TELLURIDE, CO. — The optics weren't flattering, until Tom Hanks put the picture in focus, with his energetic blend of levity and perspective.
At a time when a lack of diversity in Hollywood is being challenged, the Telluride Film Festival staged a open-air panel discussion among actors about heroism in movies.
Aside from moderator Annette Insdorf, there wasn't a single woman or actor of color involved.
Hanks, who along with director Clint Eastwood presented Sully at the festival, comically defused the situation before his introduction was complete.
"Let's embrace the diversity of four white males up here," the two-time Oscar-winner said, grandly gesturing to fellow panelists Bryan Cranston (Wakefield), Miles Teller (Bleed for This), and Aaron Eckhart, co-starring with both Hanks and Teller.
"We're doing the best we can," Hanks pleaded in jest. "We are.
"We can't help it that Amy flew in from Venice and is exhausted and cannot be with us," he said, referring to Arrival star Amy Adams. "And other people simply don't have films here.
"Addressing the, uh, well, we're just up s---'s creek. Take your potshots. If anybody says, 'What do you make of the criticism of lack of diversity (in Hollywood)? Is it legitimate?' Of course it's legitimate! So, sorry."
Typical Tom Hanks: plain-spoken, making a hard point blunted with average-Joe humor. In drama and comedy, Hanks' performances are models of integrity and resolve. In real life, Hanks is an authoritative and diplomatic jester at once. When he speaks, you listen, laugh and believe.
Hanks' portrayal of pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger — who in 2009 landed an airliner on the Hudson River, saving everyone aboard — earned his place at the panel. Eastwood sat out the event but was a frequent topic, with many of his films, especially Westerns, examining facets of heroism.
"In an odd way, (Sully) has a structure that is not unreminiscent of some of the great Westerns," Hanks said.
"There is an event that someone is awaiting to happen, a shoe to drop. Fate is going to be met at a very specific moment that happens to be in the last seven minutes of the film.
"And all that time, the participants are weighing whether or not they will succeed or fail, be made or ruined, in circumstances that are out of their control."
Still, Eastwood was reluctant to direct Sully. He didn't see any conflict in a story so happily ended.
"He didn't see an antagonist versus protagonist (dynamic) in a guy who lands a plane on the water, and everybody survives," Hanks said. "So, what's the big deal?"
Eastwood's mind changed when he learned about Sullenberger's investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
"That's when he saw, essentially, the arrival of the train with the three bad guys on it, at the end of High Noon," Hanks said. "Here comes the showdown that can only be met by Sully and (co-pilot) Jeff Skiles by their instincts. They don't have any other ammo, so to speak, to use a Clint Eastwood euphemism."
Eckhart plays Skiles, but unlike his loquacious co-star, needed to be coaxed into the conversation. More accurately, he was playfully bullied by Hanks.
"I'm forcing you to talk, you coward," Hanks chided. "You can't just sit down there and try to avoid saying something stupid that'll haunt you for the rest of your career.
"I put myself over again and again. I just can't wait to see the social fallout about this discussion, talking about diversity, and makes me look like an idiot."
Not a chance.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.