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“The Only Thing that will Ever Matter is the Story”: Tom Hanks at the Oxford Union

On December 1, The Oxford Union hosted an evening with Tom Hanks, Hollywood's renowned actor and filmmaker. The room abuzz, this was the term’s most anticipated event. The talk, also attended by actress and student Emma Watson, was one of entertainment, but also profundity. The LOAF Podcast team had the privilege of reporting.

The Art of Acting: Hanks' Interactive Session

Tom Hanks opened the session with a practical acting exercise, immediately engaging the audience. Demonstrating a range of emotions and scenarios, he highlighted the essence of authenticity in acting. This experiential start not only showcased his skill as an actor but also served as an insightful teaching moment for the audience, emphasizing the importance of genuine expression in performance. It also served as an exercise in empathy - a collaborative exhibition on linguistic subjectivity, wherein words take on new meaning dependent on who speaks them. Hanks signaled towards a need to understand other people’s words, but also to be genuine in oneself. Bringing the acting exercise to the Oxford Union chamber, a realm outside the studio, Hanks’ exercise took on new ethical meaning.

Insights into the Craft and Career

Throughout the evening, Hanks shared valuable lessons from his illustrious career. He emphasized empathy as a critical component in acting, offering a nuanced perspective on how to embody characters with depth and realism.

Hanks also discussed his recent book, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece. His first ever novel (he previously published a collection of short stories in 2017), it touches on the processes and difficulties of making a movie.

There is no substitution for showing up on time, knowing the task at hand and having an idea that you yourself came up with.

Cinema’s Changing Landscape: Hanks’ Perspective

Hanks offered his views on the dynamic nature of cinema and its adaptation to new mediums like streaming services. He articulated the importance of storytelling's core principle: to captivate and engage audiences, regardless of the format: “The only thing that will ever matter is the story…theres nothing to do except make good shit.” This part of the discussion offered a broader view of the entertainment industry, reflecting Hanks' deep understanding of the art and business of filmmaking.

Emma Watson: A Student, Not A Celebrity

Emma Watson was notably in attendance at the event. Tom Hanks indeed acknowledged the presence of Emma Watson as she left the event early and respectfully highlighted her dual role as an actress and a student. Asking students to maintain boundaries, he subtly reminded the primarily undergraduate audience to foster a respectful environment within academic settings, and to respect Watson’s pursuits beyond her public persona. Regardless of her status as a celebrity, privacy is of utmost importance; a past incident in 2016 raised controversy when someone secretly took a photo of Watson’s visit to Oxford and posted it online.


Closing the talk with an anecdote, about a prop master named Cuppy, Hanks highlighted the importance of collaboration. Everyone must be on their A-game when it comes to making a film, a sentiment reminiscent to one communicated by Edward Norton, when he visited Oxford earlier this year

The Tom Hanks occasion was a successful one, moderated by a prepared Disha Hegde (Oxford Union President), on the last event of the Union’s bicentenary. Hanks' interaction with the audience, combined with his thoughtful discourse, provided a unique and enriching experience. The event stood as a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring impact of cinema, leaving attendees with a deeper appreciation for the craft.


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