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Tom Hanks says Finch is much more than ‘Cast Away meets Turner & Hooch’
The star of the new Apple TV+ movie talks dogs, science fiction, and lessons from the Forrest Gump set.
Sitting down inside a building, momentarily spared from the punishing Albuquerque heat and choking amounts of dust in the air, intended to simulate the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a solar flare, Tom Hanks is having a ball. It's March 2019, a year before the real world starts feeling vaguely apocalyptic (ironically in part because Hanks himself will be an early high-profile COVID-19 case). But, at this point in time, the only similarities between Finch and Hanks' actual life have to do with his past filmography. Finch is about the last man on Earth and his dog. You could call it Cast Away meets Turner & Hooch.
"On first blush, sure," Hanks admits to SYFY WIRE during our visit to the set, almost missing his lunch break because he's too busy chatting at length with the assembled journalists. But, he says the Cast Away comparison doesn't quite track because his character Chuck Noland "always knew that there was some other thing that was going on. He knew the world was going on for the rest of the time." Finch, the titular character in the upcoming Apple TV+ movie, is in a different situation. He and his dog, Goodyear, are on a mission.
"I think there's just a different philosophical bent on trying to discover what is out, as opposed to trying to get back to a thing that you know is there," Hanks says.
Originally titled Bios, Finch follows Hanks as a brilliant scientist who managed to survive a solar flare that seemingly wiped out the rest of humanity a decade prior to the events of the film. Five years ago, his life changed when he found a dog, who he named Goodyear, giving himself the companionship that made his life less lonely. But, now Finch is facing down an illness that looks terminal, so the scientist creates a robot, named Jeff, who he hopes will look after his beloved dog once he's gone. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the trio is forced to leave Finch's safe hideout and brave the scorched wilderness as Finch tries to teach a robot to be human enough for man's best friend.
It's a tear-jerking premise to a nearly weapons-grade extent. "[Dogs] teach you what love is, 'cause you're falling in love with these things," Hanks says, adding that the dog who plays Goodyear, Seamus, has eyes that remind him of a beloved family dog he had to euthanize. "Sometimes, you gotta put them down, and it's just the worst day of your life."
Hanks notes that Finch is further different from Turner & Hooch, which he says battled with studio notes to make the dog more anthropomorphic. ("I said, 'like cooking chili on the stove? What do you mean?'") Hooch was a partner in a buddy-cop movie. Goodyear is Finch's reason to live.
"He had a really miserable life until about five years ago, and then suddenly his life became this brand new thing when Goodyear came into [it]. And then after that, it's all just making sure that he stays safe," Hanks says, adding that there's a reason why Seamus, not Hanks nor Caleb Landry Jones (who plays Jeff), is No. 1 on the call sheet. (It is unclear if he's joking or not.)
Goodyear changed Finch's life in ways you can see on the set. Hanks says when he first visited the set of Finch's underground bunker, he took issue with how cluttered it was.
"I said, 'It's too messy,'" Hanks recalls. "It should be really clean, Spartan, everything in its place kind of thing. If there wasn't the joy of Goodyear being here, he might've just been happy to live in squalor 'cause who gives a s***, but because he had this wonderful thing there, he ended up keeping his place even nicer."
Hanks, director Miguel Sapochnik (of Game of Thrones fame), and the entire crew of Finch were constantly paying attention to details like this to make Finch's world feel real. The visual effects team went on at length about how they designed an environment that had been ravaged by a solar flare; the robotics team made Finch's creations as realistic as possible, and Hanks recalls going back and forth with Sapochnik and the crew when designing the cooling suit Finch wears when he ventures outside. Even Finch's pantry was highly thought out. When Hanks initially suggested that Finch might have a room full of ramen noodles on the assumption that he probably found "pallets and pallets" of them on his scavenging expeditions, Sapochnik reminded the actor just how long Finch has been the last man on Earth: "You already ate those."
Compared to Dune or Eternals, at times Finch hardly feels like science fiction.
"I think if you're the last man on Earth, that's considered science fiction, by definition. And the robot is science fiction," Sapochnik admits in a different interview. "But what we've tried to do is keep it real… It's grounded sci-fi but you feel like it's a drama. It just happens to have a robot."
Hanks has an affinity for grounded sci-fi, recalling that he really fell in love with the genre when he pulled a Robert A. Heinlein book called Have Space Suit—Will Travel off the set dressing library while shooting, of course, Turner & Hooch. While more cerebral, out-there authors such as William Gibson and Phillip K. Dick are hit-and-miss for Hanks, Heinlein, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Andy Weir feel "closer to theoretical science" than science fiction.
"And that's what I like about [Finch]," Hanks says. "There is no spectral world, right? There's no shape-shifters or time travel or anything like that. It just is basically one damn thing after another and the whole new world that you have to accept whole cloth right off the bat."
Still, there is, as Sapochnik notes, a robot in Finch. Two, actually.
Finch built a smaller, non-humanoid robot named Dewey prior to the events of the film, but he's more of a tool than an entity. The other robot, Jeff, is something much more, in large part because he's played by Jones, acting opposite and in scenes with Hanks. Jones is largely replaced by CGI in the finished film, though his co-star says it was essential that Jeff was portrayed by an actual person making their own character decisions.
"[Jones came up] with a characterization that is not so much based on [me], but it's to be based on this kind of like boy-child droid that has to learn at his own pace, at his own speed," Hanks says. "So it ends up being a free spirit as opposed to something that's going to be kind of predictable, 'cause otherwise, it's like a combination of 'danger Will Robinson' and 'I'll be back.'"
As far as the relationship between Finch and the robot he made to look after his dog, Hanks says that evolves in unexpected ways. "He's created him for a purpose," he explains. "I think he's not prepared for the company that Jeff becomes."
For a movie that seemingly only has three characters (and one of them is a dog), Finch has a lot going on. Hanks, who has made a lot of movies, says that Finch is potentially asking a lot from its audience.
"No matter how many movies you make, you're sowing the seeds for your own destruction," Hanks says. "Like all of them you're aiming for something that you need to make real in the falsest environment imaginable. Sometimes they're 20-yard passes and other times they're 80-yard passes. Well, I think this one is like Miguel has dropped back three yards into the end zone on the fly pattern left and I'm just running as fast as I can as far as he can."
As various members of the crew try to gently remind Hanks that he's been chatting for so long that he's liable to miss his chance to eat lunch, the actor happily reflects on some of the past times he's been able to make a movie feel real to the audience. It doesn't always feel like it's going to work on the set. (Hanks recalls asking Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis if he really thought that anybody was "going to care about this guy sitting on a park bench." Hanks, doing a lovingly unflatteringly impersonation of Zemeckis, remembers the director's response: "Well, that's the thing about movies, Tom. Every day's a minefield, so f*** if I know!")
Talking to Hanks inside of a building that's supposed to be long-abandoned and ruined due to the downfall of civilization, you can sense why selling the reality of Finch is important to Hanks. The secret to making it all happen, he says, is deceptively simple. You've just got to do the thing.
"Well, we went and pretended so much until it felt like it was real, and that's what we did," Hanks says. "You're doing something that feels incredibly fake in real life, but the truth is it always looks real in fake life."
Finch premieres on Apple TV+ and in theaters on Nov. 5.