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Tom Hanks Is Full of Surprises – Here Are Some ‘Big’ Facts About the Iconic Actor

Photo Credit: Nik Wheeler / CORBIS / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Nik Wheeler / CORBIS / Getty Images

Tom Hanks is one of the world’s most reliable and bankable stars. Does this mean he’s predictable? Absolutely not. Read on for some surprising facts about this one-man institution who’s made a name for himself over the decades for his skills on the silver screen.

Tom Hanks as the Caped Crusader?

Val Kilmer as Batman in 'Batman Forever'
Batman Forever, 1995. (Photo Credit: Timothy2 / Warner Bros. / MovieStillsDB)

Tom Hanks has passed on several film roles over his decades-long career, but one we didn’t expect to see on the list was Batman – yes, you read that right. When Michael Keaton decided to hang up his cape after Batman Returns (1992), Hanks was among the names thrown around by producers, along with Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke and Kurt Russell.

In the end, it was Val Kilmer who was cast in Batman Forever (1995). He only held the role for the one film, however, as George Clooney was recast as Batman for the follow-up release, Batman & Robin (1997).

Finch (2021) was a new kind of film for Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks as Finch in 'Finch'
Finch, 2021. (Photo Credit: yassi / MovieStillsDB)

Tom Hanks has starred in a variety of genres, but sci-fi appears to have eluded him! Finch (2021) was unusual in that it was the first such production where he’s front and center. Playing apocalypse survivor Finch Weinberg, the character must navigate the scorched earth with just a dog and a robot for company.

There was 2012’s Cloud Atlas, of course, but Hanks was part of an ensemble cast, alongside Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Susan Sarandon playing multiple roles. Hanks also produced the sci-fi adventure, City of Ember (2008), but stayed off-screen.

That being said, the actor’s certainly no stranger to fantasy. Mazes and Monsters (1982) was his first starring role, and he played Geppetto in the 2022 live action version of Disney‘s Pinocchio.

Involvement in the National Space Society (NSS)

Tom Hanks standing in a crowd at the White House
Tom Hanks with NASA mathematician and computer software pioneer Margaret Hamilton after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Apollo 13 (1995) sent Tom Hanks and a number of actors into space. This star has an enduring love affair with… Well, stars! His ambitions to become an astronaut were realized, on-screen at least.

Continuing the cosmic fun, Hanks is on the Board of Governors at the National Space Society (NSS). Hanks as a space authority? You betcha! The NSS recalls Forbes’ listing of him as “the most trusted celebrity in America in 2006.” Who better to help navigate the space lanes?

Tom Hanks wasn’t the first choice to play Forrest Gump

Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks sitting on a bench
Director Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks behind-the-scenes on the set of Forrest Gump, 1994. (Photo Credit: CaptainOT / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

If things had worked out differently, Tom Hanks wouldn’t have been Forrest Gump. Truly a defining role, it bagged him the Academy Award of Best Actor. Interestingly, John Travolta was originally approached for the role.

It didn’t happen for the hot-to-trot actor, who was about to make a big career comeback the same year with Pulp Fiction (1994). Speaking to MTV about the roles he’s passed on over his career, Travolta said, “I feel good about some I gave up because other careers were created.” This was certainly true in Hanks’ case. Viewers never saw the comedy star the same way again.

Awkwardly, both were nominated for an Oscar – and we know how that turned out. Not that Travolta was complaining, thanks to his Tarantino-infused triumph.

International Tom Hanks Day

Tom Hanks posing with fans
Photo Credit: ALAIN JOCARD / AFP / Getty Images

Save the date: April 1 is International Tom Hanks Day. Yes, really. Forget about pranking and foolishness and use this time to think about the man who brought us such classics as Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Catch Me If You Can (2002)!

Kevin Turk is one of the individuals responsible for this annual celebration. Talking to Riot Fest, he described how it started as “one part coincidence and one part mass appeal.” In 2004, a group of students “stumbled across a Tom Hanks movie marathon on April Fool’s Day.” The idea of honoring the actor stuck, and they began promoting it.

What began as light relief is now a coordinated worldwide event, with proceeds going to Hanks’ favored charities.

Related to Abraham Lincoln?!

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln. (Photo Credit: IceKoldKube / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

You could say Tom Hanks has a statesmanlike quality, so it’s maybe no surprise to learn he’s connected by blood to former US President Abraham Lincoln. Definitely eyebrow-raising, though!

Mental Floss points out that Hanks is Lincoln’s third cousin, four times removed. Lincoln’s mother was one Nancy Hanks. Quoted by the Daily Mail, the actor said, “The members of my branch of the family are either cousins or in-laws or poor relations.”

He didn’t feel worthy of the great man when reportedly in the running for Lincoln (2012), directed by his frequent collaborator, Steven Spielberg. Hanks passed, with Daniel Day-Lewis accepting the part and making it his own.

Tom Hanks is also related to Mister Rogers

Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood'
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019. (Photo Credit: nicky / TriStar Pictures / Sony Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (2019) took audiences behind-the-scenes of the iconic childrens’ show, hosted by Mister Rogers. In the film, Tom Hanks played Rogers. If you think that’s unusual casting, think again, because they’re actually related!

CNN revealed that had discovered they’re “sixth cousins, and their common ancestor was Johannes Meffert. Their subsequent ancestors had the last name of Mefford.”

Spookily, Hanks had already filmed the project when he was informed of the news.

Cast against type

Typewriters stacked on shelves
Photo Credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A peculiar fact about Tom Hanks is his interest in old-school typewriters. For the enduring star, these machines hold the keys to happiness, so to speak. His passion led him to obtain hundreds of typewriters. The documentary, California Typewriter (2017), saw the actor describe it as “a very specific apparatus that is meant to do one thing, and it does it perfectly.”

Tom Hanks is an author!

Tom Hanks holding up a copy of his book, 'Uncommon Type'
Tom Hanks attends a book signing for his new book Uncommon Type at Waterstones Piccadilly on November 2, 2017 in London, England. (Photo Credit: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

In 2017, Tom Hanks released his first short story collection, and there was really only one machine he was going to focus on, right? The typewriter-themed Uncommon Type got decent reviews, and he released a well-received novel in 2023, titled The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece.

Should he decide to retire from the silver screen, it looks like Hanks has his next career phase all set.

It was written in the stars for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan

Meg Ryan, Ross Malinger and Tom Hanks as Annie Reed, Jonah Baldwin and Sam Baldwin in 'Sleepless In Seattle'
Sleepless in Seattle, 1993. (Photo Credit: Zayne / Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Fans of Tom Hanks know him partly for his collaborations with Meg Ryan, In addition to Sleepless In Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998), there was the comedy romp, Joe Versus the Volcano (1990). Hanks also appeared in Ryan’s directorial debut, Ithaca (2015).

Their relationship is heavenly, which is probably why NASA named two asteroids after them. 12818 Tomhanks and 8353 Megryan aren’t just seven years apart, they “had a cosmic rendezvous when they made their closest approach to Earth in September 2011.”

Tom Hanks almost took the lead in When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal and Sall Albright and Harry Burns in 'When Harry Met Sally...'
When Harry Met Sally…, 1989. (Photo Credit: michaella92 / MovieStillsDB)

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan almost starred in a rom-com trifecta, thanks to Nora Ephron. After Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, she went on to write When Harry Met Sally… (1989), directed by Rob Reiner. Naturally, Hanks was considered for the role of Harry Burns, but found he just couldn’t connect with the character.

In an interview on the Table for Two With Bruce Bozzi podcast, Hanks’ wife, actress Rita Wilson, explained why he ultimately turned the role down.

“People probably don’t know this, but Tom was offered When Harry Met Sally and he turned it down because he was going through a divorce and he was very happy to be not married,” she said. “And so he could not understand that a person going through a divorce would have anything other than just like, ‘I’m so happy.'”

Married at a young age

Tom Hanks as Kip Amos Wilson in 'Bosom Buddies'
Bosom Buddies, 1980-82. (Photo Credit: American Broadcasting Companies / Getty Images)

Tom Hanks married his first wife, Samantha Lewes, in 1978, when he was 21. He felt their marriage was motivated by loneliness, which wasn’t a strong enough foothold to maintain their union, and their relationship eventually soured. This led to their divorce in 1987.

Hanks waited barely a year before tying the knot with Rita Wilson, whom he’d felt a connection with since having worked together on the 1985 film, Volunteers.

As we know, the role of Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally… ultimately went to Billy Crystal, but not before Michael Keaton, Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks were considered first. However, we can’t help but wonder what it would’ve been like to see Hanks alongside Meg Ryan to complete their Ephron rom-com trinity.

Tom Hanks converted to marry Rita Wilson

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson dressed in wedding attire
Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Tom Hanks and second wife Rita Wilson have been hitched for well over three decades.

Appropriately enough for the space enthusiast, Hanks went above and beyond to make the relationship work. “I won’t deny that providence was part of us finding each other,” Hanks said in a 2001 interview with Oprah Winfrey, “But our relationship isn’t magic the way it’s shown in movies.”

More from us: Life is Like a Box of Chocolate: 20 Interesting Facts You May Not Know About Forrest Gump!

Spiritual enlightenment also plays a part. Hanks converted to the Greek Orthodox Church for his marraige to Wilson, such was his dedication! Unsurprisingly, he went on to produce the hit 2002 comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.