The Small TV Role That Changed Tom Hanks' Life Forever

With his long career and epic filmography, it's easy to forget that Tom Hanks was once a wide-eyed youngster learning the ropes in Hollywood. 

Long before he became the dominant force in American cinema, Hanks appeared on several popular TV shows throughout the 1980s, including "Happy Days," "Family Ties," "Taxi," and "Bosom Buddies," the show that served as his breakout vehicle from 1980 through 1982. Just before "Bosom Buddies" premiered, Hanks appeared on another popular '80s show and had an experience there that taught him a couple of valuable lessons that he carried throughout his long and legendary acting career.

Hanks' first television role was on "The Love Boat" as Rick Martin, an old fraternity brother of Pacific Princess purser Gopher Smith (Fred Grandy). Hanks told Tom Power, host of the CBC podcast Q with Tom Power, how his appearance on "The Love Boat" shaped his 40-plus-year-long career in film and television and gave him direction and purpose when he was truly a novice in the field. "The first time you do it, you're just dizzy from the experience," Hanks told Power. 

While it's surprising to hear the two-time Oscar winner admit this, Hanks said he was somewhat intimidated when he stepped on the set of the hit CBS sitcom in June 1980. "I did not know what to do," Hanks said. "But I had a sense of, 'Oh, I see what everybody does. Everybody corrals in their own heads how silly this whole process is and pretends that it's not silly while the camera is running, and brings to it some degree of intent and honesty and authenticity.'"

Tom Hanks moved quickly from television to films

Just four years after his learning experience on "The Love Boat," Tom Hanks had two hit films in "Splash" and "Bachelor Party," and a decade later, he earned his first Oscar win for "Forrest Gump." He told Tom Power that as he built his career, he found himself giving in to the creative magic happening all around him while also waging a constant war with imposter syndrome, and far from alone in either experience.

"As you live up to your own fears, and make it through on occasion," Hanks said, "you realize that everybody on this set is having to fight this same battle of their own hubris of thinking they can do it, as well as just this surreal oddity of pretending to be somebody else in this fake room, but then also having to bow down, without any hesitation, to the moments that it works."

It's a remarkable admission from one of the most successful actors of all time, but perhaps some of that success is due to his humbling experience long ago on "The Love Boat" and his willingness to learn from it.