Imagine Tom Hanks on the whirlwind press tour for Forrest Gump. He’s tired of talking about himself all day long. He needs to recharge his creative juices. So what does Tom Hanks do? He spends a month doing press junkets by day and writing a script while eating room service in his hotel room every night. The pages were probably stained with ketchup.
That Thing You Do! was born unto us. It’s about a band of young dudes in 1964 who experience fame for the first time as their pop song rises up the charts. It’s sweet and wholesome and damn if that song wasn’t catchy – it even got played on our 1996 radio waves for a brief blip in time. Real 60s music was too expensive (and it had been done well and to death in Forrest Gump, thought Hanks) so it was cheaper just to have stuff written. That Thing You Do! was the result of a competition for a “faux-Beatles” song, and it was Adam Schlesinger, the bass player from Fountains of Wayne, who won. When you hear the song in the movie (and BOY do you hear the heck out of that song in the movie!- 11 different times, and the song went on to be nominated for an Oscar but lost to You Must Love Me from Evita), the actors aren’t really playing, but they could have been. Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry and Jonathan Schaech all learned to play their instruments, and learned every note of every song that appeared in the movie.
Charlize Theron appears in the movie as an early groupie of the band: it was only her second movie credit. Tom Hanks auditioned her and knew instantly that she’d be famous one day. She was the first person he auditioned, and the first person he cast.”No matter what, I will always claim to have discovered you” he wrote in her script. She won her first Oscar in 2004.
Tom Everett Scott almost didn’t get the part because Hanks thought he looked too much like Hanks. The crew nick-named him Tom Junior and before every take Hanks would remind him “Don’t do it like me!” – but you know what saved him? Tom’s wife, Rita Wilson, thought he was cute.
Speaking of which, when we saw Tom Hanks at the Tribeca Film Festival, he said that this was the movie he was most proud of, because his whole family showed up to work on it. Wife Wilson appears as a cocktail waitress, but Hanks was so tired from pulling 19-hour days the day she showed up on set, he didn’t even recognize her, merely noting that she was “an attractive lady” and he hoped she’d be nice to him. His son Colin also briefly appears in the film, and his daughter Elizabeth even brieflier. Unrelated but also of note: keep your eye out for Bryan Cranston playing an astronaut, and Jonathan Demme playing the director of a major motion picture.
So yes. Tom Hanks wrote, directed, and co-starred in this movie, and even composed some of the music (surprise! He’s also a drummer in his spare time). It was Sean Penn who encouraged him to direct (they were trick or treating with their kids at the time), saying it would ultimately make him a better actor.
Tom Hanks’ favourite part? Bruce Springsteen once told him that he nailed the scene when the band first hears their music played on the radio. And really, how much better of an endorsement can you get?