Tom Hanks returns to his first love - theatre

The movie star is the latest to swap screen for stage, as he heads to Broadway to play a journalist

Los Angeles

On screen, Tom Hanks has fought on the beaches of Normandy, jogged from coast to coast and back, and even contracted Aids. But now the two-time Oscar-winning star of Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump and Philadelphia faces an even greater challenge: at the age of 56, he is appearing on Broadway for the first time. On 1 March, Hanks begins in previews of Lucky Guy, by the late Nora Ephron, which opens at Broadhurst Theatre on 1 April.

Lucky Guy is based on the life of Mike McAlary, a columnist for the New York Daily News in the 1980s and 1990s. McAlary wrote extensively about police corruption, and in 1998 won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the NYPD's vicious torture of an innocent arrestee, Abner Louima. McAlary died later that year of colon cancer, aged 41. Another play about his life, The Wood by Dan Klores, premiered off-Broadway in 2011.

In the new production, Hanks will appear as the journalist, opposite Maura Tierney as his wife, Alice. It will be his first stage performance since 1979, when he was in The Mandrake by New York's Riverside Shakespeare Company. Before then, the actor had studied theatre at college in California and as an employee of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival in Ohio. "I spent a lot of time going to plays," he once said of his college years. "I'd just drive to a theatre, buy myself a ticket, sit in the seat and read the programme, and then get into the play completely. I spent a lot of time like that, seeing Brecht, Tennessee Williams, Ibsen and all that."

Hanks is the latest in a string of Hollywood actors to head for the Great White Way. Scarlett Johansson is appearing in Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, while Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain completed her run as The Heiress this weekend. Bradley Cooper, shortlisted for a Best Actor Academy Award for Silver Linings Playbook, is said to be keen to play The Elephant Man in New York.

Much of the coverage of movie stars on stage inevitably concerns their salaries. Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig received $120,000 (£76,000) a week for their 12-week run in the two-hander A Steady Rain on Broadway in 2009. Al Pacino recently earned $125,000 a week for a revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross. Hanks will reportedly make at least $75,000 a week over the 15 weeks of Lucky Guy, as well as 12.5 per cent of box office. Tickets are changing hands for up to $350.

It's a far cry from London, where in 1998 Nicole Kidman accepted the Equity actors' union minimum wage of £250 a week for The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse. Hollywood stars are believed to burnish their credibility by appearing in the West End, and Juliette Binoche, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are thought to have taken the UK minimum for stage roles. Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey reportedly waives his £100,000 salary as artistic director of the Old Vic, to help keep the London theatre solvent.

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