"He worked all the time," Hanks said. "If it wasn't scripts and stories or payroll, he was literally building Disney World at the time."
In "Captain Phillips," Hanks was also drawn to a tale about an industrious man, merchant mariner Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009.
The screenplay, written by Billy Ray, follows Captain Phillips as he steers his massive cargo ship along the Somali coast, where a group of pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) board and terrorize the crew.
Hanks asked the real Richard Phillips, who lives in Vermont, about a scene in the script in which the captain pauses and ponders the horizon.
"He said, 'Tom I haven't done that in 35 years,' " Hanks said Phillips told him. "The captain's job is a truly pressure-filled one that never stops. And I was fascinated by that, because it ends up impacting everything that happens."
For Hanks, the work on the film was extremely physical, with Greengrass shooting on ships in open water and photographing Hanks swimming in a tank for one sequence. During filming, some of the crew got sick from the pitch of the sea.
But the most harrowing moment came from an emotional challenge — the last scene in the movie, an improvised moment in which a Navy medic tends to a wounded, freshly rescued Capt. Phillips.
Many critics have called the moment among the best in Hanks' long career.
"To get that moment as an actor and play it with absolute humanity, it's the best," Greengrass said.
For Hanks, playing Capt. Phillips — and Walt Disney — was a gamble worth taking, he said.
"Even though it would seem as though there's some kind of business decision, it's never been anything but a leap of faith," Hanks said. "And I've felt good about all the leaps of faith I've taken."