For many, there is only one Forrest Gump: Tom Hanks.
Hanks embodied the low-IQ, tender-hearted character in the 1994 drama and won an Oscar for his performance – one of six for “Forrest Gump,” including best picture. He made Gumpisms like, “Life is like a box of chocolates” and “Stupid is as stupid does” part of the national vernacular.
But as “Forrest Gump” turns 25 on Saturday (with a new anniversary release out on Blu-ray and digital HD platforms), producer Wendy Finerman says the No. 1 question she gets asked is: “Is there a real Forrest Gump?”
It’s a complicated answer for a work of fiction. But here’s the definitive round-up of all possibilities.
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There were Hollywood stars contending for the role, including Bill Murray and Matthew Broderick
Bill Murray as Forrest Gump? Murray told Howard Stern in 2014 that he “did have conversations” to star in the film.
He wasn’t alone. The process of bringing Winston Groom’s 1986 novel to the screen took years for Finerman and screenwriter Eric Roth. Other actors were considered.
“The movie was 10 years in the making. Tom Hanks was not Tom Hanks in the beginning of the process,” says Finerman. “There were a lot of people we looked at. But we were not deep in with anybody.”
Groom’s book describes a physically larger, earthier character, with the author imagining John Goodman for the role. Finerman recalls discussions with Matthew Broderick (“He’s such a fine comedian with a heart”) and Chevy Chase (“Large, funny man”). One persistent Internet rumor, reported by the BBC, claims that John Travolta rejected the role. Finerman has no memory of any discussion with Travolta (“Maybe he read a script”).
But as soon as the final script was written and Robert Zemeckis was brought on board to direct, the clear choice was Hanks.
Tom Hanks stood in for real war hero Sammy Lee Davis
Sammy Lee Davis is often described as “the real Forrest Gump.”
The famous scene in which Forrest Gump is bestowed with the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson was taken from footage of the actual ceremony honoring the Vietnam War heroics of then-Private First Class Sammy L. Davis. During a horrendous battle on Nov. 18, 1967, Davis fought with valor after his squad of 42 was attacked by an estimated 1,500 Vietcong soldiers.
Davis was shot more than 30 times in the back and buttocks by friendly fire, a similar location to the injury Gump received onscreen. “I was wounded in the same place as Forrest Gump. They built a lot of things around my story,” Davis says.
Too injured to swim, he paddled an air mattress across a river to aid wounded soldiers.
For the movie, Hanks was digitally superimposed into the real medal ceremony. Gump showing the president his butt wound was comedic fiction, but Davis and President Johnson joked about eating crawfish.
Davis attended the 25th anniversary “Forrest Gump” screening on the National Mall in Washington and incorporates the movie into school lectures he gives across the nation.
As for the “real Forrest Gump” label, Davis says simply, “I’m honored.”
Jimbo Meador provided true inspiration
Groom dedicates the book to his childhood pals Jimbo Meador and George Radcliff. Besides taking cues from Meador’s speech and vocal pattern, there were other elements similar to Gump: Meador, who now offers river delta boat excursions, was the general manager of seafood processor Bon Secour Fisheries and highly shrimp-knowledgeable.
After the movie’s release, Meador told AMC he was peppered with questions about being the “real” Forrest Gump. “I guess,” he replied. “All but the idiot part.”
But it got out of hand with People and “A Current Affair” wanting interviews. “The London Times sent a reporter, different magazines and newspapers, even a radio station in Australia. The people at David Letterman called,” Meador said. “But there, I drew the line. I kept telling everybody, ‘The story is fiction.’ ”
There will be a Bollywood remake
Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan will star in and produce an Indian adaptation of “Forrest Gump,” going by the title “Lal Singh Chaddha.” At his 54th birthday party in March, Khan announced the film, which he’ll be working on with Paramount Studios and play the lead role. Before eating cake, Khan said he’d be losing nearly 50 pounds to play the title character. Production is set to start in October, and the film is expected to be released in 2020.
“I have always loved ‘Forrest Gump’ as a script,” Khan said at the news conference. “It is a wonderful story about this character.”
Don’t expect an exact replication. Finerman calls the character “Forrest Gump-esque. It’s more of the miraculous travels of a very unique person.”