Tom Hanks stars in “A Hologram for the King,” a fish out of water story about a middle-aged flailing American consultant, Alan, who travels to Saudi Arabia in a desperate bid to sell a holographic teleconferencing system to King Abdullah’s government.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Tom Hanks and cast members Sarita Choudhury, director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and Alexander Black attended and walked the red carpet.
Playing the kind of Everyman part he does best, Tom Hanks’s character is broke, depressed and recently divorced, and getting this commission feels like his last chance to get a foot-hold in the diminishing American global economy of 2010. Based on Dave Egger’s critically acclaimed book, the action is set during the economic crisis and right before the Arab Spring.
Every day, Yousef (stand-up comedian Alexander Black), a disheveled and goofy taxi driver obsessed with American rock music, drives Alan to the middle of the desert, dotted by white tents and towering glass towers with gleaming offices, in which Alan seeks an audience with the King. And every day a beautiful and inscrutable receptionist tells Alan he has just missed the king or that the king will arrive definitely the next day.
In the midst of this frustrating and maddening Becktian waiting game, Alan becomes fascinated with Saudi culture and the people he encounters. When he discovers a lump on his back he seeks medical attention in a technologically advanced local hospital where he meets and falls for a beautiful Saudi doctor played by Sarita Choudhury, best known for “Homeland” and her many other television roles.
Following are brief soundbytes with Sarita Choudhury and Alexander Black from the red carpet, where photographers and videographers yelled out Tom Hanks’ name frantically as he sailed by.
The most beautiful scene in the film is where you take Tom Hanks’ character back to your home by the ocean and both of you swim underwater. Was that a stunt double?
I’m a good swimmer and so is Tom Hanks, and they wanted to use doubles, but then they realized we’re both totally at ease so we did the scenes.
Where was the film shot?
In Egypt and Morocco. We shot half and half.
Nothing was shot in Saudi Arabia where the story is set?
It wasn’t allowed.
You speak Arabic in the movie. How was that?
Hard and great. I had to go to school. I’d been obsessed anyway with that culture, so to me, it’s a natural leaning and inclination.
What drew you to work with the director and screenwriter Tom Tykwer?
I loved “Run Lola Run.” It was one of my favorites. He’s obsessed with cameras and lighting. But he’s also strict as a director, which I need because I’m loosey goosey and he’s like, “no, together.” So for me it was a perfect match.
Talk about working with Tom Hanks?
When you meet him, he’s so at ease and he kind of demands that you become normal. And every time I was with him I was like, he’s a normal guy, and then just, I’m going to watch him. I put away my shyness and I just watched…. When you talk to Tom, it’s almost like you brought an old friend with you and he looks directly at you. It’s very easy to be personable with him.
This is your debut film. What was it like to work with Tom Hanks?
He’s such a nice guy, down to earth. Whenever I messed up he made it seem like it was his fault. He’s a real fun-loving, child-like, really cool guy.
How did you research your role?
I traveled to Saudi Arabia and I would record people and I would just get the way that they spoke. And then I worked with a dialect coach to speak Arabic.
How did you incorporate your stand-up comedy to the role?
I’m been told that my style of comedy is somewhat awkward and my character is very awkward, and there’s the sense that you don’t really know what he’s thinking and you don’t know what he’s going to do next. I think that just came naturally, and I tried to infuse it in as much as possible.
Talk about working with Tom Hanks and the great chemistry you have in pulling off the funniest scenes in the film?
I think that’s because he’s so charismatic that it just happened naturally, the chemistry, but he’s a super cool guy. He jokes on set, and he’s also able to be very present. I think his talent is in being so present and in the moment. It’s kind of like a magical quality.