TOM HANKS: MY BRUSH WITH DEATH WHILE FILMING 'CAST AWAY'

Published on: January 23, 2001

TOM HANKS reveals that making "Cast Away" nearly killed him -- and that he would never be able to survive his character's hellish ordeal.

Speaking in detail for the first time about his traumatic brush with death, the Academy Award winner said that he cut his right leg while filming on the tropical island of Fiji -- and badly underestimated the severity of the infection that followed.

"Just before we left the island, I had this little cut and something got in there," revealed Hanks in a remarkably candid interview. "I flew home and, boy, was my leg hurting!

"The weekend we were home it swelled up really big so I finally went to the doctor, thinking he was going to clean out my knee and give me some antibiotics, but it turned out I had a staph infection that was close to giving me blood poisoning.

"The doctor said to me 'What's the matter with you, you idiot? You could have died from this thing!' And I was like, 'Oh, I don't know.' But they literally had to take out a big chunk of the stuff in my leg.

"It was also still highly infectious, so I had to take these super-duper antibiotics which just dried me out so much -- and I was in the hospital for three days. Then we had to shut down production for three weeks because the doctors said, 'No way is this kid getting in the water.'"

Right from the start of the production, the 44-year-old star put himself through hell to capture the right look.

He packed on weight until he was obese and then later had to diet until he was scarecrow-thin -- scaring his physician.

The 6-foot-1 performer -- who normally weighs between 185 and 195 pounds -- soared to 230 and then plummeted to 172.

To gain the weight, he says, "I just stopped working out and ate anything whenever I felt like it, pretty much. It affects your sleep, it affects your legs, never mind your cholesterol.

"I mean, I was fat. There's some shots on the island where that belly is just sticking out there."



FAST FACT!
Tom Hanks is a direct descendant of Abraham Lincoln, whose mother was Nancy Hanks.

To drop the weight, Hanks developed a hankering for salads and fiber-rich foods -- but his physician suspected he was doing something dangerous as well.

"The doctor said, 'I know you are losing a lot of weight. Are you inducing vomiting to make it happen?'

"I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, we are going to do a blood test and if your electrolytes are out of whack, that's going to be the reason. I said, 'Well, I'm not.' And the electrolytes were not out of whack."

To play a Federal Express worker stranded on a deserted island, Hanks also discovered he could grow a caveman-like beard.

"Who would have thought?" Tom said with a laugh.

Growing the long beard and hair "was no stroll in the park," he added. "There were some (hair) extensions in there, but it was a huge mass of knotted hair."

Known as a consummate actor who immerses himself in his roles, Hanks admits he did not strand himself on an island to prepare for the part.

"I tried to go to St. Barts a couple of times and live as an expatriate.

"But that's only for about 10 days. After a while, you have got to get back."

In fact, Tom, a father of four, admits if he had to be stranded on an island for years in real life, it would kill him.

"I'd die. I don't think I would have killed myself, but one day I would have folded up in a ball and then just slowly dribbled away somehow.

"The infection alone would have killed me, and I don't think my powers of battling despair would be that good, either."

-- LYNLEY DWIGHT


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