Why Tom Hanks Thinks Philadelphia Would Be Fundamentally Different If Made Today

1993's "Philadelphia" was a key turning point in the career of Tom Hanks. Now considered to be one of America's finest and most cherished actors, Hanks won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Andrew Beckett, a lawyer diagnosed with HIV who was fired after his condition was exposed at his law firm. The movie was a gigantic financial hit as well, making it one of the biggest success stories of that year. 

Yet, nearly 30 years removed, Hanks feels that the movie wouldn't — or perhaps couldn't — be made in the same way today.

A straight man couldn't play the part now

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine, Hanks discussed director Jonathan Demme's 1993 classic, which also starred Denzel Washington as Beckett's attorney. During the conversation, Hanks made it crystal clear that he believes he, a straight man, would not be playing the part of a gay man in a big film if it were being made right now:

"Let's address 'could a straight man do what I did in 'Philadelphia' now?' No, and rightly so. The whole point of 'Philadelphia' was don't be afraid. One of the reasons people weren't afraid of that movie is that I was playing a gay man. We're beyond that now, and I don't think people would accept the inauthenticity of a straight guy playing a gay guy."

Not only does Hanks believe that we're past that point in mainstream cinema, but he appears to believe that this is a good measure of societal progress. He doesn't seem to have any issue with it and, moreover, he seems happy that the presence of a beloved straight actor isn't necessarily needed to get the job done anymore. Times have changed.

Hanks isn't trying to preach

As a straight, white man, this is not an area where I have the right to add much. As an actor though, Hanks has had the chance to do a lot of things he wouldn't get to do in normal life. That's kind of the point of acting, is it not? But Hanks isn't saying that no straight man should ever play a gay man, just that it shouldn't be the default, and a movie like "Philadelphia" shouldn't become a hit, or even get made in the first place, just because a major straight movie star is the one in the leading role. 

To that end, the actor added that demanding more from movies is a good thing:

"It's not a crime, it's not boohoo, that someone would say we are going to demand more of a movie in the modern realm of authenticity. Do I sound like I'm preaching? I don't mean to."

Preachy or not, Hanks has a point to make and it's a point about progress. It's not about him bemoaning the fact that he wouldn't get one of his signature roles if that film were happening today. He seems more than happy to know that the part of Andrew Beckett would go to someone else, a gay man to be specific, as a means to make the film more authentic. That is important and Hanks is wise enough to understand that.