Over the last few days, a video has been making the rounds, seizing on the nostalgia of Internet readers seemingly everywhere: “Tom Hanks auditions for role as Forrest Gump,” posted by YouTube user Regal Reels. The nine-minute tape is fun to watch, with Hanks (sans the Southern drawl he would eventually adopt), as well as co-stars Robin Wright and a young Haley Joel Osment, performing scenes on a bare-bones sound stage. As the Huffington Post notes, “It's pretty easy to see why all these actors got the part.”
Except that Hanks already had the part. By the time Forrest Gump came around, Hanks was a big star, big enough not to have to audition for a leading role. As a 1994 article in the Virginian-Pilot explains (and as common sense dictates), Hanks was offered the part, he wasn’t asked to audition for it. Here’s how producer Steve Starkey puts it:
We sent the script to Tom Hanks because he was the only one who could play it ... About an hour and a half after he started reading it, Tom called and said, “I’m in.” From that point on, we knew we could get the movie made.
Note, too, that the first reel, which shows Jenny (Wright) gently turning down Forrest’s offer to go out with him, seems much more concerned with Wright’s performance: For much of the scene, Hanks’ back is to the camera. While I’m not certain, it appears that these clips are screen tests for Wright and Osment, as well as Michael Conner Humphreys (young Forrest) and Hanna Hall (young Jenny). DVD reviews for the "Box of Chocolates” edition of the movie refer to “a set of screen tests for Robin Wright and the child actors,” which is probably what these are. (Dates are visible in a couple of the clips, one from June and another from July of 1993; the filming of Forrest Gump wrapped in December of that year.)
Even if it’s not a Hanks audition, of course, it’s still interesting to see behind the scenes of one of the most celebrated films of the last 20 years. Just don’t imagine that these clips are what got Tom Hanks his second Oscar-winning role in two years.