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Personal Memories of Filming The Polar Express (and Working with Tom Hanks)

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

In late 2002, I was called down to a brief voice-over dub-in job. I went down to the studio, just expecting to dub in a few lines when I saw my old pal and all-time favorite director Bob Zemeckis there. Apparently, I would be dubbing in a few lines for Bob's new movie called The Polar Express.

I dubbed in my lines and I could only see Bob sitting behind me in the glass-windowed control room. Bob was looking sightly blasé. If he liked a line I dubbed, he would just stick his thumb up in the air, rather like a bored Roman emperor.

I finished the gig and Bob came out of the booth. I was so happy to see him. We chatted briefly and I left, thinking that was the end of that.

But a few weeks later, I was called in to do a screen test for the movie The Polar Express at Warner Brothers studios. It was a long ride, but I hopped the necessary buses to get there, did a light easy screen test, wearing my navy blue jacket and ad-libbing a few funny lines (or so I hoped).

I got the role! I would be playing "the Know-it-All kid" in the first-ever "motion capture" 3D movie- The Polar Express.

My first day on the set, Tom Hanks came bouncing into the room. He spotted me and came over to say hi to me first (before anybody else in the crowded room!!!). “HI Eddie. I’m Tom" (no **** Sherlock!!) His friendliness and warmth bowed me over immediately.

My old pal Peter Scolari, who I had met doing a low-budget movie with years before, was there, too. I loved Peter, one of the nicest actors I had ever worked with.

With the new motion capture technology, each day, Tom, Peter, Nona Gaye, daughter of music legend Marvin Gaye (Nona was to be the girl in our lead foursome in the film) would go to make-up, get our faces marked off with 152 "dots" and then the dots would be glued, each one individually, to our faces. We each wore scuba diving caps and scuba outfits, each in a different color- i.e. Tom was blue, I was yellow, etc. etc.

We would film each scene, then after that, four little kids would film the exact same scene. Somehow, our bodies were morphed with the kids' bodies of each of our respective characters. My kid was Jimmy “Jax" Pinchak, who played me (“Know-it-All") as a kid.

(YouTube link)

One of the greatest joys of filming the movie was getting to know Tom Hanks. Each day on the set, I would have a few moments alone with Tom and I would chat and ask him questions. (I swear, he was my favorite actor before I knew anything about The Polar Express.) Tom was always open and answered every one of my questions.

I remember asking him who his favorite actors were, he told me when he was a young actor he loved Jason Robards and Robert Duvall. He told me that, unlike many struggling actors, he never had to go on unemployment, he always just got an acting job in time to avoid it. I remember him reminiscing about John Candy. He really loved John and as he spoke about him, I could see tears welling up in his eyes.

Once, being a guy, Tom just said, “How about you Eddie- Ginger or Mary Ann?" He was referring to the two beautiful actresses, Tina Louise and Dawn Wells, on the popular TV show Gilligan's Island.

I told Tom I had a crush on Mary Ann when I was growing up, but when I became a grown man, I switched to Ginger. “What about you?" I asked.

“I’ll tell you how I always answer that question,” he replied, “It depends on the episode.”

He told me he used to tell time by the TV shows he watched

I asked him about filming Nothing in Common with Jackie Gleason. Tom told me Gleason was a nice guy, very professional, etc.

Later, I went over to Peter Scolari and told him what Tom had said about Gleason, Peter replied, “That's just like Tom.” I asked him what he meant and he told me Gleason was actually not very friendly to Tom at all and didn't treat him that great during the movie filming. But that was Tom, Peter said, he never said a bad word about anybody.

His kindness was apparent. In one scene, I screwed up my lines, even though I was using cue cards to read my lines!!! (I was given Bob Hope's old cue card holder for the film.) Anyway, I screwed up a long take and before I could say anything, Tom said, “That was my fault,” to Bob, taking the blame for the screw-up. Why he did such a kind act, who knows. I think he was just a good guy.

Each Friday, Tom would cater a big deli spread of corned beef and pastrami and kosher pickles for the cast and crew to eat. As we all enjoyed the food, I noticed Tom never joined us. I asked Peter about this and he told me Tom had something wrong with his jaw and he couldn't eat the deli food himself.

Every week, Tom would buy every cast and crew member a lottery ticket. Of course we had zero chances of winning, but it was just such a nice gesture.

One day in make-up, we go the news that Bob Keeshan, TV’s Captain Kangaroo, had died. Tom and I commiserated about his death and compared notes because we both grew up watching and loving Captain Kangaroo.

As I left the makeup room, Tom came up behind me. He started singing the Tom Terrific theme song (Tom Terrific was an animated character on Captain Kangaroo). I will never forget how surreal it was to stand outside on a bright sunny day and have to Hanks sing me, word-for-word, a perfect rendition of the Tom Terrific song. When he finished I was dazed.

I just said “You're a great guy,” to him and he walked off.

On my last day of filming I finished my scene and Tom got on my case. “Why do you need bleeping cue cards? What are you- bleeping Marlon Brando?" he chided me. I think he was actually being like a big brother to me when he did this. Interestingly, he waited until my final scene to mildly scold me for needing cue cards to act.

I did my last scene, hugged Tom, hugged Bob, and the rest of the cast and crew and left.

Tom had heard that I was a big baseball fan and after we wrapped Polar Express, he treated me to three Dodger games at Dodger stadium. I got to bring a friend each time and we happily sat in Tom's private box seats and munched on his personal buffet of great food. After the last of the three Dodger games, I never saw Tom Hanks again.

The Polar Express premiered on November 10, 2004.

Although it was never number one at the weekly box office, after a slow start, it made over $200 million in the U.S. and over $3 billion worldwide. The reviews of the film were decidedly mixed, some critics loved it, others loathed it. But it has become a holiday classic on TV during the Christmas season.

I am very proud to have ben a part of such an amazing film and I will always treasure the great memories of working on it and working with Tom Hanks.

(YouTube link


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Eddie...of all the stories you've had on Neatorama, this might be my favorite. Tom Hanks is my 2nd favorite actor of all time right behind Ringo Klaus. You talked to him about the same things I would have too...John Candy....Jackie Gleason...everything. He's always come across as a genuinely nice guy and this cements it. The Dodgers tickets was awesome.
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Next time you have a party, make a parlor game out of who can list the most Tom Hanks movies without looking at their phone. He has 78 credits on IMDb, although some are for TV.
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