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The Cannes official press conference is a challenging festival ritual, a veritable minefield in which questions range from puzzlingly obscure to embarrassingly obsequious.
Such was the case for Tom Hanks on his first visit to Cannes in 2004. The star — who is set to return this year for the May 25 world premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, in which he plays Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker — was on hand for the Coen brothers’ competition title The Ladykillers. Many in the media had approached that movie skeptically because it was a remake of Alexander Mackendrick’s 1955 Ealing Studios classic that starred Alec Guinness as the head of a hapless gang of criminals impersonating a string quartet while renting rooms from a widowed landlady. The remake shifted the action to Mississippi, with Hanks posing as a verbose classics professor on sabbatical.
Hanks admitted of the original, “I’ve never seen it,” but avoided raised eyebrows by adding, “I didn’t want [it] entering into my head and have it censoring me or for me to inadvertently imitate Sir Alec Guinness. There’s a reason he is Sir Alec Guinness. I wanted to stay ignorant and as oblivious as possible.”
Joel Coen, an experienced hand at the Cannes gauntlet — Ladykillers was the seventh title he and brother Ethan had brought to the fest — added: “We love the original movie. In fact, we stole a line from it for our first film, Blood Simple.” (Ethan is back this year with his first solo directing effort, the doc Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind.) “We liked the bones of the story. … We thought it would survive our mucking about with it.”
Before the press conference wrapped, a journalist stood and unfurled a poster for the 1989 buddy cop comedy Turner & Hooch — which paired Hanks with a large, slobbering dog — and asked for an autograph. “I have no recollection of that film,” the actor joked as the undeterred reporter prodded, “Was it a comedy?”
“I think that’s still being debated in cinemas throughout the world,” deadpanned Hanks, who by then had the assembled journalists eating out of the palm of his hand.
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