Tom Hanks on His Literary Debut, Mister Rogers Role and Love of Typewriters

92nd St. Y - Tom Hanks in conversation with Gayle King on stage 11.1.18 - Publicity-H 2018
Maricela Magana / Michael Priest Photography

Speaking with Gayle King at the 92nd Street Y, the two-time Oscar winner reflects about his best-selling short-story collection, 'Uncommon Type,' and the publicity he's garnered for playing Mister Rogers.

It was Tom Hanks the writer, not the actor, who was at NYC's 92nd Street Y to speak with CBS This Morning host Gayle King on Thursday night. The two-time Academy Award winner was there to talk about Uncommon Type, his debut collection of short stories that landed him a spot on the New York Times best-seller list and has just been released in paperback. But the conversation inevitably drifted to subjects including his movie career and his feelings about America's current political divisions.

That the event took place just days after the shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 Jewish worshippers were killed added an emotional element to the evening. Hanks said that he had only recently returned from the city, where he had spent the last couple of months filming his upcoming movie about beloved children's TV show host Fred Rogers.

"We drove past that synagogue dozens of times," he said, referring to the Tree of Life synagogue where the massacre occurred. When King asked if there was a way to not despair after such an event, Hanks quoted the man he just finished playing. "Look to the helpers," Hanks said, referring to the first responders and others who provided aid in the aftermath.

He also commented on the massive amount of publicity he's garnered for playing the iconic figure. "I've already received the best reviews of my career for a movie I finished a few days ago," Hanks joked.

"Do you still have hope about how we're doing and where we're going?" asked King, referring to the current political turmoil.

"I grew up in a time when we thought America was on the verge of a revolution," Hanks pointed out, referring to such militant organizations as the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army that were particularly active in California. He went on to take the long view of history. "We have never stopped becoming a more perfect union," he said.

Seizing the opportunity, King playfully turned to the audience. "Does it sound like Tom Hanks is running for president?" she asked the audience, who broke out in cheers.

"No, it does not!" Hanks declared in mock outrage, yelling at the crowd, "Shut up!"

"Oh, man, could we please get back to my goofy stories," Hanks asked, feigning dismay.

King obliged, steering the conversation back to Hanks' book containing 17 short stories. Asked if he always had literary aspirations, Hanks cited his production company, Playtone, which has developed many award-winning film and television productions. "I recognized that being an actor waiting for the phone to ring is a recipe for suicide and self-destruction," he said.

Each of the stories in the book features an appearance by a typewriter. Hanks explained that he's long loved using the machines. "I use a typewriter every day," he declared, citing the lasting value of what's written on them. "The permanence of a typewritten letter will last as long as words chiseled in stone."

Hanks' actorly gifts were on full display in his hilarious delivery of anecdotes about dejectedly reading the first review of his breakthrough movie Splash that barely mentioned him, and refusing a young autograph seeker while attending a hockey game with his kids. The boy's father subsequently approached Hanks and viciously berated him. It was only afterward that Hanks discovered that the young boy was mentally disabled. "You see how hard it is being me?" the actor jokingly asked.

The evening featured questions submitted in advance by audience members, including one asking whether Hanks would prefer to win a Pulitzer Prize or another Oscar. Hanks deliberated for a moment, and then rhetorically asked, "If you really have an answer to that question, aren't you a big fat dick?" As the crowd erupted in laughter, he added, "Screw that, where's my Nobel?"