Tom Hanks: Filming Toy Story 4 'exhausting in the best way possible'
Veteran actor says voice acting is 'exhausting'
Tom Hanks has played Woody, the pull-string cowboy toy, ever since the first Toy Story movie hit cinemas 24 years ago.
That was 1995, the 100th anniversary of the invention of motion pictures. Since then, there have been two sequels, in 1999 and 2010, and the reason for their massive success is the connection the toy characters have made with audiences young and old worldwide.
In Toy Story 4, which opens here tomorrow, Woody belongs to a new child, Bonnie.
One of her favourite toys is Forky (Tony Hale), who is made out of a spork and does not think he is a toy. The whole gang goes on a road trip with Bonnie, and they reunite with Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
Hanks makes the fearful, naive Woody lovable in the way only he can.
"We've been through profound examinations of community, of family, of growing older and finding new purpose," the 62-year-old US actor said at our interview at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
"And this one ends up being just as profound and new as the previous movies. They're all toys. As long as they don't break, they can live forever."
On why Woody is so beloved, Hanks said: "If you do not feel safe and taken care of somehow, life is just a series of precipices that you're going to fall off.
"I think Woody views himself, and I know this because I've spent 500 hours recording his voice over the course of all of these movies, as the guy who is the purveyor of that safety and security. He is always talking about his relationship with a kid and that it is the toy's responsibility to bring that kid joy and make that kid feel safe."
There is a discipline and commitment required to voice animated movies, as recording can take more than two years.
"There's no distraction that is allowed," Hanks explained, of the voice acting process.
"As an actor in a movie, I have a costume that I can use, you are on camera, you are visible, you can do things with your body that belie whatever you say with your mouth. That ends up being a luxury you are not afforded when making your Woody come alive. You are locked physically into a space that you cannot go off mic, you cannot turn your head. All you can do is raise your voice or go to some other type of emotional place that is exhausting in the best way possible.
"As soon as I began any recording session for any of the Toy Story movies, I could not wait for it to be over, because emotionally, physically and spiritually, it is draining."
He added with a laugh: "You know, they put together those EPK (electronic press kit) things where it looks like we're just having a great time together and we're laughing? Those are so fake. Because the work is actually incredibly concentrated and intense and emotional."
Hanks also got to work with co-star Potts in the recording studio instead of by himself, the usual way voice acting is usually done.
He recalled: "You start recording about 21/2 years before, and they're constantly going back over what you did and changing it, sometimes throwing it all out.
"So we were able to record together and it ended up being hypnotically intimate, just the two of us. Because you're speaking in real tones, you're creating a real emotional bond."
The cast was not given a complete script for Toy Story 4, only the sequences they were in, and the movie was explained to them by the Pixar people before each recording session.
"When I realised the theme, I said, 'Okay, you guys have once again made a movie that is unique and important.'
"And Tony Hale, he doesn't realise it yet, but for the rest of his life he's going to be Forky to an awful lot of people in elevators with kids. 'Look, it's Forky, say hello to Forky.' And he'll just have to live with that burden."
Hanks said Forky may be the most important character.
"This movie might as well be called Toy Story Forky because of his introduction as the catalyst of absolutely everything."
The writer is the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.