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The untold truth of Tom Hanks' brother

Tom Hanks is among the most recognizable people on the planet. He's an actor, a director, a writer, a producer, a philanthropist, and one of the most affable celebrities to ever walk a red carpet. Everyone from talk show hosts to film critics to grandmothers who rarely get out to the movies loves him, and he's embraced it, earning a reputation as "America's Dad."

With all of that in mind, it's easy for many to forget that Hanks has a younger brother who's also an actor, and who's been very closely tied to some of Tom's most famous characters. Jim Hanks has been acting in film and television, in both live-action and voiceover work, for decades now, and while he's never risen to the heights of his brother, there's a good chance you've seen or heard his work at some point. To remind you of why and how you know him, here's the untold truth of Jim Hanks.

Two brothers, two backgrounds

Jim Hanks is, somewhat inescapably in the public eye, Tom Hanks' younger brother, and they have enough of a resemblance in both face and voice to keep reminding everyone of their brotherhood. As tied together as they might be among fans, though, they didn't start out that way. Jim Hanks is the youngest of four siblings, and was just a baby when his parents, Amos and Janet, divorced in 1961. When the couple split, Amos took the three oldest children to live various places around Northern California, while Janet took her youngest son and settled in the California city of Red Bluff. 

Though the brothers did see each other (and according to their mother, enjoyed playing hockey together), they weren't raised side by side. "Since I moved to L.A.," Jim told People in 1995, "we've slowly built a relationship. It's strange. He sounds and looks a lot like me, but our backgrounds are very different."

Catching the acting bug

In 1986, Jim Hanks married Karen Praxel, an aspiring actress, and the couple settled in Sacramento. At first, the acting dream was Karen's alone, and Jim once described his only acting experience as "a few high school plays." In 1988, at Karen's urging, they moved to Los Angeles so she could more directly pursue her acting career. Jim took a job waiting tables, and Karen got a gig as a receptionist for a talent agent. 

It was that agent who encouraged Jim to begin auditioning for acting jobs. Jim describes himself as "incredibly green and gullible" in those early years, and the audition process was brutal at first. Then he began to take acting classes and things started to get easier. He slowly started to earn work, including voice over acting for commercials, before finally getting his first major film role in Buford's Beach Bunnies in 1992.

As for Praxel, you might recognize her from a small role in Tom Hanks' directorial debut That Thing You Do!, in which she plays the script supervisor for the Hollywood Showcase TV series.

Hiding the 'Hanks'

By the early 1990s, Tom Hanks was a full-fledged movie star who'd not yet won an Oscar but had logged a string of hits including Splash, Big, and A League of Their Own. The recognizability of his name, coupled with his facial similarity to his brother, was not lost on Jim Hanks, who said a casting director once told him she didn't even hear his audition because she was too blown away by how much he looked like Tom. Eventually, another casting director came up with a novel solution to getting rid of the expectations surrounding his last name: don't use it.

"The casting director said you should go in and not tell them your real name," Hanks recalled. "So he took my head shot and cut my name off and I used my middle name. I went in as Jim Mathews." It was that tactic that ultimately won Hanks the role of Jeeter Buford in Buford's Beach Bunnies.

Tempting offers

Though he hid his last name in order to win a role early in his career, Jim Hanks didn't use an a stage name moving forward. Eventually, casting directors and producers were realizing they maybe had a somewhat younger (and perhaps less expensive) version of Tom Hanks they could potentially enlist to cash in on a few well-known Hollywood properties. So, while Tom's star continued to rise in the mid-1990s (on his way to dual Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump), Jim was getting offers to follow in his brother's footsteps... sort of.

At various points early in his career, Jim was offered the chance to play his brother's roles in both Big and Splash for TV show revivals of the films. The Splash spinoff in particular caused more than a little irritation.

"I was contacted five different times," he said. "Then one time somebody from one of the studios called me at home on Saturday morning pleading me to come in and read it. I said no." When Jim told his brother about the offers and his answer to them, Tom Hanks agreed with his brother, and called the Splash TV show "the most stupid thing you could possibly do."

The other Forrest Gump

As Jim's own Hollywood career advanced and his time in LA increased, he began growing closer to his brother professionally as well as personally. While he's never actually played Tom's brother onscreen, they have technically played the same character more than once. That first happened back in 1994, when Hanks was busy playing the role that would win him his second Academy Award in Forrest Gump. Among the main character's many amazing feats throughout the film is his run across America. At various points during the production, the running sequence required a double, but none of the other doubles on hand to stand in as Forrest could pick up on the particular physicality of the run Hanks concocted for his character. For that, they had to go to a family member.

"Tom had other doubles, but they couldn't do the run," he recalled. "That's a stupid Hanks thing." Interestingly, that's not the only time Jim Hanks played Forrest Gump. He also voiced the character in a 2018 episode of the Adult Swim comedy series Robot Chicken.

The other Sheriff Woody

In 1995, Tom Hanks became part of animation history when he co-starred in Toy Story, the first entirely computer-animated feature film and the debut feature release from Pixar Animation Studios. Since then, Pixar has gone on to become one of the most successful animation companies of all time, and Toy Story remains its flagship franchise. The film spawned two sequels, with a third on the way in June 2019, as well as two half-hour holiday specials for television. For each sequel and TV special, Tom Hanks returned to voice Woody the sheriff.

Those aren't the only places Woody has appeared, though. The character's also been a part of animated spin-offs like Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, as well as numerous video games like Disney Infinity and Kingdom Hearts, not to mention a gaggle of talking toys. In those cases, Woody is voiced not by Tom, but by Jim Hanks, as Tom confirmed during a 2011 appearance on The Graham Norton Show. "There are so many computer games and video things, and Jim just... he works on those all year long," Hanks said.

A clever reference

Jim Hanks' career has been intertwined with his brother Tom's massive success for more than two decades now, and that connection has sometimes created opportunities to have a little fun, sometimes in very subtle ways.

In 2005, Hanks guest-starred in an episode of the medical sitcom Scrubs, titled "My Faith In Humanity." He played Dr. Turner, and while he's only in the episode briefly, he's part of a very memorable joke. At that point in the sitcom's run, Scrubs had introduced a somewhat odd character named Dr. Hooch (Phill Lewis), and during the episode J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) revealed to Hooch that they'd switched shifts around so that he and Dr. Turner could do a procedure together. Why? Just so they could say out loud that "Turner and Hooch" were doing it, in a nod to Tom Hanks' cult classic cop/dog buddy comedy of the same name.

Beyond acting

Though he is best known as Tom Hanks' younger brother, and his most widely exposed work has likely been the various voiceovers he's done as Woody on behalf of the Walt Disney Company, Jim Hanks' career is actually rather diverse. Yes, he's the voice of Woody when his brother's not. Yes, he's appeared in film and television in various roles, but he's also done a good deal of work behind the camera. 

Among his other projects is Feet First Films, a company that specialized in making demo reels for up-and-coming actors to help them get in the door with casting directors. He's also worked as a camera operator, and in the 2000s began producing and directing short films while also working as a cinematographer for various short and TV projects. Between 2008 and 2012, he directed five different short films, serving as producer and cinematographer on several. So, while he'll also be recognized for his voice and his face, Jim Hanks is also exercising his creativity in many other ways.

Sharing a profession, but not a screen

No matter what either man does with the rest of his life and career, Tom Hanks and Jim Hanks will always be linked in the public eye, and because Tom is the more famous brother, Jim will often be framed in terms of who he's related to. "I know why I'm getting publicity," Hanks once said. "But it's not my fault who I'm related to."

Jim Hanks seems to have adjusted to this, and in many ways it's helped him get work. In addition to serving as a Forrest Gump running double and voicing Woody in all manner of projects, he has also taken over for his brother on things like The Polar Express video game, and even played "Captain Phillips" in lieu of his brother on another Robot Chicken episode.

Despite all of these links, though, and even sharing a few roles over the years, there's one connection the Hanks brother have not yet shared. They have, to date, never appeared alongside each other in a film. Jim Hanks has stood in for Tom, and they've both been part of the same franchises, but they've yet to actually share a screen. There's still time, though.