Milken Conference: Tom Hanks Talks 'Inferno,' Brian Grazer Reminisces About Pitching 'Empire'

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The pair's presentation consisted of video clips of their movies while they revealed a bit of behind-the-scenes drama about each project.

Brian Grazer on Monday reminisced about pitching the hit Fox TV show Empire to four networks, getting turned down by three of them and being so angry he practically swore off working for one of them ever again.

"They not only said 'no,' they had to make it a humiliating experience for us," the producer said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, where he appeared with actor Tom Hanks.

"How the hell did you land Empire?" Hanks asked Grazer, noting he didn't look like a man whose "finger is on the pulse of black America."

Grazer explained how producer Danny Strong brought him an idea of "King Lear in the world of hip-hop," and Grazer reminded Hanks he knew hip-hop rather well, having worked with Eminem on 8 Mile.

"It is the densest 48 minutes...there is so much stuff...huge production values," Hanks said of Empire. "I wouldn't know how to do Empire on a bet."

The pair's presentation consisted of video clips of their movies while they revealed a bit of behind-the-scenes drama about each project.

Hanks introduced the world premiere of a trailer for Inferno, the third movie in the "bona fide franchise" he has with producer Grazer and director Ron Howard that started with The Da Vinci Code in 2006.

Hanks recalled that since the first film dealt with the question of whether or not Jesus is "divine," it was controversial.

"That's more or less the question we asked, and people made noise about it, but at the end of the day, it's just a movie," Hanks said.

Like Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons in 2009, Inferno, due in October from Sony, is based on a book by Dan Brown.

"As we know, we are becoming overpopulated on the planet, and it is accelerating at a rate that is unsustainable, theoretically," Grazer explained. "There is somebody in our movie, in a position of authority and somewhat deceptive, who is going to control the population."

Grazer began the evening by proclaiming that if Hanks ran for president this year, he'd win. Hanks praised Grazer for a tireless work ethic.

The two first worked together on Splash in 1984, and after showing a scene where the Hanks character meets a naked mermaid played by Daryl Hannah, Hanks explained the painstaking process of gluing Hannah's long hair to the small of her back to hide her rear end.

"That is such a powerful scene.... Extraordinary," Grazer said after they showed some of Band of Brothers, the World War II miniseries Hanks co-wrote and executive produced. Hanks said he worked on the show for five years while also working on Castaway for six years.

Grazer said 8 Mile, which he produced in 2002, came about after he read a book about East Coast hip-hop, skateboarding and graffiti and realized: "Wow. Hip-hop is interesting."

He booked a meeting with Eminem, and for 45 minutes the rapper listened to Grazer without looking at him. Then he announced he was "out" but changed his mind when the movie became about his personal story.

"My apologies for the vulgarities," Grazer said after playing an 8 Mile clip. He said he had reservations about making a movie some would interpret as promoting homophobia or misogyny but that its real message is about "self worth."

Hanks said that Apollo 13, produced by Grazer and directed by Howard, "remade" his career. After showing a scene suggesting astronauts in a panic, Hanks joked that Howard was a "liar," because the real-life astronauts were absolutely calm when all hell was breaking loose around them. 

Hanks explained how in Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass kept the actors who played the Somali pirates away from those who played the crew of the captured ship so that their first meeting would be during the piracy.

"It was quite intimidating, these skinny, scary guys," Hanks said. Unfortunately, they had to do the scene again, and then it was like, "Look, I'm working with Forrest Gump," he joked.

 

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