He's become well-known for his roles as everyday, average Americans on the big screen. But the trait Tom Hanks best demonstrates in person is humility.
After beginning his career as a comedic television actor (in the 1970s sitcom "Bosom Buddies"), Hanks later made the leap to film. But only in the past decade has he finally received credit for his acting skills, winning two Best Actor Academy Awards (one for playing an AIDS-ravaged lawyer in 1993's "Philadelphia" and another when he starred as the slow-witted but beloved title character of 1994's "Forrest Gump").However, one honor he's not willing to accept is a comparison to late actor and American icon Jimmy Stewart.
"I get embarrassed every time that comes up. Jimmy was the best of all time," Hanks said. "Comparing the two of us is like an insult to him, because, frankly, I'm lucky to be where I am. I'm just this really cheesy guy."
Instead, Hanks likens himself to Van Johnson, who also became known for playing "non-flashy" characters - but Johnson was also one actor who never picked up an esteemed reputation like those Stewart and Hanks have.
"Would that be considered an insult to Van? Should I be comparing myself to John Agar? Maybe that's more appropriate," he said straight-faced. "I just get uncomfortable when I'm asked to talk about myself. There are a lot more talented actors out there."
Presumably, Hanks' list of the "more talented" would include Robert De Niro, for whom he has nothing but praise, and Matt Damon, who co-stars with Hanks in the new World War II drama "Saving Private Ryan."
"Bob's got this big countenance, this weight of character, that he brings to his roles," he said."Try as I might, I just can't do that. I'm just not imposing in that way."
Consequently, audiences shouldn't expect to see Hanks playing villainous characters anytime soon.
"Can you imagine me as a bad guy?" he asked. "That would be pretty silly, wouldn't it?"
As for Damon, Hanks is predicting big things for him - perhaps even bigger than winning an Academy Award (Damon and Ben Affleck won this year's Best Original Screenplay Oscar for "Good Will Hunting").
"It's mindblowing that there's this young guy who's so talented, and he just keeps getting better," he said. "I'm hoping that I'll get to work with him again, maybe as his director."
And speaking of filmmaking, Hanks is getting more and more involved with it. His first theatrical feature, 1997's "That Thing You Do!" was well-received, both by the public and critically.
Also, the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," which Hanks produced and conceived (he also starred in one episode and directed another), recently received 17 Emmy nominations.
But in characteristic Hanks fashion, he downplayed those achievements and ascribed the success to his fellow cast members and directors, especially Steven Spielberg, with whom he worked on "Saving Private Ryan."
"It was fascinating to see how Steven works - to be there when the light goes off in his head, and then he comes up with something new that just amazes you," Hanks said. "He's an ultra-, super-genius - so creative in ways you could never imagine."
Off-screen, the two have been friends for years. But they have resisted working together until now.
"I've seen friendships that ended because of a bad moviemaking experience, and I was really reluctant to do it because of that," he said. "Sometimes I'm just astounded that I know this great guy and that I'm friends with him. So it hasn't been worth it to risk our friendship until now."
Once Hanks saw the script for "Saving Private Ryan," though, it became a no-brainer decision.
"We would have regretted not making this film. This was really important for both of us," he said.
Besides, the two came out of the experience relatively unscathed.
"Yes, we're still speaking," Hanks said. "There were a couple of tense moments when we might have questioned each other's judgment, but we got through it."