Tom Hanks was only 7 years old when the Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Just a few months removed from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the world was a “dark, gray, and lonely place,” Hanks remembers, but he found an escape in the British band’s music as it filtered through his dad’s Volkswagen and sister’s clock radio. “It was a joyful sound,” says Hanks, who followed the band’s world tour from afar throughout 1964.
Later that year, as the band embarked on a trip to Australia, Ringo Starr came down with tonsillitis. Instead of canceling the tour, manager Brian Epstein tapped English drummer Jimmie Nicol as a replacement for eight shows. For three decades, Hanks couldn’t get the story out of his head. “That had definitely stuck in my craw because I thought, ‘What was that guy’s life like for a while?’”
In the fall of 1993, as Hanks was filming Forrest Gump, he finally began to explore that question. Leaning on his knowledge of obscure 1960s bands and love for the decade’s stable of one-hit wonders, he merged the ideas together and began writing his long-gestating thoughts onto paper. “This stuff has to go into a Crockpot for a long time,” Hanks says. “I had written before but never ended up with a cohesive screenplay that worked.”
Three years later, Hanks made his screenwriting and directorial debut with That Thing You Do! Released 25 years ago this week, the movie remains an enduring, feel-good entertainment, supplying the period detail, joyful nostalgia, and musical spirit of 1964. Specifically, it follows the fictional Erie, Pennsylvania, rock band the Wonders, their meteoric rise, and their abrupt fall. With a cast of relative unknowns—Tom Everett Scott as slick drummer Guy Patterson, Johnathon Schaech as lead singer Jimmy, Steve Zahn as goofball guitarist Lenny, Ethan Embry as the quiet bass player, and Liv Tyler as Jimmy’s girlfriend, Faye—Hanks captured dynamite performances and put a comedic, primary-colored spin on a familiar musical tale.
Most importantly, he found a pitch-perfect earworm for the movie’s titular one-hit wonder, written by the late Adam Schlesinger, which set the tone throughout the movie’s platinum-selling soundtrack. Much like the Beatles did for Hanks, the movie produced an uplifting sound that has continued to have resonance today. “It doesn’t have bullshit,” Hanks says. “It’s just this unspooling of very recognizable moments that sparked joy.”
Part 1: “It Wasn’t Like Anything Out There.”
In the spring of 1995, Hanks was coming off consecutive Best Actor Oscars for his roles in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. After wrapping production on Apollo 13, due to be released that summer, he found time to write and develop his own project.
Chris Ellis (Phil Horace): That Thing You Do! had been Tom’s dream project for a good while. During Apollo 13 we were talking about what’s next and he mentioned in very vague terms his own little project about a ‘60s garage band.
Rita Wilson (Marguerite, Tom Hanks’s wife): It started with a band having a one-hit wonder. And then the world moved on to a new one-hit wonder. That was the seed of the idea.
Tom Hanks (director, writer, Mr. White): I was always fascinated by [rock group] Jan and Dean when I was growing up in high school. The concept of a band that stays together long enough to make it through their first tour and breaks up, I thought it was just so real.
Wilson: His writing process is he writes, and then he gives you a complete script when he’s finished.
Hanks: I started writing it in earnest when I was in South Carolina doing Forrest Gump. I wrote an 11-page treatment that I blew right through. When I was done with Forrest Gump, all I was doing was promoting Philadelphia, surviving the trophy run season, and for the next six months promoting Forrest Gump. I wanted to be carrying something in my head completely void of anything about the Oscar race or box office, and so, while I was flying around the world doing all that press, I began working.
By that time I’d worked with Nora Ephron quite a bit and I’d always send any idea to Nora. “Does this make sense to you?” She was extremely helpful and pulled no punches. “You have so many characters and scenes in here it’s like Scorsese run amok.” You end up learning a little discipline.
Neda Armian (production assistant to Jonathan Demme): Tom came to Jonathan and said, “I want you to produce this because of the Philadelphia experience.” [Jonathan] said, “I just talked to Tom, he wrote something. He wants to direct it!”
Hanks: Not long after, he said, “I think you should do this with Gary [Goetzman] and form a company with Gary and make a lot of movies together.”
Diana Choi (production associate): Jonathan was there from the inception. He always had the confidence that Tom was a filmmaker and he believed that he was meant to have his own projects.
Armian: Jonathan arranged that the script went to the development department, but he didn’t have [Tom’s] name on it so they would think it was a random person and he could get honest feedback. It was mentioned as “high priority,” and then it got rave reviews.
Ed Saxon (producer): It wasn’t like anything out there. It seemed to capture a lot of different things—a moment in our cultural history, what it’s like to be in a band—and it was funny, charming. It felt very much like Tom.
Armian: Jonathan always liked to have a reading of a script. He is a big fan of hearing the words out loud, so we went to the late photographer Ken Regan’s loft on 16th Street and had a reading.
Meredith Tucker (assistant casting director): Ethan Hawke played a part. Very importantly, Steve Zahn played his part. Ethan used to have a theater company with Steve and a bunch of other people and I’d seen a play they did. I said to Howard Feuer, “You know who could be really good for the Lenny role is Steve Zahn.” And then his manager called right then: “Is there anything for Steve?”
Steve Zahn (Lenny): My manager was like, “This writer wrote this movie and they just want to hear it. Will you drive into the city and do it?” I was like, “Yeah, who’s the writer?” She gave me some fake name. I was rather shocked Hanks was there.
Hanks: Steve Zahn delivered the performance of the ages and made me laugh my head off. Steve stuck every freaking landing. It was astonishing.
Armian: The reading was so fun, laughing and hitting all the right moments. Everyone was huddled and they went, “Oh my god, Steve Zahn.” They were like, “He is Lenny.”
Saxon: Once Steve came in, the character felt incredibly necessary for us because we needed a foil, we needed a clown. Smart and savvy, but still the funny guy. Steve Zahn killed it.
Zahn: I remember Tom catching me at the elevator going, “Hey, that was great. Hope we can do this.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah.” I didn’t know if they were looking for people, but then they called my house, which was really cool.
With Zahn on board, preproduction and casting began in the summer. Splitting time between New York and Los Angeles, Hanks was thorough in choosing the band, and filled in the supporting roles and cameos with familiar and experienced actors.
Saxon: When you’re thinking about a budget, you look at comparative movies, and this wasn’t Purple Rain in 1984. We had incredibly first-class department heads: [costume designer] Colleen Atwood won the Academy Award four times; [production designer] Victor Kempster was coming off Oliver Stone movies. So [20th Century Fox] did it because they thought they’d make money with it. Nobody’s in the “Say no to Tom Hanks” business who wants to keep working.
Armian: The cast is just brilliant. Peter Scolari, Chris Isaak, Kevin Pollak, Alex Rocco.
Hanks: Everybody in the cast brought something that was not on the page to the stage. That is worth its weight in gold. That’s what you’re yearning for.
Tucker: We read a ton of people, and the people [Howard] liked he would show to Tom.
Choi: In terms of the guys, Tom saw everybody for those parts—Billy Crudup, Ed Norton... Ed had done [Primal Fear] with Richard Gere and he was getting all this attention, but then he dropped off. It was more of a scheduling thing.
Tucker: Matt Damon read in L.A. I think Ben Affleck might have, too. I think Luke [Wilson] read.
Sarah Koskoff (Chrissy Thompkins): [Howard] wanted somebody to read the female roles opposite people who were auditioning. It was an opportunity to hang out with Tom Hanks for a few weeks, and I learned more in those three weeks than probably anywhere else. Getting the [Chrissy] part was this amazing bonus.
Ellis: Who doesn’t want to work with Tom Hanks?
Holmes Osborne (Mr. Patterson): I saw in the Kansas City Star that Tom Hanks had written and was going to direct a movie. We exchanged letters, and I said, “If you see anything in there, I’d appreciate it.” Two days later I got a note: “You’ll be Mr. Patterson.” The thing about the guy is you can absolutely count on what he tells you.
Hanks: If I were to say who in the cast delivers the greatest hits, it’s Holmes. He’s one of the most intelligent and hilarious people I’ve ever met.
Tucker: When [Charlize Theron] came and read, she was one of the people where Tom left the room and then came back like, “I’d love you to play the part.”
Hanks: Charlize read on the very first day that I read actors. She said, “Listen, I know I can play Tina, but I want to play Faye.” I said, “I get that,” but what I was thinking in my head was, “You’re too much of a supernova to play Faye.” Casting her was such a coup.
Saxon: I remember Tom saying, “Gentlemen, we just met a movie star.” She was smart, glamorous, and had a phenomenal sense of humor, and when she said the words, you were like, there’s a whole character there. [Charlize Theron did not respond to an interview request.]
Ethan Embry (T.B. Player): I had just finished Empire Records and this audition came up. I was playing bass. I was kind of punk rock in the ’90s, lots of nail polish. I wore women’s clothes all the time. I think I put male clothes on for the audition, but I brought my bass completely tagged up with crap. One thing I remember—around the input jack, I had cut out a pornographic image and lacquered it, so when you plugged it in … yeah.
Hanks: He was an odd dude, man. I said, “We’ll have to clean him up.” That’s the odd duck that’s in the band. At the time, Ethan was very much involved in the counterculture and he was only 16. He was like an ephemeral creature who wasn’t sure where he was.
Embry: For the audition I learned the melody for “If I Only Had a Brain.” What I wasn’t ready for was Hanks to be there. It was a little nondescript office in Santa Monica and I remember thinking, “So Tom’s in there... cool.”
Johnathon Schaech (Jimmy): I remember getting that audition and being as nervous as I could be. There was a line out the door for that role. Every actor I ever knew. I did the “I quit, I quit” in the audition. It was just written as “‘I quit,” and Jimmy would leave. But since I was the singer, I quit while singing. And I dressed up like it was 1964. Tom, still to this day says, “You came in dressed for the part and no one else sang that.”
Hanks: He was dressed in a black suit and skinny tie and he had his hair combed in that Ashton Kutcher brush-over. He’s also extremely attractive.
Saxon: With these boy bands there were all these tropes about who’s the pretty one, the nice one. Johnathon looked the part of the heartthrob and he brought edge to it—he’s the guy who’s going to leave this band to record his own album when given the chance.
Hanks: The last casting was Faye and Guy. Those two parts had to balance. We were looking for a very specific chemistry.
Choi: Alicia Silverstone was who Tom wanted for Faye for a while. I think there was a scheduling conflict, so that conversation only went so far.
Tucker: [Liv] was also very close family friends with another producer that Howard worked with so we kind of knew about her. As gorgeous as she is, she was so down to earth. The girl next door … and the movie star.
Liv Tyler (Faye): I’m terrible at auditions. I’m not a classically trained actor at all. I had a meeting with Tom alone in his office, and we talked for a really long time, and then we sat at his desk and he said, “Let’s just read.” It was very casual. I don’t even remember it being filmed. He made me feel so comfortable and natural in style, able to do my best work.
Saxon: She just oozed decency, which is pretty cool.
Hanks: When I met Liv, there was no difference in her talking to me to her reading the part. She has a line in the movie where Lenny says, “Maybe we should make a record.” And Liv says, “You mean like a record record record?” That’s not the line, but it made total sense.
Tom Everett Scott (Guy Patterson): I was starting a theater company. We rented out this basement in Chelsea and we just put on little plays. I had done Law & Order and an episode of Grace Under Fire. Then my agent called and said he submitted me for this wonderful project. He gave me the script and I was like, “Oh, wow, this is the lead of a Tom Hanks-scripted movie.” He was my hero.
Tucker: I remember Howard asking an agent who we should see and he mentioned Tom’s name.
Scott: I played trumpet from fourth grade to 12th grade; I knew how to read music. I secretly wanted to be a drummer, it just never happened. I went in very nervous and Tom’s looking at my headshot, “OK, so it says trumpet and guitar...” He was like, “I know this could all be bullshit.” I was like, “No, I can read music.” The scene I read wasn’t even in the movie. I left and it seemed to go well. I was on cloud nine for a while.
Hanks: Tom had the same aspect [as Liv]. When he came in and read as Guy, there was no difference between the conversation I was having with him and his performance as Guy.
Saxon: There was a lot of young Hanks in him. And then it gets down to: Did you believe them when they read it? Was he lovable and complicated enough?
Wilson: Tom was showing me tapes and he said nobody was quite right. He goes, “Well, there’s this one guy that came in and he’s perfect for the part, but I think people are going to think he looks too much like me.” And I said, “Let me see.” He played me the audition tape, and I was like, “OK, this guy is the guy. Why wouldn’t you cast this guy?” Even if somebody said, “Oh, he looks like Tom. So what? He’s perfect for the role!”
Scott: So I went back and read with Liv Tyler, and that went well. He took a polaroid of us and he said, “Wait, wait, wait” and gave me some Ray-Bans. Eventually he called me to tell me he wanted me to be in the movie. That moment was one of the coolest moments that ever happened to me in my life.
Wilson: There was so much authenticity in the casting of everybody in that movie. You really believed that they were of that period, that they were incredible musicians.
Saxon: The best part is watching the edit and going, “Oh, we were right.”
Part 2: “This Is What the Beatles Would Do.”
At the same time casting took place, the production team, led by Gary Goetzman, was hard at work looking for the titular song that would serve as the movie’s musical foundation and inform the rest of the fictitious, ’60s-style soundtrack.
Hanks: Gary said, “Well, what about the music?” And I said, “What if we took great B-sides of hit singles. Maybe it will be cheaper, since licensing music for movies is incredibly expensive. And he said, “You know, dude, it’s not cheaper.” From that came, “Why don’t we have people create the music originally?”
Saxon: Essentially, we invited song writers to submit songs and demos.
Deva Anderson (music coordinator): I remember Gary specifically saying, “The more you describe what you want, the more someone gets boxed in.” You don’t want to limit the songwriter’s wealth of creativity. You want to just give them a runway, something like, “Beatles meets Beach Boys.”
Scott: Gary’s like, “We got 300 submissions.” Hanks had even written one.
Anderson: At one point we were like, “God, it’d be really cool to put an album out of all the “That Thing You Do’s” that got submitted. Jim Lauderdale did an incredible kind of countryfied version of it that still rings in my head. It wasn’t right for us, but wow, what a cool song.
Armian: I remember getting one version of the song at the office. Jonathan couldn’t wait to get home to listen, so I played it for him through the phone so he could hear it in the car.
Saxon: Tom’s a guy that likes to know what other people think. He asked us, “Did you play it five times in your car? Because you’re going to hear it 25 times during the first two weeks of shooting.”
Adam Schlesinger (songwriter, to Consequence): I had recently signed a music-publishing deal with Polygram. I had some friends there who knew that I liked writing ’60s-style, melodic sort of pop stuff. They heard about this movie that was happening, and they said, “You should take a crack at this. This is up your alley.” The fact that it was a Tom Hanks project made it feel like it was worth a couple of days of effort.
Mike Viola (lead vocalist): I had moved to New York with my suitcase and basically showed up at [Adam’s] loft. I was 28, my wife had just died. I was lost. I was really depressed and fucked up. Adam said to me, “Did you hear about That Thing You Do!? Come on man, we should do it, it’ll be great!” That was his slogan pretty much. I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I love Tom Hanks, but I don’t know, man. I don’t want to be distracted by this.”
Schlesinger: At the time, he was sort of in the place of “I just wanna do my art, man. You’re the one who does movies and TV.” I remember spending two or three days on it. As I recall, I had three variations of the same song. They were all slightly different. I played them all for a few of my friends, and they all pointed to the same one.
Viola: He played the last one. I was like, “That’s the one.” It was just perfect. Except that the chords weren’t very Beatles-y. So he was like, “Show me some of those Beatle inversions. What would George Harrison do, what would happen here?” The song was essentially 1-4-5, so it’s E-A-B-E. That’s from a song called “Hold Me Tight.” And then when it goes, “Breakin’ my heart...” it’s a C-sharp minor. I was like, “This is what the Beatles would do.”
Schlesinger: There’s a little bit of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” when it sort of goes to that minor chord, which I think is the best chord in the whole song.
Viola: A couple days go by, and Adam said, “Hey let’s go in the studio tomorrow with Andy Chase.” I agree to do it, and then Saturday morning rolls around and I’m so fucking hung over. I smoked so much back then. I’m not bragging, it was just really sad. But he was my best friend.
Andy Chase (music producer): I came to the studio on the east side, and there’s Mike Viola and Adam, and they’re hard at work on this song. They played me what they had recorded so far. I was like, “Guys, if you want them to pick the song, it’s got to sound like The Beatles, right? Isn’t that the reference? We have to start mic-ing everything mono, not stereo. We have to crunch things up.”
Viola: The intro lick is just a complete ripoff. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s the beginning of a Pixies song. When it came time to do my vocals, I was smoking, I was hung over. That rasp—I was kind of born with that raspy sound. And then I did the harmonies and I was like, “It’s gonna be George and John, I know these voicings, just let me do it.” So I did the background vocals, and then I think we put handclaps on. The whole thing was a little bit wobbly like an old master tape.
Chase: It was all on analog tape then. So I’d slow the tape down. And then after we recorded those background vocals, I put the tape back at normal speed. It raised the pitch and gave it a Monkees feel.
Viola: Andy mixed the shit out of it. We had this band called Scientist Alexis at the time, so we just slapped “Scientist Alexis” on the tape and sent that in.
Hanks: Adam’s song was the second or third song we heard. We had a totem pole contest. “OK, that is at the top of the totem pole.” It was just perfect. It did everything I described in the script and it sounded like a hit from the era. You can hear the exclamation mark in the song.
Schlesinger: It was a period of several months at least of not having a definitive answer. Ultimately, someone called and said, “We’re using it.”
Viola: I was like, “I really don’t want to do it.” Adam’s like, “C’mon dude! What’re you doing?” A couple days later I got a call from [producer] Don Was, and he asked me to come to L.A. to sing and play guitar and help him finish the song. So they sent me the script. I didn’t even bring it with me. I was a punk kid, but I was also going through a lot of stuff. I flew to L.A. and it was at Ocean Way in Studio 3, which is the Pet Sounds room. I just went in and I sang it twice. Don was like, “Holy shit! You really know how to do this!” And I was like, “Wait, really?”
Anderson: I think it was Gary who had known Scott Rogness and Rick Elias, and that’s where those [other] songs started to come in. We were finding songs, creating songs and starting from scratch and creating this world, basically. And learning from Gary, who’s just a master at it.
Viola: Gary Goetzman arrived and explained, “Look, you’re potentially the voice of this character.” And I said, “I don’t want to be.” I remember him saying, “Can we go for a walk?” He’s like, “Look man, there’s a lot of work for you in this town if you want it. You’re so good, Tom loves your voice, and we are really happy and really stoked you’re here.” So I sang “Little Wild One” and [“All My Only Dreams”]. I brought this darkness, this sad energy, and I think the pathos is some of what you hear in the songs.
When I went back to New York, I was talking to people I knew, like the guys in Squeeze, and the guys in They Might Be Giants and Marshall Crenshaw—they had all written versions of “That Thing You Do.” I didn’t know that everyone was trying to do that. There’s no internet, there’s no ramp of information. I was like, “Wow, so we are the ones that did it. That’s so cool.”
Part 3: “We Knew We Were Looking Like a Band.”
While Hanks, Goetzman, and the rest of the music team hired other professional musicians to fill out the soundtrack, the Wonders actors spent the fall going through band bootcamp, learning to play their respective instruments before shooting began.
Scott: My teacher Billy Ward goes, “Hey man, I’m not going to do that bullshit like teaching paradiddles, I’m going to teach you how to hold the sticks, look cool and learn these songs.” We had four weeks, and I think we met every single day for four hours at a studio. And then I booked an additional four after. This is my 9-to-5 job, I’m going to learn all these parts.
Zahn: I remember meeting Tom at this studio in New York one night and we were both giddy and talking about our instructors. Then he played and I was blown away. You can have rhythm, but that’s a different mindset to be able to do that.
Scott: I wasn’t able to do the hand and feet thing at the same time, and then one day it just came to me. I was way ahead of Steve. He was good, but the electric guitar—he was struggling. He was looking at me like, “Dude you know this stuff.”
Schaech: They got me a singing coach. He’s like, “You’ve got to come with me on Sunday and sing at my church off Wilshire Boulevard.” I didn’t trust myself at all. The goal was to look like I could sing. As much as I wanted us to get the chords right, I wanted to get my part right.
Embry: All I ever did was sing backup every once in a while, and then I just learned the bass line to it.
Schaech: We had to learn “Little Wild One,” “All My Only Dreams,” and “That Thing You Do!” Steve Zahn would always throw in a John Prine song we had to learn. We learned a lot of Beatles songs.
Scott: Diana Choi was sending everybody video tapes of everything from 1964: The Beatles’ appearance on Ed Sullivan, commercials, the World Series, the news, American Bandstand.
Choi: We just put together packages of research materials about the time period—what their point of view might have been as an 18-year-old at the time. That kind of care went into every fiber of the film.
Scott: Then it really came together in L.A. around Halloween. I remember driving up to Culver Studios. Tom Hanks was in a wolf mask and Ethan was in a dress.
Hanks: I said, “Guys, here’s what you do. Tom, always have the sticks and always be playing paradiddles wherever you are. … When you’re home, put the guitar on and walk around the house.” Johnathan Schaech wore the guitar like the bumper of a car.
Embry: We started rehearsing as a group, and that was every day, five some-odd hours a day, the same song over and over. Those are lovely dudes, but oh my God. Woof. It was a lot.
Scott: I can honestly say I’ve heard that song more than most. I love it, but we’d get sick of it.
Zahn: We played those songs over and over and over on stage with the sound guys for the playback, and Gary and Tom would stop in. It was fun, and we’d screw around.
Scott: We would just go and see Russell Scott and the Red Hots or Earl Palmer, a ‘60s vibe kind of music. It was super fun. I would see as many jazz musicians as I could.
Embry: Because I was the young one, they’d go out and get a drink and I’d go home and smoke a bunch of weed.
Zahn: And then we got really confident. We knew we were looking like a band.
Scott: It was always like a lip-sync battle.
Hanks: I said, “Don’t worry about the fidelity of your playing, because if it doesn’t match, it’s not going to be in the movie.” I wanted them to experience nothing but the joy of performing on stage.
Embry: [If they cut off the music] you’d hear it. “That’s the same song, but what happened to the band?” It would be a Milli Vanilli moment.
Scott: We were bonding as dudes, and this table read was coming up and Johnathon Schaech said, “Let’s wear matching uniforms.”
Schaech: We all met at the mall off Wilshire and La Cienega, and we went to thrift stores to get clothes.
Zahn: We got these skinny ties and white shirts and vests, it was great. Usually you show up to these things and you’re like “Super cool, it’s the read-through, what a waste of time,” but it really set the tone for that movie. Everybody came in like, “Oh shit, these guys are for real.”
Schaech: We had a blast. Adam and Mike Viola were there. It was thrilling. You felt grateful and inspired to do well.
Anderson: As a music coordinator, it was incredibly exciting and amazing to see that.
Saxon: This was a movie that was going to live or die by a lot of things, but one of them was catching a buzz from this band. I remember thinking “Oh, this is really funny, this is just as charming as we hoped.”
Scott: Tom was like “Oh, OK. That’s cute.”
Hanks: That was when Johnathan told me, “All right you’ve got to take out six locations and 15 pages.” I literally went from, “Hey, that was really great,” to, “You now have a shitload of work you have to do.”
Part 4: “We Are Here to Have a Blast.”
That Thing You Do! began filming after Thanksgiving throughout Greater Los Angeles. Considering it was his first time in the director’s chair, Tom Hanks made working on set a seamless, lighthearted, and collaborative experience for everyone involved.
Embry: When you work in close proximity to Tom Hanks, you’re working with the best in Hollywood.
Schaech: He was the nicest human being I’d ever met. If I was gloom-and-doom-y, he would always cheer me up, do a little dance.
Wilson: Tom’s a person that’s very methodical, very thought-out—he was very prepared. When you’re really in the nuts and bolts of directing, you realize how much more work goes into it. I think he really loved doing it.
Ellis: When we started to work on the movie, Tom and I had a little confab about how [Phil Horace] would develop throughout the movie. And I said, “Where do I screw over the band?” And he held up his hands with two stop signs and said, “No bad guys in my movie.” I know what happened to garage bands, and they got fucked across the board. That’s just how the industry was. He held up the stop signs again: “No bad guys in my movie.”
Hanks: I don’t believe guys that are overtly evil and demonstrate how overtly evil they are. I like guys who are conflicted, who do things that are not pleasant but everybody understands why.
Scott: There isn’t really a bad guy, except Sol Siler.
Embry: What about Wolfman? Wolfman’s a fucking dick. Wolfman broke the fucking band up. Fuck that guy.
Hanks: The cutthroat aspect of it—Ringo is replaceable with Jimmie Nicol. Nobody cares who the Wonders’ bass player is on the Hollywood Television Showcase.
Embry: His name is Tobias. His last name is Player.
Saxon: It was like, what’s wrong with just communicating positivity and joy? If only for today, you can get out of your small town and get to a bigger life, or at least get a picture of it.
Ellis: Tom was explaining how they were shooting this scene with Tom Scott and me. He said, “We’ve got a camera over here and a camera over there across the street.” And I said, “And a sniper up there, and a sniper up there,” because he was pointing at windows. And Tom said, “No, you’ve got to sell it. When there’s a sniper, you don’t just get shot, you’ve got to throw your arm against the wall and flap it a bit.” And then Tom threw himself down on the sidewalk and shook a leg and arm like he was being electrocuted.
Dan Webster (art director): It was always a very lighthearted set to be around. He takes the work seriously, but he’s been around so long that he knows what’s important and what’s not.
Zahn: I remember laughing so much.
Kevin Pollak (Boss Vic Koss): Life can be sucked out of a set by a director. His goal was, “We are here to have a blast.”
Scott: The town of Orange, California, was Erie, because they liked the layout of that town.
Hanks: The very first day of shooting was inside the coffee shop in Erie. I felt like a petrified tree with roots down to the center of the earth. I had a moment of cranial plate shift, facing the void of the cosmos.
Embry: We’re in 1964, but there’s 10,000 people at the end of the street that know Tom Hanks is there. They’re trying to scream and get his attention every time he walks out.
Zahn: You hear this chanting: “Tom, Tom, Tom.”
Schaech: I remember the crowds like The Beatles were in town, and they would put these screens around so Tom could work.
Embry: When we were doing the cafe scene, it got so loud that Tom said, “I have to go out, we’re going to take a 15-minute break.”
Zahn: He just walks out the door, walks out into the middle of the street, and—[gives Forrest Gump wave]—and it was so funny. They all cheered and then he came back in and they were quiet.
Saxon: Nobody wears the mantle of stardom better than Tom Hanks.
Hanks: Once you say, “We’re all in this together,” they’ll help out.
Scott: Tom said to me and John, Steve, Ethan and Liv, “This is my golden rule: be on time and know your lines. If you can do that, everything will take care of itself.”
Hanks: This is a great truth about “time is money.” There’s a type of momentum, attention, and common purpose that is lost when you can’t start on time.
Zahn: I remember we were late once. We were all kind of straggling in 10 minutes late.
Scott: Steve overslept, I overslept, and coincidentally Johnny overslept. The weirdest day to oversleep. Gary takes us aside, he’s like “OK, you can never be late, Tom’s very disappointed.” That’s all we needed to hear. Never late again.
Zahn: I’ve never been late since then. Not one time.
Embry: All of the times I fucked up on that movie, I never got in trouble with Tom. One of our first performance scenes, I had already gotten in trouble—my cat scratched me on my face and I’d darkened my hair. I played bass with my fingers, and we did a couple takes and Gary ran up to me. He was so mad, and he’s got a pick and he says, “You’re not playing with Stevie Wonder, kid, you’re in a rock band, play with a pick!” Gary took me to his office on more than one occasion, but Tom was always like, “Hey, how are you doing?”
Tyler: With Tom and Gary, I really appreciated the level of experience and organization and the way the two of them honored and respected and balanced each other, like a right and left arm.
Saxon: I thought in general Hanks handled them like an eagle scout. He also wasn’t afraid to help them get it quickly because he wanted to move on.
Koskoff: He would tell us what to say without telling us how to say it.
Sean Whalen (fan): When he was explaining [me shouting at the band], he was like, “Yeah you kind of yell like “Ayyyyyy!” I was like, “That sounds like ‘There’s no crying in baseball.’” I got my own private comedy Tom Hanks yelling show.
Osborne: The first scene in my store, I was looking at an ad from Telemart. Tom sensed I was a bit stiff. He said “Less is more.” He gave me the points he wanted to hit. One thing he said I want to be sure you say is, “I don’t believe I want to live in a country where a man has to work on Sunday to make a living. My dad always said that.” He knew what he needed to do to get me natural.
Tyler: We all just trusted him so much. He made time to speak to all of us, and look us in the eye and communicate with such kindness.
Zahn: It was really loose and cool. Sometimes it would be like, “We should do something here.”
Scott: The process with Steve was we’d do the scene, then Tom would go over and sit with Steve and be like, “OK, now this time, say this.” And they’d crack each other up and they’d do it.
Zahn: Sometimes I would add things. “Hey, I should sit with you in the plane,” and then he’d say, “Open up the candy but open it up here so we can see it,” and then he made me chew it.
Hanks: He ended up adding the crunching of the teeth. It was like Lenny was going to bug Mr. White as much as he possibly could.
Zahn: Or us playing cards. That was totally thought up. I remember him saying earlier in the day, “We’ve got to find something to do with you.” And then an hour later: “You know, maybe you play cards with these guys.”
Embry: Everything that people love about that movie, that’s Tom’s mind. When the music director wanted to know how certain songs would sound, Tom would call him up and hum them.
Hanks: I just had an idea for this Lawrence Welk song, it goes something like [sings, “You are the winter, fall, and spring, you are the sun that ...] those syrupy voices. And Gary said, “Call up Mike Piccirillo and leave it on his answering machine.”
Zahn: My mom was on set, and we were doing the scene in the diner where I grab the flower, “Does my breath smell good?” We had run the scene a couple times. It was very quiet. We finished and Tom was like, “Alright. ...I think that’s pretty good. Zelda, what do you think?” My mom goes, “...Yeah.” It was really great. She always remembers that.
Part 5: “He Felt Like Something Magical Had Happened.”
Arguably the movie’s best scene takes place early, when the band hears “That Thing You Do!” on the radio for the first time. It’s an electric moment—the group converging at the Patterson appliance store in pure ecstasy, celebrating in unison like all their dreams had just come true.
Saxon: In music movies, there is the moment where you go, “Wait a minute, the magic wand is going to touch me? I’m going to have a hit?” That is the thrill of victory moment, and if the audience goes along for the ride, it’s exhilarating.
Scott: It always read like a really great moment in the script, but I didn’t know how they were going to shoot it.
Hanks: This is the one scene that came out exactly as I drew it in stick-figure storyboards.
Embry: They put that whole facade up, they returned that to 1964. The cars, the people, the storefronts.
Scott: They reconstructed the sidewalks, all this stuff to make it look different. It was so exciting to be part of something that would just literally change the world we were in.
Webster: I remember figuring out where that mailbox needed to go. It had to be put in the right spot so that Tom could get the shot of Liv mailing the letter at the beginning, and seeing the [Woolworth’s] sign in the background.
Tyler: They were so generous about actually playing the song and Tom was talking in my ear, being the radio person.
Hanks: We didn’t have a mix, so I recorded “WJET coming at you, hey, here’s a big song ...” We piped that into her ear.
Embry: Liv is out and hears it first and then she finds me at the Army-Navy store and we’re running down the street screaming and yelling.
Tyler: Ethan and I had worked together in Empire Records, so we were super close and we had spent a couple years being friends. We were just teenagers, and it’s the kind of thing we would be doing, hanging out at home listening to music.
Scott: Everyone was really excited about them running down the street. I remember coming in after and people were like, “Oh, we got great stuff with Ethan and Liv.”
Richard Chew (editor): We wanted to make sure that each character had equal time.
Embry: We go into the appliance shop—we did a couple takes of it—and then Tom pulled me aside and ran me down about how Tobias, being in the military and wanting that etiquette, would definitely wipe his feet on the mat when he came inside. “When you come in that door, it’s just second nature.” We did it in one take, and I came in and wiped my feet.
Zahn: I just watched that two days ago—it hopped up on my Youtube feed. I saw Ethan wipe his shoes and it made me howl again. I laughed so hard. Everything Hanks does has depth.
Embry: Jimmy and Lenny stop in the street and jump out and don’t even close the doors. Every little thing about it is so good.
Scott: When everybody runs in, Tom said, “I know this is going to sound silly, but I want you to hold hands and jump around in a circle.”
Zahn: We didn’t actually take that literally. And he’s like “No, guys, I want you to hold hands and skip in a circle.”
Schaech: The hardest part was to dance like that because Jimmy had a pole up his ass. He was such a loner. To watch those guys bond and have a good time was always painful, but that was one scene I got to be a part of it.
Hanks: A number of those idiots still smoke cigarettes, and by the end, some of them were huffing and puffing.
Pollak: When Steve Zahn can’t control himself and he kisses the cardboard cutout…
Hanks: I wanted to get a cutaway to the younger sister. I said, “Go over and flirt and get nowhere and then do something with the cutout.”
Zahn: I think Tom said, “Kiss the cardboard cutout.” And then I kind of hit it, because it starts falling really slowly, and I just catch it. It was very theatrical.
Chew: This is maybe the first time that they felt the high together, the success of the moment together, and there’s no conflicts yet—nobody’s broken up with anybody, there’s no jealousy. They’re just thrilled that their first song has made the radio.
Tyler: I know what that’s like, to hear someone I love’s song on the radio, and it never gets old.
Scott: Last shot, they put the camera up high, they were like, “You just come to this mark and you just yell ‘I am Spartacus!’” And that first take I did it, and Tom said, “Cut, print, perfect.” [The crew] was like, “His hands weren’t in the frame,” and Tom looked at me and was like, “No, no, no, we got it. We can’t improve on that.”
Hanks: That was a catchphrase that was around for a really long time. It’s really hilarious in a play called Bleacher Bums about Chicago baseball fans.
Chew: When I showed Tom my cut of it, he was so thrilled. He came over and kind of spread his hands over my keyboard, and he said something like, “May the fairy dust continue to flow over the keyboard.” He felt like something magical had happened.
Part 6: “When She Told Me She Wasted All Those Kisses, It Broke My Heart.”
Once the Wonders meet Tom Hanks’s manager, Mr. White, in Pittsburgh, they join the Play-Tone Galaxy of Stars on a Midwest tour as their song races up the charts. Pulling off all the musical performances required teamwork, attention to detail, and the ability to find solutions for some unexpected obstacles.
Pollak: I remember Tom getting a big kick out of the name “Boss Vic Koss,” like that was such an asshole moniker to give yourself. The way he dances out on stage is sort of instant buffoon. I was allowed to sort of improvise, that’s where the “momma poppa” came from.
Hanks: Boy did he get it. Pittsburgh’s mattress King.
Osborne: I told Tom, “I used to be in a band in high school called The Trends.” He never paid much attention to it, but if you look at the marquee where the Wonders are playing, you will see the name The Trends. He has a mind like a steel trap.
Webster: They’re supposed to be in four different states on tour, and we shot two of them at the Orange County fairgrounds and the other ones at the Pomona Fairplex.
Tyler: It was really set up like a state fair. I had life-sized, giant stuffed animals in the back of my car buckled in the back seat like they were people for the whole few months while we were shooting. We would play all the games and steal stuffed animals.
Scott: The Play-Tone Galaxy. The island of misfit toys. All these one-hit wonders and disgruntled musicians on tour together. It was such a great thing Tom envisioned.
Hanks: Gary knew the guy who was the lead of a band called the Hondells. I said, “So you guys were on this tour all summer long?” He said, “We performed our song three times a night all summer.” That inspired the cavalcade of stars tour.
Robert Torti (Freddy Fredrickson): The description as I recall was “Bobby Darin”—very cool, suave, had his career and now he is doing this circuit because he’s in the twilight of his career. I remember the first time they hit playback and I started full singing going, “Jeez, this sounds really good. Oh wait, that’s the recording.”
Chaille Percival (Diane Dane): [“My World Is Over”] was kind of a power ballad of the ‘60s. It was big and fun. I was nervous as hell back then, singing someone else’s song.
Schaech: While we were filming, I had a date with Madonna. We got along really well, and we probably would have dated under different circumstances. I think I talked to her about singing over the phone a couple times. I kept thinking she was like my Diane Dane. I was so shy with [Chaille], but when she sat on my lap, you feel like such a tool. Jimmy wanted to be around her. That’s how I made it all make sense.
Zahn: We loved the fact that people thought we were playing, even while shooting. So we had a deal with playback: “Don’t just cut it off, let us live our dream.”
Pollak: There’s a moment where there’s a cutaway of Tom in the audience and he does this little fist pump on a very specific beat of the song. It’s so incredibly effective.
Hanks: It was premeditated. I wanted to have one moment where even Mr. White demonstrates that “Hey, this is a good thing.” That is the absolute height of the tour.
Colleen Atwood (costume designer): I sort of wanted them to look like guys who weren’t aware of how they looked until Mr. White got a hold of them. It was an imposed style, but then they owned it. I loved that period because I found so much real stuff that I just bought. I remember going to a place called Hullabaloo in St. Louis for a day and buying tons of those colored suits.
Tyler: I’ll never forget my first fitting. They constructed this incredible undergarment like an old-fashioned bathing suit with leggings. Our trousers were so tight that we couldn’t bend our knees.
Embry: There was a feed store with a cage full of little ducks. So I got a duck and his name was Salvador Duckee. I was Mother Duck, I would feed him from my mouth. Then we went to Pomona. I told my little sister to take care of the duck. She made a bath for Salvador, but he didn’t have a way out of the bath, so Salvador didn’t survive that bath. I learned of Salvador’s demise when we were doing the red suit day. I felt horrible, awful. And I pooped myself. In the suit.
Atwood: I didn’t have doubles for any of that stuff. You don’t even think about it, you’re just like “Oh my God.” You go rinse them out and get the blow dryer out, hand them back to him.
Hanks: All I could think was, “You are 16, aren’t you?”
Embry: Tom seemed really gracious about it. He let me shower in his trailer because he was the only one that had a shower. They laid down cardboard from the door to the shower. Later that night a doctor came and said I had gotten dysentery from mouth-to-mouth feeding Salvador. I’ll be the first to admit I fucked up. I can laugh about it now. But yeah, I pooped the red pants.
Atwood: He’s not the first actor in my life that’s pooped their pants in costume.
Some of the best cameos and scenes occur once the band flies to Los Angeles near the end of the movie. The production shot inside and around the shuttered Ambassador Hotel—famous for featuring prominent singers at its nightclub, hosting six Oscar telecasts, and being the site of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination—and on the Price Is Right stage for the “Hollywood Showcase’’ scenes.
Schaech: I asked Tom, “Where’d you come up with [Cap’n Geech]?” He said he would drive past it going to Forrest Gump when they were doing the boating stuff.
Hanks: There was an abandoned fast-food place called Cap’n Geech’s Shrimp Shack. We drove past it every single night all summer long. The name just killed me.
Atwood: It was kind of an homage to those beach movies in the ’60s.
Armian: Jonathan was giddy about doing [the scene as the director]. He was bopping his head a lot.
Obba Babatundé (Lamarr): When you walked into the halls of The Ambassador, it was almost like the spirits of those individuals were there.
Tyler: When we arrived on the first day, it was like a full working hotel. Ethan and I would just sneak off and go exploring, and we went into these upper floors that were completely derelict and terrifying, like a haunted house. We found a tunnel that used to go from the kitchen to these bungalows where people would have been sneaking.
Schaech: I remember Zahn taking us through all the things, thinking it was a functioning hotel. It wasn’t, but they made it look so perfect.
Zahn: It was ghostly. Any second I had off I was trying to soak it all in, finding the spot where Bobby Kennedy was shot.
Babatundé: My intention was to make Lamarr sort of this fictitious, magical, fantastical character.
Hanks: “Oh you want good jazz?” I love his outrage there. I knew guys like Lamarr. Those guys knew every secret and viewed their hotel as their domain.
Scott: Tom had Obba hit the top of the cab and then you cut to Alphonse Mouzon playing that drum beat.
Babatundé: So many people always identify that scene and talk about that moment. That was actually a moment out of my personal life. I was breaking up with a girlfriend. She was leaving my apartment for the last time, and I said to the driver, “Get her home safe.” And as the car pulled off I went [knocks twice], and it was like a period on that relationship.
Chew: Rita had just given birth to Truman and this was her first outing, being on the set after being a mom, and Tom was so proud of that. He would be saying things like, “God, Rita’s so beautiful, right?”
Wilson: I was in this playboy bunny costume and high heels and had to smoke a cigarette and work in a nightclub—everything that is the antithesis to being the mother of a newborn. It was very funny.
Hanks: I said to Colleen, “Make her the cocktail waitress in every young man’s dreams.”
Scott: He came up to me later and said, “Wow I was really focused on Rita, and you were doing this great three-martini drunk.” Rita was great to work with, Bill [Cobbs] was great to work with. It’s all about who’s in the scene with you.
Wilson: He was giving me notes. I remember Gary saying, “Hey, go easy on her!”
Scott: We were at the Hollywood Showcase, we had been shooting the band performance and Tom said, ”Guys I would love for you to join me in dailies,” and we went down to this little theater. Tom reached forward and put his hand on me and was like, “This is great, Tom.” My wife was with me, Tom had a little tear in his eye, and we all hugged. He said, “Thank you for doing such a good job playing the drums, you’re saving the movie.”
Hanks: It was true. We don’t have a movie unless we buy that he has a joy and ability to play the drums. Tom did all the work.
Tyler: Colin Hanks was in that scene when he walked me to my seat. We used to just adore each other. I shared a beer with him one night in my giant trailer. I felt like I was corrupting him.
Atwood: I had an idea for her dress. I’ve always loved that ivory and dark red combo with dark hair. That was my inspiration, the glamorous side of the ‘60s.
Schaech: When me and Liv broke up, when she told me she wasted all those kisses, it broke my heart. She was trying to be the greatest actress, to be at the level you’d imagine Tom Hanks wanted.
Tyler: That was a moment of connection for me, the character and the writing, where it all came out purely and sincerely and I felt the emotion of it as I was saying it. I think everyone can relate to that, whether it’s a parent, a sibling, a teacher. That feeling of someone not seeing you for who you are completely.
Hanks: I knew that Liv was going to get to that place because she’s extremely sensitive and had done it again and again.
Schaech: I knew that I had to have my throughline in that moment, and I asked for a bunch of guitar strings so that I could string my guitar. I wasn’t told to do that, but I knew that he was in love with his guitar.
Webster: The scene where Jimmy quits, we ended up building that set at Fox.
Schaech: When Hanks said I didn’t have class, that was to Jimmy, but that hurt me. He was so good at telling me that. I remember almost saying, “Do you really have to say that to me, Tom?”
Hanks: Record companies did have these contracts. If we tell you that you’re going to put out a version in Spanish, you’re going to put it out in Spanish.
Tyler: I’ve seen every version of [band drama] that you can imagine. Whether it’s the manager or a girlfriend coming between a band member. I grew up around Todd Rundgren recording and traveling and playing—at a certain point they had to say no girlfriends allowed backstage because Todd would get very nervous before a show, it would sort of make it worse.
Scott: When I got cast, my wife said, “You’re not going to fall in love with Liv Tyler, are you?” I was like, “Of course not, baby.” But there’s the kiss scene coming up and you’re always thinking about that. I would joke with Liv like, “You ready? Get ready, it’s going to be awesome!” And she was like, “It better be!” You brush your teeth, you make sure your breath is good, and you go in for the kiss.
Tyler: I’m 5-foot-10 and I remember it was so nice to lean up and kiss him, and he kind of swept me off my feet a little bit. It was like an old movie star kiss, that sort of image that we’ve all seen growing up our whole lives on the big screen.
Scott: Later I had to re-record my dialogue. Tom was like, “It’s good, but your voice was kind of high, and this is the moment we want it to be down.” It improved that moment dramatically.
Hanks: The sophisticated critics blanched. “You’re going to end like this?” But what I wanted to say at the end of the movie—and Faye says it—is that “None of this would have happened if Guy hadn’t joined the band.”
Babatundé: Initially there were two endings. There’s the postcards that tell us what happened. But we also shot one where Lamarr capsulized everybody’s life. And we shot it like, “Now you may remember...let me tell you what they’re doing.” When they screened it, 50 percent of the audience liked it and 50 percent liked the other one. They ended up going with the postcards, but they left my look into the camera.
Hanks: When I saw American Graffiti and I saw those [post-credits] hits of it, it blew me away and I ripped it off.
Scott: The last day of shooting was emotional, but the wrap party was fun. Hanks came up to me and said, “This is your wrap gift, the drum kit.” I was like, “Oh my God.”
Wilson: I remember the wrap party at Chasen’s because Chet was five years old and we took him to the party because he was old enough. We were driving there and he said, “Hey Mom, Dad, is Coolio going to be there?” And I’m like, “Coolio? Why would Coolio be here?” He goes, “Well, you said it was a rap party.”
Part 7: “There Are People That Absolutely Geek Out.”
The movie’s Los Angeles premiere took place at the Century Plaza Cinema in Century City, kicking off an international press tour that turned Hanks and the cast into versions of their characters.
Armian: The premiere was the best, biggest, most epic premiere I have ever been to in my life. The crackle and the excitement and enthusiasm and support of the community was like magic. People were tapping their toes as they were walking out.
Chew: They found an adjacent parking lot where they could stage this carnival.
Armian: Fox had set up a state fair-type thing, with a carousel, a Ferris wheel, a strongman. It was a full-on amusement park.
Whalen: I just remember no one was on the dance floor. Charlize Theron and I were the first people on the dance floor.
Armian: It was very star-studded. The studio supported it in a major way.
Hanks: Back then studios would throw big bucks for the nature of the premiere, just to get photographs and newsreel stuff, so they brought in all that stuff. By that time I was running on fumes.
Choi: They went on their press tour as if they were the Wonders, jetting around and making appearances and performing. I thought that was a pretty cool aspect of promoting the film.
Zahn: I remember Tom coming up to us: “Do you guys like Hamburg?” He’s like, “What about Paris? Do you think you’d like Paris a little more?” Colin [Hanks] was in Paris. He’s like, “Take Colin out and get a couple beers,” sorta thing.
Schaech: We went to the premiere in London. The girls broke the red carpet line running towards us. I remember thinking “Oh my God, it’s happening, we’re turning into The Beatles!” But they ran right past us.
Zahn: We turned around and there’s Hanks. We were like, “Damn!”
Schaech: We were going to play in Japan. Tom Everett Scott was all excited and we were all pumped up. And then they go to get the passports and Tom was like, “Passports?” And they were like “Yeah, Japan’s a different country, you need your passport.” We dropped him off in Alaska.
Scott: I had a trip to L.A. where I took some meetings. In my mind I was always going to leave from New York to go to Japan, but my trip to L.A. got extended—therefore I didn’t bring my passport with me.
Zahn: We were leaving him on the tarmac in Alaska as we refueled and a tray of crab and shrimp was being brought on. We’re like, “See ya!”
Schaech: Snow was everywhere, and Tom was standing inside a booth when we took off into the night.
Scott: They continued onto Tokyo, but I had to fly from Alaska to Seattle and stay one night in a hotel while my wife handed my passport to a courier, and that passport was Learjetted directly. I can only imagine what my mistake cost the studio. Next morning, I was the only person in first class on the flight to Japan. The in-flight movie was That Thing You Do! I signed a couple of things. One of the funniest, strangest experiences.
Zahn: We’re at some tempura house in Tokyo and Tom [Everett Scott] walks in and we’re all like, “Yay!” Then we go on this show and you walk into the studio and people are clapping and you’re like, “What is happening? Fuck.” And the screen comes down, and we get microphones. I look at Hanks and he’s like, “Well, I guess we’re going to Karaoke now.”
On October 4, 1996, That Thing You Do! debuted quietly. Despite being Hanks’s directorial debut, the movie struggled at the box office, earning just $25 million domestically and only $8.7 million internationally. Eventually, though, thanks to cable and VHS sales, it found a younger, passionate audience.
Webster: There was a lot of publicity around it. Tom directed his first movie; it had all these good people in it; extremely attractive cast. And then for some reason, it seemed to just kind of fizzle a little bit.
Schaech: I remember catching up with Goetzman and they were concerned for Tom because it was everything for him. [But] they didn’t have the momentum to be no. 1. They didn’t beat The First Wives Club.
Choi: You’re always hoping that your movie is going to connect with a broad audience and there was no clear reason as to why.
Hanks: Everybody wants their movie to cause fistfights and riots and make history. I knew it wasn’t going to do that, but I was disappointed. You don’t want a movie to do OK and peter out, which is what it did. We had a three-star movie but we didn’t do three-star business.
Chew: I think that 20th Century Fox knew they were making a gamble in having a cast of young people, and that even though Tom directed it, it didn’t have the clout of a movie that he was starring in.
Armian: Not to say that Jonathan wasn’t fiscally responsible, but it didn’t bother him one bit. He loved the movie, he loved the experience.
Scott: It still got rave reviews. My mom and dad clipped all these reviews and sent them to me. People genuinely liked it. It’s years later when it starts to become more of a thing. It’s all places, all levels, all people. There are people that absolutely geek out.
Schaech: I remember Goetzman telling me it was going on VH1 for 24 hours, and that’s when it had a life like nobody’s business.
Percival: That movie did so well on DVD and just had so much play and love compared to the success it had in the theater.
Hanks: The movie benefits from its place in the business arc. We came out in 1996. Home video and the ability to see the movie anytime you want to has been a great added advantage to its growth.
Schaech: Steve Zahn and I were down with Rascal Flatts and Journey at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. This car stopped in the middle of the street, this guy got out, looked at us and screamed, “Oh my God, it’s the Wonders!”
Scott: There’s a lot of people that come up and say “I got into drumming because of you.”
Schaech: Anyone who was in a band would always geek out, and always share their band experience. Stephen Stills was like, “That’s my band Buffalo Springfield.”
Babatundé: About two months ago, somebody hit my car, so I put a note on their car, “Please reach out.” So they did, and the guy goes, “Oh my God, you’re Lamarr! And he said one of my lines is [his] daughter’s email address.
Ellis: Fifteen years later, parents were stopping me in airports and 7-Elevens saying “Hey, we bought that movie for our kids because we wanted them to see that movie.”
Saxon: That’s the crazy thing about That Thing You Do! I thought we were making a film for people who had nostalgia about the period. And it turned out that the people who were the craziest about the movie were people in middle school, who didn’t really care about Tom Hanks. I would have loved to see what would have happened if we aimed at a younger audience.
Embry: You hear from all different kinds of families this is the movie they watch together.
Wilson: Our entire family quotes lines from the movie. If somebody does something wrong, or makes a goof, we always say, “Chad fell down.” We always quote, “Let it burn, let it burn all night!”
Scott: I got this email offer to be in Damien Chazelle’s movie [La La Land]. I was like, “What?” Damien said [to his casting director], “I am the biggest That Thing You Do! fan. Do you think we could get him?” I was like, “It’s not that difficult to get a hold of me.” Damien and his now-wife bonded over it. They were on some road trip and they were listening to a playlist and he saw the next song was “That Thing You Do!” He was like, “Well, if she doesn’t like this song, I don’t think we can be together.” It came on and she was like, “I love this song.”
Chazelle (to Uproxx): Emma [Stone] asked me, “Hey, so who did you cast?” And I said, “Oh, it’s this actor Tom Everett Scott.” She goes, “Shades! That Thing You Do!” And she starts quoting the movie. And then she grabs Ryan [Gosling] and she goes, “Hey, Ryan, guess who he cast?” And Ryan’s like, “That Thing You Do!” And literally, they could recite the entire movie. I thought I was the biggest That Thing You Do! fan. They beat me.
Scott: At the table read Emma confessed all her fan-girlness for the movie. I’m so oblivious. It never dawned on me that Guy Patterson was in a jazz club.
Part 8: “It’s Part of the Fabric of Who I Am Now.”
Twenty-five years later, That Thing You Do! remains a feel-good classic. It birthed a recently awarded platinum soundtrack, a movie production company, and a lasting bond among its primary cast members.
Choi: I think Tom was very intentional and specific about the kind of movie he wanted to make.
Embry: He talked about how this was the period in America before the mirage was peeled back. It’s the height of the Civil Rights movement in the South, Jim Crow is raging. It’s before Vietnam.
Hanks: What I still carry with me is the amount of work that goes into protecting a vision of a movie that examines a very specific theme in a very specific way—that comes about through confidence and the alliances that you have to make.
Armian: For Jonathan, it spoke to a period in his life that was nostalgic, for sure. There’s a sweetness to the film that I know spoke to everyone. It was like a palate cleanse.
Zahn: It’s not cynical at all. It’s wholesome, and everybody can adhere to that story. The band that gets a hit—it’s the American myth outside of the Western.
Scott: It did get Oscar-nominated for “Best Song.”
Anderson: That’s all Adam, you know? It’s like he created something that is so infectious that to this day, when you play it, it still freaking sounds good. Sometimes I’ll be in a supermarket and I’ll hear it and I’ll be like, “Wow.”
Tucker: He was able to capture something that sounded legitimately like it would have been a one-hit wonder in that era, but you have to hear it repeatedly and you don’t get sick of it, and that is really hard. His passing is so tragic.
Viola: We came up together. We were in so many bands together. I think we were just excited about our friendship, and the music we made together, separately, it was all part of the same creative glob. We did a concert where we played all his songs online and we did “That Thing You Do!” That’s how I would pay tribute to him. I’m really sad, and a huge piece of me died with Adam.
Chase: A quarter of a century later, it’s still alive and well and kicking. We want to connect with people that we don’t know, and we want that connection to continue beyond our lifetime. And I think that’s a really poignant idea in light of Adam’s death.
Viola: I feel proud and lucky and grateful. I’m grateful to Tom Hanks for hearing my voice and responding to it. And really insisting and pushing that they get me. It’s part of the fabric of who I am now.
Tyler: Hanks has this thing in him that casts this spell of joy upon everyone.
Embry: One of the good things that came out of Adam’s passing was that last year was the first time all four of us got together, albeit virtually. There’s a text thread. We’re all talking to each other again.
Scott: It was one of the biggest moments of my life.
Zahn: I haven’t been involved in many things where a cast has been this tight. It has to do with our age, where we were in our business—Tom, Gary, PlayTone, the movie itself, shooting at that time in history. It really fucked me up because you go do a movie after that and you know what a great experience can be. You compare it to that experience.
Hanks: I wanted to create a joyful sound and provide a joyful movie that carried more authenticity than simply nostalgia for the era. I wanted the audience to say, “That looks like fun.” I think we succeeded.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has also appeared in Esquire.com, GQ.com, and The New York Times.