'News of the World' on Netflix: Tom Hanks on saddling up for his first ever Western movie

Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel star in Paul Greengrass' 'News of the World'.
News of the World on Netflix starring Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel. (Image credit: Universal)

Until starring in News Of The World on Netflix, two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks had never been in a Western before. In a career stretching back 40 years, Tom's pretty much appeared in every kind of movie — from romcom Sleepless in Seattle and war film Saving Private Ryan to mystery thriller The Da Vinci Code and playing Walt Disney in period drama Saving Mr Banks.

Based on the 2016 novel by Paulette Jiles, News of The World is set in Texas in 1870, five years after the American Civil War ended, Hanks stars as Captain Jefferson Kidd, a former Confederate soldier who now makes a living travelling from town to town, reading stories from newspapers to isolated, news-starved crowds that pay a dime a head for the chance to listen to the latest headlines and articles.

"People always said to me, 'How come you haven’t made a Western?’ but there’s no reason to make a Western just because you get to wear comfortable clothes and a hat," explains Hanks, 64. "It has to be about something bigger than just the genre — and I was fascinated by the story told in News of the World. Kidd is like the original podcaster — he wants to inform, engage and enlighten people."

So what’s the story in 'News of the World'?

News of the World is quite similar to that other classic Western movie True Grit (1969) starring John Wayne, in that it follows an older jaded man who ends up helping an orphaned youngster. So on his travels in this movie, Kidd meets a young girl Johanna, who's stranded in the wilderness after being attacked by bandits. She's the orphaned daughter of German farmers who was kidnapped and raised by a Native American tribe called the Kiowa. 

After the authorities are unable to help, Kidd decides to deliver Johanna — who speaks no English— to her only surviving relatives, hundreds of miles away. Along the way, the widowed Kidd becomes increasingly attached to Johanna, and their relationship makes him face his own demons and doubts. 

"Kidd is an older man who’s seen life at its absolute cruelest and he’s had enough of it," says Hanks. "He becomes a better man because he is burdened with this child, Johanna. When you have love in your life, you’re a different human being."

Tom Hanks on the shoot-out scenes in News of the World.

Kidd and Johanna’s 400 mile journey across Texas isn't without danger, as they come across ruthless buffalo hunters, are caught in a vicious sandstorm and encounter ruthless war veteran and human trafficker Almay (Michael Angelo Covino), who plots to ambush them on the road and take Johanna by force.

"There’s one scene where Almay and his posse are chasing them, and there’s a big shootout," says Hanks. "We shot it very precariously on some rocks on the side of a hill – and we really skinned our knees climbing around. It wasn’t an easy sequence to shoot, but the setting provided a tension all of its own."

Tom Hanks on how he prepared for filming News of the World.

The movie reunites Hanks with Paul Greengrass, the British director who helmed 2013 film Captain Phillips, in which Hanks played the resolute skipper of a hijacked freighter. Greengrass was determined to cast a German youngster to play the role of Johanna because the character was born to German immigrants and he finally settled on Helena Zengel, who was just 11 years old at the time.

To prepare for filming, Hanks and Zengel took a crash-course of horse riding and wagon training. They also immersed themselves in the language, culture and belief systems of the Kiowa — the Native American tribe featured in the film — and a tribal elder was on set to ensure that all the Kiowa elements in the film were accurately portrayed.

"Everybody was very welcoming, and we literally would not have had a story without the Kiowa Nation," says Hanks. "I was so impressed by how their culture still exists today in a world so completely different than it was. They do it by way of family togetherness, and making sure that every child knows how to sing centuries-old songs. I was very proud to spend time with them."

Who else stars in News of the World?

The cast also includes Mare Winningham as Doris Boudlin, who runs a general store in border town Red River Station, while Elizabeth Marvel (House of Cards) stars as Kidd’s old boarding house friend Ella Gannett. Fred Hechinger and Thomas Francis Murphy are also among the cast.

When can we see Tom Hanks in News of the World? 

Released worldwide, News of the World will be shown on Netflix from Wednesday 10 February. It runs for 118 minutes. Enjoy! 

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.