After wowing audiences and critics worldwide with Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan, screen legend Tom Hanks took on perhaps his most challenging role ever in 2000’s Cast Away. A reunion with Gump director Robert Zemeckis, the compelling drama contemplated what would happen if an average, out-of-shape fortysomething found himself marooned on a desert island.
An acclaimed blockbuster, Cast Away is the kind of movie that the big studios never seem to make anymore: intimate, character-based and hard-edged. Here are some facts about the film which you might not have been aware of.
21. The film won an award for Best Inanimate Object
Tom Hanks gives one of his best and most committed performances as Chuck Noland in Cast Away, so it was no surprise that his name came up all over the place at the 2001 awards shows. Hanks landed the Best Actor award at the Golden Globes and was nominated for what would have been his third Best Actor Oscar – only to lose to Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
However, there is arguably another member of the Cast Away cast who steals the show: Chuck’s volleyball companion, Wilson. You may be happy to learn that Wilson didn’t go entirely overlooked during awards season, as a special one-off award, Best Inanimate Object, was introduced specifically for him by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
20. Wilson had actual lines of dialogue
It might seem in the film like Wilson is the silent type, but from Tom Hanks’ perspective, his character’s volleyball friend was actually rather chatty. Well, it appears the screenwriter and director were not about to let Wilson slip under the radar, and they did all they could to ensure he was as big of a star as Mr Hanks himself. Actual lines of dialogue were written for Wilson by screenwriter William Broyles Jr and director Robert Zemeckis.
They did this so that Hanks could see on the page the conversation that Chuck was having in his head with the volleyball, and act out scenes accordingly. The additional lines of dialogue certainly seemed to help Hanks’ performance. Most people probably wouldn’t have thought that they could become so emotional about a relationship between a man and his volleyball.
19. Filming shut down for a year so Hanks could transform his appearance
There’s no special effects or camera trickery going on when it comes to Tom Hanks’ striking appearance in Cast Away. At the beginning of the film, that middle-aged paunch is all his, while the bushy beard, long golden hair and drastically reduced frame in the second half are all real too. These two contrasting looks were achieved by Hanks first gaining weight (50 pounds) prior to filming Cast Away’s early scenes.
Then production was put on hold for an entire year so Hanks could lose all the weight and grow out his hair. Hanks later stated that the hardest thing about losing all of the weight was trying to fight off his cravings for french fries. The actor also revealed that he drank a lot of coffee to get him through the fatigue!
18. The director made a whole other film during Cast Away’s hiatus
As he waited a whole 12 months for Hanks to transform into someone who looked like he might have been stranded on a desert island for four years, director Robert Zemeckis didn’t just twiddle his thumbs. He made a whole other film during Cast Away’s hiatus. It wasn’t a small project either, and it’s a film that you are guaranteed to have heard of.
He used the same crew to make the blockbuster horror film What Lies Beneath, starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Sadly What Lies Beneath didn’t do quite as well as Cast Away at the box office, making $291,000,000 compared with Cast Away’s $429,600,000.
17. The film’s writer really stranded himself on an island for research
Cast Away feels like an authentic depiction of survival on a desert island for a good reason, with the screenwriter going above and beyond his duties. The film’s screenwriter really knew what it was like to be stranded without modern luxuries like Chuck. And how did he know? Well, as research for his script, William Broyles Jr took himself to an island survival camp off of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.
It was here he learned how to forage and make a fire and even befriended a washed-up volleyball – the inspiration for our old friend Wilson. A survival expert along with Broyles also tested out random objects that Chuck could use to his advantage in the film.
16. The film made FedEx surprisingly popular
It’s a FedEx plane that goes down at the beginning of the film, but luckily that didn’t do much to tarnish the delivery service’s brand. Cast Away actually made FedEx more popular than ever. Not only did the delivery company significantly increase its reach and influence outside of the US after Cast Away’s release, but job applications for the company also rose by 30%.
When the film was first released, many people accused FedEx of paying Zemeckis to appear so prominently in the movie. However, the director has always firmly denied this accusation and claims that the producers never received any kind of money from FedEx to promote their brand (the film does involve a plane crash, after all!).
15. There might have been vital equipment in that unopened parcel
From his time discovering the FedEx parcels washed up on the beach, to his re-entry into civilised society four years later, Chuck resists opening one parcel. It’s never revealed to us – or Chuck – what the package contains. And we are still desperate to know what it contained.
There are several ‘conspiracy theories’ so to speak, of what was really in the package. An earlier draft of the script had it that the parcel contained salsa verde, apparently sent by a Texas woman to her estranged husband. Director Zemeckis, however, has said that the box contained a solar-powered satellite phone – though he might have been joking…
14. Chuck gets his happy ending after the film ends
It seems like a pretty tragic state of affairs. Chuck, having barely survived for four years and managing to make his way home to America via an improvised raft, only to find the love of his life has moved on, remarried and started a whole new family. According to Tom Hanks, however, Chuck does get his happy ending, just after the credits roll.
Hanks told James Lipton on an episode of Inside the Actors Studio that Chuck: “turned around…he went back and made babies with that lady,” referring to the mysterious woman that Chuck meets at the end of the movie. Out of all the endings that producers came up with, that one definitely sounds like the most satisfying! Maybe Chuck was able to adopt the cute dog in the van too?
13. Tom Hanks could have died during filming
Tom Hanks’ dedication to Cast Away didn’t end with him gaining weight, losing weight and letting himself go in the style department – the star almost literally died for his art on this movie. While on location for the film Hanks cut himself and developed what could have been a potentially fatal infection.
A doctor told Hanks: “you’re about an hour away from having blood poisoning that will kill you.” Production was subsequently shut down for three weeks while he recovered. We’re glad that he made a speedy recovery and was able to continue making the film not long after.
12. The ending was almost very different
There were six years between screenwriter William Broyles Jr first putting pen to paper for Cast Away and the film actually shooting. Therefore, naturally, the script went through several different iterations prior to filming. Most of the changes involved the ending, which was written and scrapped several times over.
One ending had Chuck saved by Japanese divers. Another saw Chuck’s marriage with the woman at the crossroads play out. Yet another ending had Chuck becoming a celebrity on his return home, making media appearances on the likes of Hollywood Squares.
11. Lost wouldn’t have happened without it
Without Cast Away, there would be no Lost. Produced by JJ Abrams, the fantasy-tinged TV drama proved wildly popular and ran from 2005 to 2010. It all came about after the show’s producers pondered the idea of making a series following the same basic premise as the 2000 Tom Hanks hit.
When showrunner Abrams came on board, he added the supernatural elements, which transformed the Cast Away-type show into Lost. The show’s huge success inspired further adult-oriented fantasy shows such as Heroes, True Blood and Game of Thrones, whilst Abrams went on to huge film success as the director of the recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies.
10. The film was Tom Hanks’ own original idea
With Cast Away, Tom Hanks was never just the star of the show; he was the reason the show even existed at all. It was way back in 1994, six years before Cast Away even appeared on cinema screens, that Hanks came up with the idea for a survival drama.
And it was simply based on an article he had read about FedEx. Back then the film went by the very different title of Chuck of the Jungle, but Hanks’ motivating thought was the same: What would happen if an average guy got washed up on an island all alone?
9. There’s no music until Chuck escapes the island
You may not have even noticed, considering how engrossing the film is, but in terms of music Cast Away is almost a silent movie. For an hour and 43 minutes, there’s nothing but silence on the soundtrack.
This was because Robert Zemeckis wanted composer Alan Silvestri’s score to make its entrance just as Chuck escapes the island, thus allowing for a greater emotional impact. Up to that point, there’s nothing but Hanks, the island and Wilson.
8. A Wilson prop went for a lot of money at a 2001 auction
Of the three volleyballs hired to play Wilson for the Cast Away shoot, just one ended up on the auction block, where the exclusive prop predictably went for a pretty penny. At a 2001 online auction, this Wilson was sold for $18,400. The prop was sold to Ken May, none other than an ex-CEO of FedEx.
However, if you really want your own Wilson then the famous volleyball has its very own company. And yes you guessed it… the company sells special edition versions of the movie prop. Or you could just buy a regular volleyball and paint it up yourself. We imagine that they’re pretty easy to re-create.
7. Hanks was finally reunited with Wilson in 2015
It’s tragic that he gets home just to find his wife has moved on and all, but nothing in Cast Away stings like the moment Chuck is parted from Wilson in the middle of the Pacific ocean, apparently never to see his trusty companion again.
Well, Cast Away fans can rest easy in the knowledge that Tom Hanks and Wilson were in fact reunited in 2015. Hanks was caught on camera at a New York Rangers game. And who was he at the game with you may be wondering? None other than soul mate Wilson. The boys are back together. This, truly, is the film’s real happy ending.
6. Some of the crew members stayed on the island and learnt actual survival skills
Some of Cast Away’s crew members decided to follow in the footsteps of the film’s writer and stay on the island of Monuriki (one of Fiji’s Mamanuca islands) before production began. The crew were left on the island for several days and had to learn how to survive on their own.
In fact, many of their survival techniques and other experiences ended up being used in the final film. Some of these included the trouble they had in lighting a fire and opening coconuts; talking to a volleyball; collecting packages that had washed up on the beach and catching fish.
5. You can find the Cast Away island on Google Maps
Thanks to the wonder of technology, fans of the movie can now use Google Maps to locate the uninhabited island from Cast Away. Simply enter the following coordinates into Google Maps: -17.609277, 177.0397. Then zoom in all the way using satellite mode, and voila, there you have it!
You can see the beach where Tom Hanks writes HELP in giant letters. The island remains uninhabited to this day. So, if you look it up and happen to notice any castaways on Google Street view, make sure to alert the authorities!
4. Virtually all of the sound had to be added into the film during post-production
The sound engineers had quite a job on their hands after filming was finished. Due to conditions on the island location, nearly all of the sound (including Chuck’s dialogue) had to be replaced in post-production. William B. Kaplan, the chief sound man, attempted to get some usable time during filming but unfortunately the surf made it impossible to do so.
Many of the scenes needed to be very quiet and the waves kept interfering with the shoot. Funnily enough, the special effects team also had to pitch in during post-production. Nearly all of the nighttime scenes were filmed during the day and darkness/night sky effects had to be added in later.
3. The name ‘Chuck Noland’ has a secret hidden meaning
At first glance, ‘Chuck Noland’ seems like a fairly average name for a fairly average guy. Tom Hanks wanted to make a movie about a regular guy and the name seems to fit that nicely. However, Chuck Noland can be abbreviated to ‘C. Noland’ which really sounds like ‘see no land’.
The perfect name for a man who has been cast away on a remote island. Interestingly, in a very early draft of the movie, Chuck was going to be split into two different personalities during his time on the island. There was going to be Good Chuck and Bad Chuck – who would talk to one another rather than a volleyball.
2. Hanks repeats the same line in both Cast Away and You’ve Got Mail
Cast Away was released in the year 2000, only two years after Hanks’ starred in the classic rom-com You’ve Got Mail with Meg Ryan. In fact, Hanks repeats the same line in both movies. But which line? Around twenty minutes into You’ve Got Mail Joe Fox (played by Hanks) says to Annabelle Fox (Hallee Hirsh) and Matt Fox (Jeffrey Scaperrotta), “I know you, I know you.”
But when does Hank say this very same line in Castaway? Who does he create a bond with, an enviable bond, that captured the globe on the film’s release? Yes, you guessed it: In Cast Away Chuck says exactly the same thing to Wilson when he’s repairing Wilson’s face towards the end of the movie.
1. They shot a special Super Bowl ad to reveal what was really inside the unopened package
Super Bowl viewers might remember that back in 2003, FedEx released a hilarious commercial that attempted to recreate the final scene of Cast Away. A scene that we can all admit has stayed with us since the release of this blockbuster back in the day. A scene that we can all admit we are desperate to see recreated…
In the short feature, we see Chuck finally returning the unopened package to its sender. Yes – that package we were so eager to unwrap. In the commercial version, a woman answers the door and Chuck gets to ask what was inside. The woman replies: “Just a satellite phone, GPS locator, fishing rod, water purifier, and some seeds. Just silly stuff.”