Tom Hanks does not remember saying that Connor Ratliff had “dead eyes” during an audition for an episode of the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers that Hanks wrote and directed — nor does he remember firing him from the small role. But the experience was a formative one for Ratliff, and the “dead eyes” story has now inspired an entire podcast of the same name dedicated to figuring out why Hanks decided to let him go on that fateful day.
The famously-kind Hanks, for his part, said he was “aghast” when he found out about the story that had inspired the podcast, on which he finally appeared on Thursday.
You can listen to the full episode of Dead Eyes here:
“I was aghast. I was — I actually got chilled. My heart rate skyrocketed and I said, I did — I did what? I did what?” Hanks said of his reaction after his son Colin Hanks told him about Ratliff’s story.
“Now, let me first take full responsibility for doing this to you. This was without a doubt the act of the director, and that was me. There was something that either stuck in a craw or was one of those very, very subtle sort of decisions that aims the story in the direction you want it to go.”
He used a coffee cup analogy to explain to Ratliff the mindset that he might have been in as a director that day when casting for the part of Zielinski on Episode 5 of Band of Brothers.
“You are not a coffee cup, but sometimes they come to you and say, ‘Would you like the blue coffee cups or the red coffee cups?’ And you say, ‘Um, I’ll have the blue.’ And then when you get on the set, the color is [not quite right]. ‘Bring in the red coffee cups.’ And the prop guys says, ‘Well, we ordered the blue. So, it’s gonna take a while for us to go dig out the red coffee cups.’ And I said, ‘Well you got 20 minutes, so do what you can. Otherwise, lose the red coffee cups.’ Y’know? It’s like that kind of thing.”
Tom Hanks also made an important observation. When a director makes a criticism of an actor’s audition tape, the words the director uses to describe that person — in private, for creative decision-making purposes — should never be shared with the actor.
“In the inner sanctum of whatever this casting session was on Band of Brothers, with me and whatever the crack staff, I’m sure I said, ‘I don’t know man, that guy’s got dead eyes.’ I could’ve said, ‘He’s got too blond of hair, he’s too tall, and I can’t have the aide be taller than Captain Winters. I could’ve said, ‘He’s too short and slight.’ I could’ve said any of these things, and they would have been true and they would’ve been the opinion,” Hanks said. And [had] someone also said to me, ‘Well he’s already cast,’ I would’ve said, well can we replace him. I would’ve said that. And I think it’s been said about me on occasion as well.”
“So, with that, whoever communicated to you what was said in the inner sanctum with such authenticity should have their kneecaps broken, because that is not allowed,” Hanks joked. “The inner sanctum is like the dugout, man. It’s not quotable there, it’s off the record.”
Tom Hanks also got to see Ratliff’s old headshot from back in 2000 when all of this happened. Let it be known that he exclaimed once and for all: “These are not dead eyes. Can I just say that now, from this 8×10 black and white?”
Main Image: Tom Hanks and Connor Ratliff meet to record an episode of the Dead Eyes podcast, courtesy of Headgum/Dead Eyes podcast