Even Tom Hanks was skeptical about the “Forrest Gump” framing device.
The 1994 film, which went on to win Best Picture, stars Hanks as earnest Vietnam War veteran Forrest, who has an IQ of 75. While Forrest accidentally partakes in the most pivotal pop culture moments of the 1960s and 1970s, he is reflecting on his life while sitting on a bus stop bench, eventually delivering the line, “My Mama always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never which one you’re gonna get.'”
But Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis didn’t know what kind of audience reaction they would get from the decision to tell the story backward.
“I will tell you, in ‘Forrest Gump,’ all the stuff that we shot on the park bench in Savannah, Georgia, we were just shooting fodder for a possible narrative piece of it,” Hanks revealed during a CinemaBlend podcast. “And I said to Bob [Zemeckis]’Is anyone going to care about this nut sitting on a [bench], What is this? No one knows what’s in this [box]I mean…’”
Hanks continued, “We ended up shooting, it was probably like, you know, 13 pages of dialogue that we had to shoot in a day and a half. And so it was written on cue cards. I didn’t need the cue cards after a while because you get into it. But Bob says, ‘I don’t know, it’s a minefield, Tom, it’s a minefield. You never know what people are gonna take away from it!’ And it ends up being, you know, that thing.”
And while Hanks may have doubted the emotional impact of the bench scenes, Hanks was confident “Forrest Gump” would be a hit. The Best Actor winner paid out of pocket for select scenes, including Forrest’s run across America, after Paramount Pictures balked at increasing the production budget.
“And [director Zemeckis] said ‘Well, this run is going to cost X amount of dollars.’ And it wasn’t cheap. And I said ‘OK,'” Hanks previously explained. “He said, ‘You and I are going to split that amount, and we’re going to give it back [to Paramount], We’ll give you the money back, but you guys [Paramount] are going to have to share the profits a little bit more.’ Which the studio said ‘Fabulous, great, OK.’ And it was good for us, too.”
Hanks earned an estimated $65 million with the expanded box office percentage deal for fronting production costs. The “Elvis” star also opened up about Zemeckis having to ease his nerves, telling him to not be so “self-conscious” and just “get into the groove” of playing Forrest.
“’We’re not going to use any of these first three days because I don’t think you’ve got it. You haven’t got the character,’” Hanks recalled Zemeckis telling him on set. “‘Don’t try so hard.'”
IndieWire’s Eric Kohn weighed in on the controversies behind “Forrest Gump” as part of the film’s 25th anniversary in 2019. The “problematic” Academy Award winner, per Kohn, “presents a grinning idiot savant as epitomizing everything about America, suggesting that he could catapult to fame and fortune he doesn’t really earn, while people enduring genuine struggles to make a difference in the world struggle all the way to the grave.”
Kohn concluded, “To that end, for better or worse, ‘Forrest Gump’ was ahead of its time.”