Tom Hanks is practically a Broadway veteran. He lived on West 45th Street in his twenties, and “I’d walk past those theaters all the time,” he says. It just took him three decades to find his way onstage. Next month, Hanks, 56, makes his official debut on the Great White Way in Lucky Guy (currently in previews), about Daily News columnist Mike McAlary, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his coverage of the Abner Louima police-brutality case, then died of cancer eight months later at the age of 41. It’s also the final play by Hanks’s friend and frequent collaborator Nora Ephron, who succumbed to complications from leukemia last June.
Entering early rehearsals a year ago, Hanks says, “we had, quite frankly, steeled ourselves for [Ephron’s] absence. There’s no other way of putting it. In many ways, I hear Nora’s voice and think of her in the present tense.” Whenever a line befuddled him, “she’d say, ‘Well, Tom, you know me. We’ve worked together. If a line doesn’t work, we’ll change it.’ So I can hear her saying, ‘Yeah, maybe we should change that.’ And if she shook her head, it was very slowly. Very slooowly. And that meant, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ I can see her doing that in some of the ideas that we have.”
The hours and physical strain of live theater are “extreme,” Hanks admits, but vaguely familiar to him from his pre-fame days doing rep and Shakespeare festivals, and even his eighties sitcom, Bosom Buddies, which was filmed before a live audience. (His Buddies co-star, Peter Scolari, plays reporter Michael Daly in Lucky Guy.) But, Hanks says, “I wasn’t quite prepared for how—I don’t want to sound like a dope saying this—but how fun it is. It’s not the chore that one expected. The total involvement, the plunge in the pool of effort, man, it’s bracing.”
Once the show opens on April 1 and their time frees up, Hanks imagines the cast will start mimicking their characters by decompressing after performances at a nearby bar. “There will be a watering hole that will fill up every night around eleven o’clock,” he says. What won’t change are his frequent subway rides to work, which he takes wearing a hat and glasses; the most conspicuous thing about him is that he’s reading the actual Daily News among the iPhone-checking masses. “Nobody looks at anybody on the subway,” he says. “Occasionally someone might give you a thumbs-up, and you nod. But the city is magnificent as far as that brand of easy anonymity. You just fold right in.”
*This article originally appeared in the April 1, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.