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Tom Hanks on D-Day and the 'Band of Brothers'


Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks is telling the story of one Army unit's journey from D-Day to the end of the war in the upcoming HBO documentary series "Band of Brothers," based on a book by historian Stephen Ambrose. Hanks joined CNN's Carol Lin from Utah Beach in Normandy Wednesday morning.

LIN: Once again, we find you at the crossroads of life imitating art, art imitating life. I'm wondering: What is it like for you to be there at Utah Beach on this morning?

HANKS: Well, it keeps things interesting. It makes my job much more fascinating and perhaps a bit more full of responsibility. You know, we are here with actual -- the surviving members of Easy Company. These are guys that can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing 57 years ago at 2:00 p.m. local time.

A series of programs on HBO follow one company of soldiers through WWII. Executive Producer Tom Hanks talks about the project (June 6)

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And they just finished knocking out some German -- a battery of German guns at a place called Brecourt Manor and moving on to a village called Courville.

It is -- for me, it is a surreal experience to have done the research and try to come up with the stories to make it fit our purposes, and then to come right back around again to the original research, except this time made manifest by the actual place and the actual men.

LIN: Mr. Hanks, why this company? Of all the wartime stores that could be told in World War II, what makes this regiment so special?

HANKS: Well, as chronicled by Stephen Ambrose in his book, if you were looking for a handful of men to be the embodiment of the -- of a G.I. experience from D-Day to the end of the war in Northern Europe, you're not going to do much better.

These paratroopers formed up in July of 1942 and were together through every major campaign in Northern Europe that took place, and were the reasons for a number of historical events to occur in the first place.

So if you're trying to -- what we were trying to do was to incorporate somehow, in a -- for an audience, the scope of the endeavor from 1942 to 1945. And by following these men of the 101st Airborne, it was almost tailor-made for our purpose.

LIN: And from the very beginning, right, from their training all the way up through D-Day and the trials and tribulations that they experience along the way.

HANKS: They knew that they were going to be jumping into hostile territory and that, as soon as they hit the ground, they would be surrounded by enemy forces. That was their purpose. Now, even within the confines of that, you still have a myriad of combat experiences, both major and minor, both very serious and almost comic in the reality. But it's just a different enterprise than other versions of looking at the World War II experience.

LIN: And a very different enterprise for you. You were behind the camera on this one. What was it like for you actually being the co-executive producer?

HANKS: Well, in some ways, it's actually great fun, because you get to -- it's putting together the world's most complicated jigsaw puzzle. And it's all based on fact. To start with "Band of Brothers," the book by Stephen Ambrose, and just try to figure out how to break it down over the course of 10 hours, and then how to get whatever nuggets of detail and truth we can on screen, it's -- it made for a lot of very lively late nights with a very trusted group of cohorts and artists.

But also, at the same time, there comes the moment where I'm just standing back and getting reports from the field how things are going and realizing that these guys, these writers and directors and actors, have -- are coming up with truths that I could never even imagine. So the final analysis is, they have all made my job look a lot easier than it was.

LIN: You seem very humbled by the experience, Mr. Hanks. You seem very humbled by...

HANKS: I don't see how you could not be. I don't view this as a -- as a brand of our mythology that is not somehow approachable or applicable to our daily lives. I see old men who were once young and strong and had their entire lives ahead of them who themselves are self-effacing and self-deprecating and would never, ever assume the mantle or the responsibility of being heroes themselves.

And you respect them for that. And I can't help but realize that, listen, we live protected by the four great freedoms that FDR laid out, before Pearl Harbor even. And the reason why we enjoy them is because there were a bunch of guys like the men of Easy company who said: If there's trouble somewhere, I'd like to be part of the solution.

LIN: A tribute well deserved.

HANKS: Those are words we can all live by, even today.

LIN: Certainly -- and certainly for a much younger generation who may never really have to know that kind of sacrifice, one can only hope.

Thank you so much, Tom Hanks, for joining us this morning on the 57th anniversary...

HANKS: Thank you, Carol.

LIN: ... of D-Day and the story of Easy Company.

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