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Consider Tom Hanks Your Guide Through Hollywood's Minefield

He's got a light foot to tread the danger zone and an open mind to learn from mistakes.

Consider Tom Hanks Your Guide Through Hollywood's Minefield
[Photos: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

Tom Hanks can take a hit.

After 34 years in show business as an actor, writer, producer, and director, Hanks has managed to give cinema some its most memorable characters, not only because he’s been daring enough to trudge through the "minefield" of Hollywood, but because he fully assesses the damage should he ever trip an explosive.

During a talk with John Oliver at the Tribeca Film Festival, Hanks explains how he discovered one of the most important words in his career and the good side of bad experiences.

Marching Through the Minefield and Studying Your Failures

Bad experiences kick good experiences’ ass every time. This is what goes into every movie you’ve ever made: hard work, blind luck, serendipity, bitter compromise, frustration, and this great x factor of ‘is anyone going to care at all?’ So when it works, you can say we didn’t step on a single mine, and when it doesn’t work you can go back and say, we stepped on a mine there, that blew of a leg off. You can go back and examine every decision you made or were a part of in the movie that sent you off down the wrong tributary to the river. So studying your failures, which is hard to do because they’re so utterly painful, but studying them once you’ve inured yourself of the fact that the movie disappeared without a trace, you can see not a secret for success but just how gossamer that brand of success is and how lucky you are.

The Most Valuable Word of a Career

At one point in my mid-30s where I was making an awful lot of money [playing] the goofy-headed guy who can’t get laid, who wants to get laid, finally gets laid, then he stops getting laid. I realized that I had to start saying a very difficult word to people which was no. The money is great, the people are talented, you get to shoot [the movie] in France—but if there’s not anything there that stirs some sort of bonafide fire, you have to say no. Saying yes [leads] to work, but saying no means you’ve made your choice about the kind of story you want to tell and the kind of the character you want to play.

Finding Out Which Side of the Line You’re On

The world’s divided into two distinctive groups: people that will always be self-conscious and will never be actors and the people who defeated their own self-consciousness and can be actors. You take that half and that group is divided into separate pacts as well: those that can persevere and artificially produce the wherewithal to continue for another day and those that have had so much rejection that they can’t take it anymore and they walked away.

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