Big Let Tom Hanks Take The Wheel With Some Wild Improv

Improvisation is a skill often reserved for the great comedians of our time. This applies to Tom Hanks, as his performance in the 1988 comedy "Big" proves. While "Big" didn't put Tom Hanks on the map, it was his biggest commercial success of the 1980s and marked his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. It is arguably his first "classic" film, with apologies to the "Splash" fans in the room.

Hanks had to reconnect with his inner child for the film. In the body switch movie he plays a crestfallen 13-year-old boy, Josh, who wishes he was big and wakes up the next day to find himself in the body of an adult man, courtesy of a Zoltar fortune-telling machine. After a series of hilarious developments, Josh finds himself in a relationship and is catapulted to the position of vice president of a toy company. Josh soon finds that being big isn't all it's cracked up to be.

While growing up might not be fun, acting like a kid apparently is, and what the cast and crew soon found out is that Hanks, playing the role of a man-child, was having as much fun as a teenager himself.

Hanks improvised much of the film

Not only was Tom Hanks having fun, he also created classic scenes on screen. According to the New York Post, director Penny Marshall gave Hanks just two words to describe his 13-year-old character: innocent and shy. Hanks took it from there, improvising scenes throughout the production, many of which made the final cut. Hanks costar Elizabeth Perkins, who played Josh's love interest, Susan, called the tuxedo scene the most memorable of the entire film.

But it wasn't all Hanks. Perkins credited a lot of Hanks' magic to director Penny Marshall. Perkins said:

"He walks through the door in a white tuxedo, and the first choice he makes is, 'Everyone's staring at me. Is my fly open?' That was all Tom Hanks. Penny is one of those directors who says, 'let's just do it again and see what happens.' So, there was an enormous amount of play, which really allowed Tom to find those adolescent moments that made you believe he was 13."

As great as Hanks was, there was that tricky age difference between the love interests that had to be navigated. Of course, Hanks had fun with that, too.

'Just let me move my big balls'

Another scene almost entirely improvised was the trampoline scene in Josh's apartment. When the 13-year-old Josh hosts Susan for a sleepover for the first time (of course, she doesn't know he's 13 yet), Hanks slid in some subtle age-related jokes a 13-year-old would likely make. Perkins recalled filming the scene:

"Most of that was improvised. We jumped on that trampoline until our bottoms were sore. There's a tiny line you can't hear very well. When I'm getting up on the trampoline, Tom says, 'let me move my big balls.' You have to really listen for it, but it is there. That's the kind of thing he would just throw out."

For the record, Marshall handled the age difference between the two love interests by implying a physical relationship off-screen rather than explicitly showing it. Perkins would tell Page Six she was okay with the implied relationship and that it was never a concern on the set, saying, "It was not even something we broached or discussed on any level. Different times."

While Hank's improvisation might have lightened the tension on the set of "Big," he didn't stop with the movie. He continued to hone those skills throughout his career, and they would come in handy during a potentially life-threatening emergency.

Hanks might have saved a life with his improv

Tom Hanks has been known to create memorable moments in cinema thanks to his improvisation, including a classic "Forrest Gump" line. He recently put his skills to the test during a legitimate emergency. As People notes, Hanks was performing Shakespeare's "Henry IV" in Los Angeles in 2018 when an audience member had a medical emergency. For five minutes, Hanks improvised onstage to draw attention away from the chaos, allowing emergency responders to do their jobs.

Hanks just can't help himself. Whether in a mega-budget film or a simple interview, his improv skills shine through. During an interview at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Hanks was asked about Fred Rogers and impressed everyone with his improvised response.

From iconic scenes in classic movies to lifesaving distractions, Hanks' improv skills will not be denied. They helped make "Big" one of the classic comedies of the 1980s and put Hanks on par with Bill Murray as perhaps the greatest improvisation actor of his generation.