Sinise Goes Legless For Forrest Gump

The Age

Friday November 25, 1994

Jim Schembri

`Forrest Gump' has become the fourth-biggest film in cinema history.

JIM SCHEMBRI talks to the man who plays a war veteran with a cause.

IF YOU want to make Gary Sinise laugh, just ask him about legs. He just hasn't had much luck with them in films recently. ``It doesn't look like it, does it," he says, drawing a long, loud chuckle. ``I have had, let's see, three leg things!" As the soft-spoken neighborhood Nazi in Jack the Bear he had an injured one; in the last few hours of the mammoth Stephen King mini- series The Stand he managed to break one; and in Forrest Gump, as the angry vietnam warrior Lt Dan, he loses them both from the knee down.

Though Sinise spends most of his screen time in Gump legless, he played these scenes with his legs in full view, covered in special blue stockings. They were later digitally amputated, an illusion so convincing it left Sinise in shock.

``I knew what we did to achieve the effects, but I was also awestruck at just how effective it was," he says. ``I sat there with the audience the first time I saw it and heard everybody just go (he breathes in deeply) whoaaa! They were dumbstruck by it. Many people forgot that I was walking in the beginning of the movie and think that I'm an actor who doesn't have legs!" But the remarkable special effects that pepper Forrest Gump are not what has made it the fourth-biggest film in cinema history, and the number-one draw at the Australian box office, taking $4.6 million thus far. So what has? In a well-rehearsed response, Sinise talks about how Gump ``pushes so many different emotional buttons", how ``there's something that everybody can grab on to", that ``you can't predict where the film is going", and how a film can't do so well without ``people revisiting it because it is an experience they want to relive".

More considered thoughts come forth at the suggestion that Forrest Gump is the odyssey of an innocent. Gump (Tom Hanks) is a simpleton with a low IQ who happenstance places in the company of historical figures, at pivotal moments in American history, and is bestowed with remarkable skills, such as ping pong. He is not a hero out to prove anything or blow anything up. Sinise warms to the idea immediately.

``We live in a cynical world, a mistrustful world, and whenever something can rise to the top and overcome that we embrace it," he says. ``People would still like to believe in magic, and as cynical as we are, this movie has been touching the hearts of the most cynical."

Lt Dan represents Sinise's best screen work to date. It is an intense portrayal of a crippled veteran whose anger stems not so much from having been denied a life, but having been denied an honorable, military death.

``I looked at the story of Lt Dan as somebody who's crippled and somebody who has healed," Sinise explains. ``I also looked at the fact that I was playing somebody who really exists. There are many Lt Dans out there today who have to live with the casualties of war. I met a lot of them."

And they thanked him, too.

``I was given an award by the Disabled Veterans of America for playing Lt Dan. This is an organisation that has 1.6 million members, disabled veterans from World War II onward. They saw Forrest Gump and saw Lt Dan as a positive portrayal of somebody in their circumstance, and they felt they had to acknowledge it in some way.

``When I went to receive the award there were 5000 people there, many of them disabled veterans, so I was playing ... I was representing them."

This has been a remarkable year for Sinise. As well as having a major role in Forrest Gump, he also played the lead in Stephen King's The Stand, one of the most watched mini-series in American TV history: 33 million people tuned in on the first night and only three million lost interest by the fourth.

It is not sudden success. Sinise has been acting and directing on film and stage for 20 years. He directed the films Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich and Miles from Home with Richard Gere, and founded the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 1974.

He is beginning to get offers now, but he still auditions. He is careful not to take anything for granted.

``The important thing is to just be involved in good stories and play good characters with qualified people. That is something I am going to continue to try to do. I'm doing nothing any differently than I did in the theatre for the many years I worked there.

``The main objective is to find good projects, and that's always the difficult thing. You may get offered things, but it doesn't mean that they're any good."

+Forrest Gump is screening at the Russell Cinemas.

© 1994 The Age

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