SheKnows: You have had great scenes with kids in a lot of your movies. How do you relate to kids so well?
Tom: I love kids. I was a kid myself, once. [laughs] I actually still am a big kid, really. I taught at YMCAs when I was a kid. And I just love children. I just find it very easy to communicate with them.
I don’t talk down to kids. I am not authoritarian with children. I have actually found that giving them respect and dignity and asking what do they think about it is better than ordering them. So, I find out what do they want to do. Play games.
Acting a lot of times is you understand the structure of the scene but you’ve got to play jazz within that structure, and have prepared well enough and be skilled enough to just let it happen and find those moments.
With the little boy in The Last Samurai, we’d draw each other pictures. He doesn’t speak English. So I would just draw pictures and we would draw pictures to each other back and forth. We had a wonderful communication together. I started doing this off camera [making faces] and he started imitating me, making all these things.
That is how I am with children. I just talk to them. They’re just beautiful. And you just listen to them and acknowledge what they say. And I find that, especially with children, they want to contribute. Even my kids, when they come in and they mess up the work and I’m busy… But they are just trying to help out, so I always say ‘Thank you.’ That’s how I am with them and I find that they’re happier and I’m happier as a result..
SK: The Holidays are coming up — What do you like most? Traditions? Indulgence? And do you dare come near the kitchen to help with the Turkey?
Tom: I can cook. I can cook. I have cooked turkeys in my day. But when mom is around, I will let her do that. My mother is a great cook. Fried chicken, southern food. Great, great cook. When she is around, I like her stuffing best. Her turkey.
I like having lots of people around. Lots of kids. I live with my sister and her three kids. So the more kids, the more friends and family and anyone who wants to come and hang out. I enjoy that. Some of my fondest memories as a child growing up were those big Christmases with the cousins. And I remember, I would say one of the best Christmases as a kid was the time when we didn’t buy anything, we didn’t but each other stuff. My mother actually came up with this idea to pick names out of a hat and for a month you had to do something for that person and on Christmas day, you had to write a poem or a story for that person — you had to do something special for that person every day for a month leading up to Christmas. And you can’t reveal who it is.
So all five of us were running around going — I would go in and — I had one of my sisters. So I had to go in and make her bed while she was in the shower. And you can’t get caught. So it had this — it was fantastic. Then Christmas Day came and we each stood up and said who we had and wrote a story and I just loved that.
My mother was very much — We would go to nursing homes to help people around that time. And she was very much supportive and encouraging to help others. What is a life if you are not contributing to others and doing something to help someone?
SK: You have spoken about finding inner peace. How has that helped you in your life with your children and maybe even your relationship with your ex-wife?
Tom: It helps in all areas of my life. As an actor, with my kids, with Nic, with my job. In all areas. When you are happy, life is easier to deal with. It’s not less interesting. It is definitely challenging and exciting. So my relationship with my kids has always been wonderful. But it grows. And it gets better.
It’s not just the success of a film that is my basis for happiness. It is really a pleasure in life. A pleasure in my work. And a pleasure in my kids, where I am there with them, with people that I’m with. I find it is wonderful. And it does help. Because when you have a parent who is happy, and there, I see it in them.