The release of the new AppleTV+ movie Finch (available to stream on Nov. 5) marks Tom Hanks single-handedly leading a quintessentially COVID-19 movie, without even setting out to do so.
“When we made this film, well before the the words COVID-19 were even in the vernacular, we were making a bit of science fiction,...familiar in many ways, there's been a lot of last human beings left on the planet [films] before,” Hanks told journalists in advance of the movie’s release. “There is a sort of theoretical Earth worst case scenario here in it.”
I saw the movie not too long ago and there's a scene where he explains to Jeff what happened, how society broke down, and it goes back to something almost as benign as a solar flare was like, it’s almost reassuring, that's not a slow moving contagion that goes about and kills everybody.Tom Hanks
Finch, directed by Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) tells the story of Hanks’ character, Finch, who survived the apocalypse with just his dog, Goodyear, and a newly created robot, Jeff (think WALL-E), with the focus of much of the movie on Finch surviving in this post-apocalyptic world and teaching his robot how to do the same.
Hanks is basically the only human character we see in Finch but Jeff does showcase the voice of Caleb Landry Jones. Hanks revealed that being largely the only human character on screen did impact his approach to the character of Finch.
“There is a type of communication that goes on in a screenplay that is always verbal and the truth is, there was very little reason to talk to myself in this,” the actor said. “So almost like a silent film, we had to build a narrative and a reality and a geography for Finch that was not going to be based on somebody telling him what's going on, or him commenting on what's going on because there literally is nobody to talk to.”
“Every moment, up until really the creation of Jeff the robot, was one of, why are we showing this? What does this communicate?”
Sapochnik described the process of working with Hanks as a collaboration, working together right from the beginning.
“From really the moment we met, it was a conversation and an exchange of ideas and it felt like that all the way through,” the director said.
“He used to talk about our film, rather than my film or his film, and there's something really special about that because it made it feel like we were, for that short period of time, we were a family, kind of a group of people all with the same end and the same aim, which was to tell a good story.”
One of the aspects of the character that attracted Hanks to this role is the “immediately precarious position he is in from the get-go.”
“His daily struggle is one between life and death, between survival and loss,” Hanks said. “When I was first reading it I thought, ‘OK, alright, there's a familiar science fiction sort of trope, but what in the world is going to be the new version of what this story is?’”
“As soon as the dog comes along, as soon as Goodyear makes his appearance, it becomes a different sort of film. I began to think of it immediately as a guy who's worried about his dog, nevermind everything else, his dog being a great love of his life. As a very selfish actor, this is the one guy in a movie, with nothing but a dog to play off of and then the robot that he creates almost of his own blood. It's just a fabulous part.”
'Jeff needed to be a personality right from the start'
Sapochnik revealed that the biggest inspiration for the character of Jeff was actually his daughter, who is about to turn nine years-old in December.
“When I was working with Ivor [Powell] and Craig [Luck], the writers, we all had our own inspirations as to who Jeff was but I found myself constantly thinking about how Jeff isn't just a robot,” he explained. “Jeff has this personality and it's curious, and it's kind of stubborn and it's kind of mischievous, and it reminded me a lot of my daughter.”
“I found myself stealing things that she says and putting them into the script. Maybe it's my own homage to my daughter, because I admire her, but it was also because it felt like that was the right tone. I didn't want Jeff to be just a robot, Jeff needed to be a personality right from the start.”
What would Tom Hanks do if he had a robot?
When asked, if he had a robot like Jeff, what he would have the robot do, Hanks said he would program tasks like rubbing his shoulders and becoming an “expert in reflexology” for his feet.
“You know what, I’d throw away the TV remotes, I'd make him get up and change the channel himself,” Hanks said. “I’d make him that type of guy who knows exactly how much hot milk and Ovaltine I take in my flat white.”
“It's interesting that...there's absolutely nothing to do with any sort of erotic creation of sexual cipher for his life… The reason that Jeff exists is not for Finch’s pleasure, it's for Goodyear’s safety.”