at stake in regards to the First Amendment, and how that played out in the newsroom, [with] a bunch of personalities who were slathering to get to the truth?

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Tom Hanks through the years
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WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - 1986: Two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks poses during a 1986 West Hollywood, California studio photo session to promote his newest movie 'The Money Pit.' Hanks went on to become one of America's favorite actors, starring in such hits as 'Big,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' and 'Forest Gump.' (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
SPLASH (1984) TOM HANKS, JOHN CANDY SPL 004
YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998) MEG RYAN, TOM HANKS YGML 093
THE GREEN MILE 1999 Castle Rock film with Tom Hanks
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 9: (US TABLOIDS OUT) Actor Tom Hanks appears on MTV's Total Request Live at the MTV Times Square Studios November 9, 2004 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - JUNE 11: Actor Tom Hanks (L) appears on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' at the NBC Studios on June 11, 2004 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 17: Actors Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks, attend 'The Da Vinci Code' World Premiere & Opening Gala at the Palais during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress-Producer Rita Wilson and Actor-Producer Tom Hanks arrive at the 66th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Tom Hanks arrives at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Inaugural Governors Awards held at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 14, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
LARRY CROWNE 2011 Universal Pictures film with Tom Hanks and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Actors Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts pose at the 25th Annual American Society Of Cinematographers (ASC) Awards on February 13, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
US director and actor Tom Hanks poses during a photocall ahead of the premiere of his latest movie 'Larry Crowne' in Berlin on June 9, 2011. The comedy romace, starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, will be released in German cinemas on June 30, 2011. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Los Angeles, USA. 24th October 2012. Tom Hanks arriving at the film premiere of "Cloud Atlas" in Los Angeles on October 24th 2012
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Tom Hanks performs a spoken word skit during a taping of 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on October 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Actor Tom Hanks poses in the press room at the 84th Annual Academy Awards held at the Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 23: Tom Hanks and Jimmy Fallon play Bruce Springsteen's 'Wrecking Ball' during a taping of 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on October 23, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 16: Actor Tom Hanks presents Honoree Steve Martin with honorary award onstage during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Governors Awards at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center on November 16, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 25: Actor Tom Hanks speaks onstage at the 66th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 25, 2014 in Century City, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actors Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks attend the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16: Carly Rae Jepsen and Tom Hanks are seen on February 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by NCP/Star Max/GC Images)
US actor Tom Hanks poses during the photocall of the film ''Inferno'' in Florence on May 11, 2015. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
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What surprised you about Ellsberg?

He was in the Marine Corps. He had been to Vietnam. He knew Henry Kissinger. He knew everybody. He wasn't just some anonymous guy who worked at the RAND Corporation. He had first-hand knowledge of what was going on. He was not just a whistleblower who had seen pieces of paper and snuck them out to a copy machine.

You knew Ben Bradlee?

Bradlee had this very specific, almost contrary view: that Washington, D.C. was not just this one-business town. He viewed Washington as being not one of the most important cities in the world, [but] the most important city. He said: "You don't get it. We're covering the stories that are changing the world, regardless of what The New York Times puts in it." When he saw that The Times had this blockbuster of a story about how the American people had been lied to by trusted officials since before World War II, he was saying: "How come we're not doing our jobs? Why the fuck don't we have this story?" And then, of course, the Nixon administration, the Justice Department, says: "If you print these papers, you're going to be traitors," which complicated absolutely everything, because it happened in the week that The Washington Post went public. And who was going to be running it? Well, it turned out to be Katharine Graham, if she had the guts.

Did you ever meet her?

I met her. I'm not kidding. I met her the day before she died at that big conference up in Sun Valley, Idaho. There was everybody from guys who run every industry in the world as well as the president of Mexico and some guy from Russia who ended up getting tossed in jail. I was at a big table for lunch with [her]. And we talked about movies and popular culture and what have you. It was very pleasant. I was very much aware that she was Katharine Graham, and the last time we saw her, we said, “So long,” and went off to something else, and she drove off in her golf cart and she passed away that evening or the next morning.

Was she frail?

No, she didn't seem frail. She was in her 80s, so there's a reason you had a golf cart. You don't want to have to walk two quarters-of-a-mile in order to get to the next seminar. She seemed incredibly sharp, just filled with personality. Curious. Interested. I guess anybody else would say that she had slowed down some, but I just saw a very vivacious older woman.

 

Did you spend time at the Post for the movie?

We went down together one day just before we started shooting. Meryl [Streep] was there and Steven and [producer] Kristie Macosko Krieger. I think Amy [Pascal, who also produced] was along as well. We went down and had a very nice tour. It's a very different building now, like walking into a high-tech demonstration. But we did meet people who had worked with Ben.

What did you find out that helped shape your performance?

That Ben loved the day. He loved the power. There's a moment where he would come by and say: "Ah, the fun." We put that into the movie. “Ah, the fun.” It was fun to put out this newspaper. It was a blast. Based on some other stuff that I saw, he [also] said, at one point: "You have to get it right. Because if you set it down in type at midnight and it goes out at 4 o'clock in the morning, you have to eat it for the next 24 hours. You can't just issue a quick walk-back. You have to explain that you got it wrong, why you got it wrong, and then you have to set it right.” And he never wanted to be in that position. He also owned the room when he walked into it. He was an extremely confident guy; he was aware of his physique. He knew how he filled out not only his wardrobe but the room that he was in. And they all, quite frankly, loved him. Even when it came to bitter fights with him. He was supremely honest and demanding of himself, as much as anybody else.

What's the significance of this story today?

When you're not just celebrating the nostalgia of history, it comes down to human behavior. And human behavior never changes. It's always the same. Vanity of vanity, nothing new under the sun. The Nixon administration tried to stop the story from being published. They took on the First Amendment by saying: "You can't tell that story, and if you do, we're going to threaten you." That is going on, of course, right now.

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Meryl Streep, American actress born in Summit, New Jersey, who has starred and acted in many award-winning films. (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
The American actress Meryl Streep. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Meryl Streep and baby son Henry during Meryl Streep Sighting at JFK Airport - January 9, 1980 at JFK Airport in New York, United States. (Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage)
American actress Meryl Streep on the set of the film 'The French Lieutenant's Woman', 1980. (Photo by John Bulmer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Actress Meryl Streep attends the 'Into The Woods' world premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater on December 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
The bridesmaid Linda, played by Meryl Streep in a scene of The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino, glances at John Cazale, guest to a Russian Wedding into an American Orthodox church together with Chuck Aspegren and Robert De Niro. Cleveland (USA), 1978. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Holocaust -- Aired 04/16/1978 - 04/19/1978 -- Pictured: Meryl Streep as Inga Helms Weiss (Photo by Jessica Burstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Meryl Streep and Husband Don Gummer during Woody Allen's New Years Eve Party at Harkness House in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - DECEMBER 17: Actress Meryl Streep attends the 'Kramer vs. Kramer' New York City Premiere on December 17, 1979 at Loews Astor Plaza in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
Meryl Streep during Wrap-Up Party for 'She-Devil' - July 7, 1989 at Caroline's Comedy Club in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - NOVEMBER 9: Actress Meryl Streep attends the 'Dancing at Lughnasa' New York City Premiere on November 9, 1998 at Sony Theatres Lincoln Square in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Meryl Streep during Meryl Streep Receives 2,119th Walk of Fame Star - September 16, 1998 at Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
397358 01: Actress Meryl Streep arrives at the 11th Annual 'A Magical Evening' Gala November 12, 2001 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, NY. The benefit raises funds for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. (Photo by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Actress Meryl Streep enters the 'Late Show With David Letterman' taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater on December 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Meryl Streep and Preston Whiteway attend the 14th annual Monte Cristo Award at The Edison Ballroom on April 21, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 21: Honoree actress Meryl Streep attends the 14th annual Monte Cristo Award at The Edison Ballroom on April 21, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, IN - APRIL 16: Academy Award winner, Meryl Streep, received a Conferral Honorary Degree from Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie at Indiana University Auditorium on April 16, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 09: Rob Marshall and Meryl Streep attend the The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Hosts An Official Academy Members Screening Of INTO THE WOODS at The Academy Theatre at Lighthouse International on December 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
LOWELL, MA - APRIL 01: Meryl Streep attends 'A Conversation With Meryl Streep' presented by the University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor's Speaker Series at Tsongas Center on April 1, 2014 in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
LOWELL, MA - APRIL 01: Meryl Streep attends 'A Conversation With Meryl Streep' presented by the University of Massachusetts Lowell Chancellor's Speaker Series at Tsongas Center on April 1, 2014 in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 05: (L-R) Don Gummer and actress Meryl Streep attend the 2014 The New York Philharmonic Spring Gala featuring 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' at Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center on March 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Actress Meryl Streep attends the world premiere of 'Into the Woods' at Ziegfeld Theater on December 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Producer John DeLuca, producer Marc Platt, aniel Huttlestone, Meryl Streep and Ben Platt attend the world premiere of 'Into the Woods' at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 8, 2014 in New York City. The stars came out for the world premiere of ÒInto the WoodsÓ on Monday, December 8, 2014 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York. Director Rob Marshall, the all star cast including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman andÊlegendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer James Lapine were all celebrating the cinematic event, bringing thehumorousÊand heartfelt musical to the screen. ÊÒInto the WoodsÓÊÊproduced by Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, Marc Platt and Callum McDougallÊopens in theaters nationwideÊon December 25, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Meryl Streep poses backstage at the hit musical 'The Last Ship' on Broadway at The Neil Simon Theater on November 25, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 09: Meryl Streep attends 'My Old Lady' Premiere at Museum of Modern Art on September 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/FilmMagic)
US President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to actress Meryl Streep during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is the country highest civilian honor. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Actresses Meryl Streep (L) and Marlo Thomas arrive for the Medal of Freedom presentation ceremony in the East Room of the White House on November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is the country highest civilian honor. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: Actresses Diane Lane (L) and Meryl Streep attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Michael Buckner/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 06: Actress Meryl Streep speaks onstage at the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Michael Buckner/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 05: Actress Meryl Streep speaks onstage during the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 05: Actors Cameron Diaz (L) and Meryl Streep attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda at the Dolby Theatre on June 5, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Tribute show airing Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT on TNT. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
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In what way?

There's a number of ways that you can assault the First Amendment. Back in 1971, it was done in such a bold-faced way that a newspaper, The New York Times, was stopped from publishing a story. And it was threatened; anybody who was going to try to publish that story was going to go to jail for treason. Treason, my friend. That's the stuff that goes on with tin-pot dictators and communist tyrants and third-world banana republics. [But] I'd have to say, as Steven Spielberg said: "The truth is making a comeback."

What troubles you about the way the press is treated today?

There used to be this concept, [as the later Senator] Daniel Moynihan used to say: "You're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts." Facts are irrefutable. Well, it turns out people are saying: "No, facts are not irrefutable. We can decide whatever facts that we want, that we would like." Right now, without a doubt, there are people in power trying to — if not quash or stop the right to publication, [then at least] denigrate it to the point [where] they are saying there is no truth to it whatsoever. And there are stories out there that are the truth, [in] organs of the Fourth Estate like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

If Donald Trump wanted you to screen this movie at the White House, would you go?

That's an interesting question. I don't think I would. Because I think that at some point — look, I didn't think things were going to be this way last November. I would not have been able to imagine that we would be living in a country where neo-Nazis are doing torchlight parades in Charlottesville and jokes about Pocahontas are being made in front of the Navajo code talkers. And individually we have to decide when we take to the ramparts. You don't take to the ramparts necessarily right away, but you do have to start weighing things. You may think: "You know what? I think now is the time." This is the moment where, in some ways, our personal choices are going to have to reflect our opinions. We have to start voting, actually, before the election. So, I would probably vote not to go.

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