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No more Mr. Nice Guy: How Hollywood turned its back on ‘being nice’

Tom Hanks, the famously amiable Hollywood star, opened up about the pressure his nice-guy image brings. He’s not the only one, writes TV presenter Ben Cajee

Wednesday 10 May 2023 14:58 BST
‘I’ve had tough days trying to be a professional when my life has been falling apart in more ways than one,’ Hanks has said
‘I’ve had tough days trying to be a professional when my life has been falling apart in more ways than one,’ Hanks has said (Getty Images)

“You’re too nice.”

I was charged with that sentence for the first time when I was a teenager knocking about at South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon. It’s stuck around. I think it’s a compliment. It’s just shrouded in heavily-veiled condescension that suggests human decency is a negative attribute.

I’m not the only one perplexed. Tom Hanks, the famously amiable Hollywood star, opened up about the pressure his nice-guy image brings in a recent interview.

Talking to the BBC, Hanks said: “I’ve had tough days trying to be a professional when my life has been falling apart in more ways than one and the requirement for me that day is to be funny, charming and loving – and it’s the last way I feel.”

Jennifer Garner has also spoken about dealing with the weight of the label. “The problem with, ‘Oh, she’s so nice’ is that when I have any kind of boundary, people think of it as much more than it actually is,” Garner told US women’s magazine Allure. “I’ve definitely had days where I just can’t do it. I scowl at people before they can walk up to me.”

How can anyone be too nice? What does it even mean? Was Mother Teresa too nice? Martin Luther King? Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is one of my new fictional favourites – what about him?

To quote Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Detective Jake Peralta (another personal favourite, but one who’s probably never described as “too nice”), we’re talking “romantic stylez, with a z” as I was left to pick up the pieces and be the shoulder to cry on when girls I liked were somewhat unsurprisingly messed about by self-confessed “bad boys”.

I remember speaking to people slightly older (and much wiser) than me and being told that “it’s just a phase that they’ll grow out of; then you’ll come into your own.” I’ll be honest, that’s pretty scant consolation for a 16-year-old with a huge crush.

The weird thing is that I still hear murmurings of that phrase – only now it’s in a professional capacity – whether relating to me or other people in the television or entertainment industry.

It’s like a slight rumble of discontent because we’re going to make time for the runners, speak to the crew and have an understanding that making anything worthwhile is a collaborative effort that isn’t about one person’s ego.

Sometimes it feels like people want to box you off in the simplest terms. You’re serene and try to do the right thing? You’re vanilla. You’ve got something to say and want to speak truths? You’re marmite. You’re obnoxious and don’t care who you offend? You’re entertaining.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been in workplace environments where poor behaviour and toxic cultures can be overlooked or accepted just because someone is supposedly good at their job. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

When I first started out in television, it was like being thrown in at the deep end. It was daunting and the steepest of learning curves, both in terms of my ability to do the job and to deal with all the additional stuff that comes with it. I had to try to develop a much thicker skin and not take things to heart – that’s very much still a work in progress.

I concede that you can be perceived as being “too nice” if you’re a pushover, get trampled on and lose your identity or voice.

Yet, over the past few years, perhaps more than ever before (and probably because I’ve felt more confident and empowered), I’ve tried to stand up for the things that I believe in. I’ve done my best to speak truth to power and to question leadership or strategic decisions – particularly around issues of equality and diversity.

I’ve turned down jobs or opportunities that haven’t matched my values or personal integrity, because despite people saying that you have to accept everything that comes your way in order to stay relevant, garner followers and increase exposure – you have to be able to look at yourself, feel accountable and know that you’ve done right by the way that you want to live your life.

Oh, and you think I’m too nice?

You should come and have a chat with me when my workplace tell me that I can’t have an opinion on massive issues, like racism, human rights and freedom of speech; when I’m overlooked for gigs because someone who has never spoken to camera before “has more followers”; or when I was on holiday the other week and a person asked where I was from and responded to my reply by saying “are you sure you’re from England? You look Brazilian.”

Am I sure that I’m from the place where I was born and have lived for my whole life?

Yeah, I’m pretty f***ing sure.

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