My Tom Hanks years

He was Walt Disney, he was Forrest Gump. He was Captain Phillips. But to me, in the years when I worked as his personal assistant and came to see a wholly different face to the man so beloved of everybody, he was just Tom. Yes, Tom. No, Tom. I'm sorry, Tom, I'll do that again. Every day. Last year, a full six months after I had stopped working for the actor known to everybody worldwide as Tom Hanks, I met somebody called Tom at a party in Bed-Stuy, and instinctively tied his shoelaces for him.

I thought long and hard, hard and long, before writing this piece. Who was I to step to the double Oscar winner, the darling of America, the boy from Big for chrissakes? Could I live with myself if I sat down and typed out my story? Did I really want all the limelight, the clicks and replies, the tweets and thinkpieces, that such a zeitgeist-capturing article would inevitably bring? Was I strong enough? Could I stretch it to 10,000 words?

In a fever of delirium at midnight a few weeks ago I asked my friend Anais what to do. I waited and waited for her reply, leafing morosely through a Grace Paley story by the light of my iPhone as my boyfriend slept peacefully beside me, his breath reverberating on his pillow. Then my WhatsApp pinged: "You're that bitch." I took this as a sign to tell my story.

But first, a description of me at the time these events took place. I was a young man fresh out of NYU - hopeful and, I suppose, a little caustic. My friends told me I looked remarkably like the actor Ansel Elgort, but I couldn't see it. I had majored in Cinema Studies and was working on a study of depictions of Brooklyn in the movies, from Do The Right Thing to Half Nelson, via Moonstruck. I spent my days trawling the Canarsie line from Williamsburg to Bushwick, marking down filming locations in my scrappy notebook, with the stub of a pencil an ex had given to me for my birthday with my name printed on it, but which was so worn now that my name was only down to three of its eight letters. I was often hungry, and would eat half of a bologna sub for lunch and half again in the evening, reading old issues of The Believer. The apartment my parents were renting for me was small and damp, and at night I heard the neighbors arguing about their cable subscription. I longed for something, anything, to lift me out of my slump.

An opportunity soon came up to become the personal assistant of Tom Hanks. I was excited, as I had grown up on Hanks' movies, from You've Got Mail to The Terminal, and informed Hanks's management via email that I accepted immediately. It so happened that Hanks was about to shoot the Steven Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies in Brooklyn, at the time. 2014 seems a lifetime away now.

Would I have accepted everything that happened, if I hadn't come from such reduced circumstances? If I hadn't felt so starved of excitement and company? No way, I'm certain of it. But I was so innocent then that, now, looking in the mirror, an eternity of four years on from these events, I don't see the puppy-eyed, scared individual who peered out at me back then from behind his glasses. I wear contact lenses now, for a start.

I first met Tom on the rehearsal lot that had been hired by the studio for filming. He was very welcoming and kind, but I would soon learn that what seemed like sweetness in him was of a different order entirely. His manners would make you feel that he was talking to you as an equal, but then he could switch, almost without changing tone of voice at all, to asking you to do something for him. The worst of it was that he was always unfailingly civil, which made his daily demands - "could you get me a decaf latte while I memorise these lines please?"; "would you be so kind as to call Rita [Wilson, his wife] and tell her I'll be free from 8 this evening" - all the more galling. On this first day of meeting him, being as yet unaccustomed to his, what I'll call, rude politeness, I confess that I was charmed by him. Of course I was! He was Tom Hanks, and I was... nobody. In fact, it seems to me now that it exactly suited him for me to be a nobody, recommending movies for him on Netflix or collecting his dry-cleaning - of course it did. He would have never asked Mark Rylance to email his publicist, after working hours, for the sort of salary that he was offering me. But that was Tom all over. In public: the genial, affable man that everybody knows, the nice guy who shows up to talkshows and awards ceremonies. In private: a much quieter man, who was hung up on his work and would often ask to be left alone at times when it suited him.

One time I remember Tom bought the whole crew trays and trays of pasteis de nata, all warm from the bakery and glossy with the lightest filling imaginable. Seems like a sweet, harmless gesture, right? But later that day he made me take a photo of the pastries and upload it to his Instagram, without specifying that he had bought the pastries, not made them himself, which is what it would obviously look like to anybody following his social media presence. I looked at some of the comments, and many of them said things like, "Wow, you made all these? They look incredible." Tom never corrected them, and allowed for the misrepresentation that he had himself engineered to go unexplained, probably to fuel his own self-image.

As my first week on the job turned into a month, and the first month turned into a year, it didn't immediately occur to me to question my life. At times, such was my almost hypnotic servitude to Tom, I would do things for him without even thinking about it or questioning what I was doing, even demeaning things like collecting his medical prescriptions for a throat complaint. But when I told a friend about this at a party in Crown Heights, she said to me, "Wait - your job is... just... doing things for him?" Other people at the party drew in, to eavesdrop. "Yeah, I guess," I said. "He pays you to... just do stuff for him, that he could do himself, or get anybody else to do?" I swallowed. "I suppose, yeah, that's my job," I said. I felt ridiculous now. All my friends had jobs working for start-ups and one was being paid to write a movie treatment for the YouTuber PewDiePie.

This was when I started to realise how low I had fallen, and things only got worse with awards season.



Anonymous said…
What exactly did you expect to do for Hanks as his assistant other than what you did? Have deep conversations with him? Be his friend? You sound like a typical millennial snowflake.
Anonymous said…
I can only read the first page of this? Am I doing something wrong?
There are millions of people out there doing things for others. C'mon!!
Anonymous said…
my god what a redicilous story there are millions of people that their jobs is to do things for others that are busy to do themselves and they paid for it there is nothing wrong with that my god
Leopold said…
Cue loads of people who JUST DON'T GET STUFF. I loved this. It made me laugh.
JayW said…
I'm sorry but when you applied for the job, was there not a job description telling you what was required of you?

I am not empathetic to your cause since you chose to stick with it for that long.

Are you amongst the clueless when after a week it was the same daily tasks?

It appears as though there is more to this story and if this requires me to sign a subscription of sorts, well, you lost me on page 1.
Unknown said…
What in the world did "personal assistant" mean to you? Didn't you discuss the nature of your job with him?
antihero said…
its a joke you morons
Tom Hanks said…
So I've been hearing about this article all day and I have to set the record straight. On reflection, I think Caspar was unhappy as my assistant, because while he was an intelligent and capable young man, he struggled with many aspects of the role. He never learnt how to add and edit appointments on Outlook calendar and he lost one of my Oscars on a bus. As a result of one of his mix-ups, I missed an audition to play Trumbo.

I'm sorry to read that you felt this way, Caspar, and I hope that your new career is better suited to your temperament and talents.

Also, I never intended to pass those pasteis de nata as my own, I just didn't get round to following up the comments.
@bylinetd said…
I too can only see post #1.But if I were you, I’d take this down. I appreciate that you feel the role you took on was gopher work or tedious and maybe not what you expected. But think about this, “personal assistant” is a legitimate job category. It’s work and it’s needed. And if Tom Hanks doesn’t need a personal assistant, then who the hell does?

Yep, he is too busy to get his dry cleaning or manage his FB fan page or make massage appointments or send flowers or buy airline tickets or order egg drop soup. I’m just guessing at stuff you might have done. That’s why you were hired. People in administrative or service professions or support roles who do their work VERY well, often become so valued and necessary that they elevate their position or increase their salary or get additional perks or enhance their resume and ultimately get a stellar recommendation. Could be all of the above.

It’s a job. And it’s at will. So you can stay and try to learn to do it great. Or you can move on and find a better fit for you and your self image. How you see yourself in this life matters too.

One more thing, I’ve heard people get demeaned and screamed at in all walks of life. It’s worse.
Greg M said…
(Very long sigh.)

People. THIS IS A PARODY. IT IS A PARODY OF A DUMB ARTICLE IN THIS WEEK'S ISSUE OF NEW YORK MAGAZINE ABOUT AN ENTITLED PERSON WHO WORKED FOR ANOTHER ENTITLED PERSON. The poster here did not really work for Tom Hanks. One of the main points of the parody is how ridiculous the author is to be complaining about working for Tom Hanks when, as is obvious from the text, Tom Hanks -- even as described in this article -- would have been ridiculously easy to work for.

Kudos to the faux Tom Hanks comment, though. Well done!
@bylinetd said…
If it’s a parody, that would make more sense! And if the joke IS on us, it needed more laughs.
Anonymous said…
Caspar you are a weirdo you use your twitter to make Maisie loveyou

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