Tom Hanks Project – International Tom Hanks Day Interview

25 Feb

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.51.04 AMSure, you start a Tom Hanks Project or Tom Hanks Day because you love Tom Hanks movies and want to enjoy them with friends and loved ones*. But deep down you secretly hope Tom will find out about what you’re doing and acknowledge you**. For a group of college friends in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a spur of the moment decision to watch a bunch of Hanks movies on April Fools Day, on a double decker couch, has grown beyond anything they could have imagined. Now in its 11th year, the International Tom Hanks Day (THD) is about to clear 5 figures on their Kickstarter and the friends even got to meet Tom (and Hank Aaron!) in person. The THD guys now create a t-shirt every year, and Tom sends along signed DVD’s, posters and Wilson Volleyballs*** as they raise money for a great cause of Tom’s choosing every year with celebrations around the world.

*And because your girlfriend has a secret desire that Tom Hanks could be her uncle.

**So he can be your adoptive uncle.

***This is going on our wedding registry.

We interviewed Kevin Turk and Kellen Manley, two of the founders of Tom Hanks Day, who generously shared their stories of meeting Tom in person, how THD has grown over the years and their thoughts on Tom’s best, worst and everything in between.

Join the International Tom Hanks Day Kickstarter

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Rock Love Austin (RLA): Describe the first Tom Hanks Day.  

Tom Hanks Day (THD) Kevin: Year one literally started out of the statement, “we should sit here all day, drink, and watch Tom Hanks movies.” The six of us all took that challenge to heart and had a really fun time. No one even thought about it like … oh, it’s Tom Hanks Day. We all just wanted to hang out together and sit on our double decker couch. It was later that afternoon, after 3 or 4 Tom Hanks movies that someone mentioned it was April 1st. That’s when we said, it is now officially Tom Hanks Day! When the next year came around, we collected money from people, hand wrote what shirt size they wanted and found a shirt vendor. Imagine 20+ people in the backyard of a college house, all wearing poorly designed white t-shirts drinking out of a keg and watching TH movies. That was it … THD was officially born!

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RLA: How did it grow from there?

THD Kevin: People from all over wanted shirts and wanted to celebrate THD with us that next year. So on the third THD we printed up a bunch of shirts in different sizes and just sold them as people showed up to the party. They were gone in a matter of minutes! Take that and multiply it by 10 and that’s where we are today.

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RLA: What was the most memorable moment of THD?

THD Kevin: Mine was clearly when I got the email from Tom’s people. At the time I was working in Chicago and we were still celebrating each year in Kalamazoo, MI. The email came in right before I left my office. My response was very cynical as I thought there was no way it was real. My response was something to the tune of, this isn’t funny and I know you are one of my friends just messing with me … but that’s not to say I am not going to hope that it’s real. I said please give me a call and I would be happy to chat. Once I sent the email, a few minutes later my phone rang and it was real! I was told that “Tom really loves what you are doing and wants to send you some stuff.” I knew then that we had something amazing on our hands, so my response was that if Tom is going to be so generous to a handful of college kids then we are going to give back too. That’s when we connected with Lifeline Energy (www.lifelineenrgy.org) and we started doing everything we could to raise awareness for them, as well as making an annual donation from the proceeds raised at our THD events.

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RLA: Tell us more about the charity.

THD Kellen: My favorite stories always come from Kristine Pearson (Founder and CEO of Lifeline). She loves to tell us stories about the families that she visits after Tom Hanks Day. She almost always sends us photos of kids with the radios we were able to fund for them. I have even sent some of the extra shirts to her from time to time and she gives them to the kids. They have no idea who Tom is but they love getting the gifts. The feeling you get from taking something as simple as getting old friends together to have fun, and being able to help change someone’s life from it is unexplainable. It brings some of the things we take for granted into a completely different light.

RLA: Tell us everything you can remember amount meeting Tom in the flesh. What did he say? What did you talk about? How long did you guys spend with him? What’s the contact with him been like over the years? 

THD KEVIN: I can tell this story in my sleep by now. I even know where to pause for the most comedic effect.

Meeting Tom was great! It was after his play Lucky Guy in New York. He was nice enough to give me two tickets to the show and then bring us backstage afterwards. I was told that his bodyguard would come up to us before the play and introduce himself to us and let us know where to go afterwards. Like I said, he got me two tickets but another THD co-founder had purchased tickets to the show as well, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to come backstage or not. So when Mike (the bodyguard) came over to us about two minutes before the play started and told us where to meet him afterwards, I squeaked out, “I have another friend over there (pointed back a few rows) can he come too?” Mike did kind of a double take as if he had already moved on to the next thing he had to do, but he looked back at me and said, “Who…oh is he with you…yeah sure, whatever.” I gave a quick thumbs up back to our other co-founder in the crowd (who lit up with a BIG smile) and then everything went dark and the play started. Once the play ended we all headed backstage. We stood in the hallway looking into the green room. There were a few people in there that we didn’t know so we stayed in the hallway. A few minutes went by and Shooter McGavin (Christopher McDonald) walked into the green room and took a selfie with one of the guys standing in there. We all thought it was strange that Shooter would take a selfie, but as he walked out he looked at us and goes “That’s Hank Aaron!” We were all floored! We looked at each other and thought wow, we get to meet Tom Hanks and a living legend on the same day?

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From left to right, Kevin Turk, Kris Petro, Tom Hanks and Kellen Manley

Next thing we know Tom is flying down the hallway and heading straight into the green room. It was like a whirlwind of energy. He went right up to Hank Aaron and shook his hand, started chatting it up and talking with everyone in the room. At this point we are still outside in the hallway. I start getting a little nervous that Tom might just take off at any moment so I start looking around to see if I can find someone that looks important. I look over this ladies shoulder and she has the list of ‘approved names’. The list went, someone’s name I couldn’t read, Kevin Turk, and then Hank Aaron (no lie I was before Hank Aaron!). So I tapped her on the shoulder and said, I am Kevin Turk. She grabbed Tom and introduced us. Tom said with a giant smile on his face “KEVIN TURK! BIG DAY FOR YOU, HUH?” and then proceeded to flick me in the chest. All four of us chatted for a few quick minutes in the hallway and then he asked us if we wanted to meet Hank Aaron to which we all replied YES! He took us over to Hank and we got to shake his hand – side note, biggest hands I have ever shaken in my life – while Tom did something I thought would never happen. He explained who we were and what Tom Hanks Day was all about to an entire room (namely filled with Hank Aaron). It was really funny, especially since Hank Aaron clearly didn’t get why someone would do a Tom Hanks Day. Hank Aaron was one of the nicest and humble people I have ever met though! After we all took some photos together (Tom has a selfie with me, him and Hank Aaron somewhere on his phone) Tom had to run, so we walked out the back door of the theater where people were gathered to catch a glimpse of the stars as they left. They weren’t sure who we were, but they took photos of us anyway! The whole experience was probably 30-40 minutes. Felt like two minutes though. Right after our encounter, we all did the nerdy thing and posted it to FB, Twitter, Instagram and texted out all the photos of course. One friend responded, two Hanks and a couple of idiots.

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  • What is your favorite Hanks movie? My favorite is hands down Forrest Gump. I have watched that movie a few hundred times. I don’t know exactly what it is about that movie but I just can’t get enough of it.
  • Least favorite? Eh … I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to say there is a movie out there that I wouldn’t watch all the way through. If you have to twist my arm to give you an answer, I would say “Lady Killers.”
  • Most underrated? I would say Turner and Hooch. I know people love it but it’s one of those movies that people don’t quote or reference enough. I mean, come on!
  • Most overrated? Da Vinci Code. It was good but I have talked to people who just LOVE that movie.

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  • Favorite Romance? Castaway. Not because of his wife, but because of Wilson.
  • Funniest? Bosom buddies. I think Tom in drag is hilarious.
  • Best acted by Tom? Toy Story. Those facial expressions were amazing!  😉
  • Have you seen all of the Hanks movies?  Sadly, NOPE, I have not seen every Tom Hanks movie. Can you believe that? I am a disgraceful person. 

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RLA: What are your goals for Tom Hanks Day this year? Now that the Kickstarter is all but funded, what are the next goals? What can followers do to help?

THD Kevin: Our Kickstarter is the main focus for this year. This Kickstarter is going to allow us to open up THD to other people around the world. We want people to understand that it took us 10 years to have a THD where 300-500 people are showing up and for us to be confident in pre-ordering so many shirts. We started with six people and we just believed in getting everyone together to have fun. So why not start your own THD and get your own grouping of friends together? And while you’re at it, why not raise money for a great charity in the name of a great actor/human being? Although our THD now has people we’ve never meet coming year after year, our core group of friends still treats it as a reunion that no one dares to miss. We want to encourage more people to do this sort of fun-raising in the name of Tom, and to make sure that the money you spend that weekend goes to charity. Right now we are asking everyone to get out there and talk about THD. Talk about the Kickstarter. $5 dollars can go a long way … just pledge. 

One of my favorite parts of THD is seeing who/what people are going to dress up as each year …We’ve had people come dressed up like Forrest Gump, Wilson the Volleyball, the Rockford Peaches and many other memorable Tom Hanks characters. It just goes to show that people really do love Tom Hanks, but honestly (and more importantly), it’s great to see so many people excited to know they are helping raise money for a great cause, just by showing up and buying a t-shirt, or a raffle ticket, or even a beer, at one of our events. So it really is two-fold, It’s certainly about celebrating Tom and coming together to watch his movies, but it’s also about the PEOPLE that come out and come together to help do something good for those less fortunate. We’re so grateful we get to see our close friends at THD every year, but we are just as grateful for those we don’t know who have decided to make THD and Lifeline Energy a part of their lives.

“Big” t.hanks to Kevin Turk and friends for all the stories. If they haven’t convinced you yet, by all means, GO TO THEIR KICKSTARTER and watch the three minute video and donate to join the cause. Personally, I went for the BIG donation to get a t-shirt, koozie and be entered for a chance to win some signed Hanks memorabilia. We’re going to be throwing a Tom Hanks Day in Austin in April, so be sure to keep up with us for info on that and more as we head into our ’90s coverage next week with “Joe vs the Volcano.”

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2 Responses to “Tom Hanks Project – International Tom Hanks Day Interview”

  1. tapeparade February 28, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I can\’t believe I hadn’t heard of this before as I love Tom Hanks! This is so cool!!! I love that they’ve turned it into something so positive and wide-reaching and I so enjoyed their memories of meeting Tom, what a legend. 🙂 XX

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  1. Introduction to The Tom Hanks Project | rockloveaustin - February 26, 2014

    […] International Tom Hanks Day – Interview  […]

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