Tom Hanks "Preaches to the Choir" While Honored at Outfest's Legacy Awards

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The beloved actor is feted along with filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko at the annual event.

Tom Hanks gives one hell of a speech. And on Thursday at Outfest’s Legacy Awards — held inside downtown L.A. events space Vibiana, formerly known as St. Vibiana’s Cathedral — he did just that, but not before delivering fair warning of the holy scroll he was about to drop.

“How appropriate that this event is being held in a church, because I am now going to preach to the choir,” he joked, noting the largely gay crowd in attendance, on hand not only to support the organization’s LGBT moving images archival service — the UCLA Legacy Project — but to see the actor pick up a Trailblazer Award alongside fellow honoree Lisa Cholodenko, who was honored with a Visionary Award.

The 59-year-old actor — transformed with white hair and a mustache because he’s currently in front of cameras for Clint Eastwood's Sully — then spoke to some attentive disciples. He was funny when he poked fun at playful-yet-vulgar host Whitney Cummings. He was sincere when he praised the night’s sole performer, Linda Perry, who sang “Streets of Philadelphia,” calling it “beautiful” but unappreciated “by the people in the back of the room.” He was aware when he urged guests to support the cause by donating to the Legacy Project and explaining how everyone in show business understands (or should understand) that by making a movie, you enter into a contract with history.

“As long as you tell a story with a camera, hundreds of years from now someone will screen your work and see what the world was like a century prior. They will see the outrage, the humor, the heartache; they will see the courage of the daring outliers and the trenches of the defenders of the status quo,” said Hanks. The Saving Private Ryan star was brought to the stage by Sully co-star Aaron Eckhart, who called his castmate a consummate professional who treats everyone with respect and kindness and “makes brave choices and that’s what sets him apart.”

“The history of entertainment melds into an entertaining history. And that is our history,” Hanks said. 

He was reflective when he called on his own past, mentioning his Oscar-winning work in 1993’s Philadelphia for which he was being honored on Thursday. More than halfway through his speech, Hanks asked Philadelphia screenwriter Ron Nyswaner to stand, a nod to recognize his Oscar-nominated work in telling what was, at the time, an important story that wasn't being told.

He used Nyswaner’s name drop (and Jonathan Demme before that) as a segue to take the gala crowd back to that (much different) time in the early ‘90s.

“That film was shot on location completely in the city of Philadelphia. The so-longs of the industry called it a gamble because the movie had to compete against mainstream films in the multiplexes on Main Street,” Hanks said, adding that critical reaction was split into even thirds. “One third hated it. One third dismissed it with a ‘thank you very much.’ And one third applauded it. That was a formula that might have prompted the audience to go see it and judge for themselves. Perhaps seeking the film through the eyes of 2015 reveals a truth about those times, about our history, about our nation and about ourselves. It turns out that we all know someone who is gay or lesbian or transgender, and there is an excellent chance that we love them exactly as they are.”

He was then applauded for those comments, a trend of the night for Hanks that was also on display with two book-ending standing ovations, at the start and end of his speech. Among those clapping were co-chairs of the night Dan Bucatinsky, Peter Gal and Ari Karpel. Merrill Lynch returned as presenting sponsor with catering by head chef Neal Fraser of Redbird and additional sponsorship duties handled by luxury designer Louis Vuitton.

Praising her Olive Kitteridge director as someone whose movies make her feel less alone, Rosemarie DeWitt presented Cholodenko with her honor to kick off the night. "Her work is fearless, and she doesn’t care if her characters are unlikable or are going to do something that pisses people off. And that’s how she is as a person. She’s straightforward, unpretentious and authentic," DeWitt said. "For me, I don’t think of Lisa Cholodenko as a gay filmmaker or as a female director. I just think of her as a badass."

That description generated a rousing reception for Cholodenko, who then took to the stage and explained her definition of the term visionary. "What truly resonates for me with my purpose and passion as a filmmaker is to describe the truth in human relationships in all their messy complexity and beauty, and to illuminate complex interactions human interactions and to capture the human journey and distill what makes us all collectively connected and one," said Cholodenko, whose other credits include High Art, Laurel Canyon and The Kids Are All Right. "I didn’t set out to be a filmmaker that was politically correct. I didn’t want to push my political point of view. I didn’t want to be strident in any way. But rather to use storytelling to elevate the cultural conversation and to push beyond conventional ways of categorizing things. I’ve tried to upend stereotypes and push against the tradition of reducing things to labels like sick and well and gay and straight and tragedy and comedy."

Back to Hanks. He tied the speech together with a bow. “We are each of us forever seeking a perfection we know full well is forever just that far beyond our reach. But it is our human nature and our American ideal to still grasp for it. We pursue our happiness empowered by the freedom that we are guaranteed by our own rulebook. … In your lifetime, this American drive toward constant self-correction has best been captured by the storytellers. Be they our better teachers, our novelists, our historians, our documentarians, our artists of all mediums including comic books, our comedians, our singers, our musicians, our production designers, producers, gaffers, best boys, everyone who contributes to the making of our films and shows. Those that seek to tell the truth at every opportunity. Blessed be those storytellers, for when they tell the truth, their work then makes us free.”

And, perhaps because he was standing at a podium on a stage in a building that used to house a church, Hanks closed his hell of a speech with this: “Thank you for your attention tonight, and may God have mercy on us all.”

Honorees Tom Hanks and Lisa Cholodenko at the 2015 Outfest Legacy Awards at Vibiana on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Outfest)

Comedian Whitney Cummings hosts the 2015 Outfest Legacy Awards at Vibiana on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Outfest)

Left to right: Legacy Award co-chairs Ari Karpel, Peter Gal and Dan Bucatinsky attend the 2015 Outfest Legacy Awards at Vibiana on Nov. 5 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Outfest)

Linda Perry performs at the piano. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Outfest)

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