Actor Tom Hanks may have a Mr Nice Guy persona, but he couldnt help being charmed by the bad boy Texan Charlie Wilson, who helped arm the Afghans in the 1980s. He talks to Steve Pratt about playing Wilson in his new movie, Charlie Wilsons War

YES, its true, says Tom Hanks. I drink a lot and Im a womaniser.

Can the man whose Mr Nice Guy persona has helped make him one of Hollywoods most successful and scandal-free movie stars really be saying these words?

The answer is yes and no. That admission of an excessive lifestyle does pass his lips, but hes in the character of the real life person he plays in his new movie, Charlie Wilsons War.

Wilson was a flamboyant American congressman from Texas who liked a drink and pretty women.

But he also masterminded a covert operation to arm the Afghans in their struggle against invading Soviet Union forces in the 1980s.

The film tells his remarkable story with an eye for a wise-cracking line and the knowledge that his action led, by default rather than design, to the crisis in the Middle East today.

Hanks seized on the story after reading a book about Wilson and enticed West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin to fashion a movie about this patriotic politician.

He reckons Wilson would win in a landslide if he was up for election today because he would tell the truth about his behaviour which, as we know, is something some politicians resist at all costs.

PEOPLE would react to him saying yes, its true I drink a lot and Im a womaniser, but let me tell you what Im going to do for healthcare, for the veterans, for the..., says the actor last seen in the film of The Da Vinci Code.

Hed be very attractive, as opposed to the people who get up and talk about the issues that are facing the American family today (and he imitates the voice of a boring politician) the American family knows the family is more important to the American family than any other family.

The Press wouldnt cut Wilson any slack, but that wouldnt matter. Today, you get your own perspective if you click on this, then click on that and you get that perspective. I dont think anybody talks about anything any more from a non-editorial point of view, he says.

Wilson has the power and the influence to make things happen, just like Hanks whose name can help films get made. I responded to Charlie Wilsons story because I couldnt believe this had even happened, he says.

When I read the book I thought this describes something almost surrealistically hilarious as well as historically accurate. I like stories, but I like real stories even better. They could make a fantastic movie about building a bridge across the Mississippi river if they do it right.

I remember very well President Carter, just as serious as a heart attack, coming on TV and saying the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Everyone went oh my god, somethings gonna happen now. And nothing happened for a long time, until almost six or seven years later, and it went away.

As far as being an actor or producer, Im in the very luxurious position of only doing stuff I feel is fascinating C and I thought this was fascinating.

Hanks met the real Charlie Wilson, which was intimidating off the bat not least because hes much taller than Hanks, has this incredibly deep voice and square jaw, although C as Hanks does in the movie C he wears his braces under his shirt epaulettes and purple cowboy boots. An odd kind of mixture, as the actor observes of a man who attracted a good deal of attention after an incident in Las Vegas involving a hot tub, strippers and cocaine.

He was thoroughly charming and every one of the women in the office went oh, oh, hes got something.

I said can you please explain what it is, so I can have a little bit of it. And they looked at me and said sorry, youre never going to have it. I said Id fake it when the time came.

The thing thats attractive about Charlie is that hes not hypocritical about who he is and what he did. That scene in the hot tub, I said did you do the drugs in Vegas, Charlie? He said Tom, I saw white powder on a red fingernail passing my face, but I dont remember breathing in. His willingness to let us assume the worst of it is the least of his concerns.

He feels as though he did something great.

Journalist George Crile began work on his book about Wilson before 9/11, in which case, its almost like an anecdotal story C look at how curious things can happen in the political world when no one is paying attention to what youre doing, which is probably the best way politics work, says Hanks.

He refers to the quote We changed the world, we did those crazy things, then we f***ed up the ending that appears at the end of the movie. Alas, movies have this they-lived-happily-ever-after structure to them whether youre Charlie Wilson or the last man on Earth, he says, his last comment poking fun at Will Smiths current cinema hit, I Am Legend.

Hanks bares his bottom in the hot tub scene, but Wilsons romantic adventures arent shown explicitly.

Whats interesting is we dont really show it.

Look, its not a horror movie, you dont need to see me frolicking in bed.

Its kind of like The Fonzie rule. Say hes the toughest guy in Milwaukee and everyone says lets be afraid of him. You say Wilsons a womaniser and see him on the balcony trying to make his moves on the Emily Blunt character and wow, hes a womaniser.

Thats all thats required.

Hanks has the air of a man whos happy with his life. As well he might, as one of Hollywoods most dependable movie stars. As a producer, he can pursue more projects because he doesnt have to be in them. I am 51 years old and been around a little bit, long enough so people say they watched Big many times because mom and dad would be going out and would say weve got Big and order pizza. I was the nations babysitter for a while.

His son, Colin Hanks, has followed him into acting.

Soon theyll be seen playing father and son in a film called The Great Buck Howard, set to premiere soon at the Sundance Film Festival. Colin found the script. I read it and said theres a role for a cranky father, Ill do it. Colins like dad just wanted to do this so he can yell at me over the breakfast table, he says.

I dont see myself in him when hes acting. I see this professional I know, this friend of mine whos in the movie. Ive felt that ever since I saw him do high school plays. Hes 14,15,16 and Im just a guy going to a school play and thinking oh my, hes doing it. Now hes more successful than I was at 30. Hes a good guy.

A good guyC rather like his father, you want to add.

ö Charlie Wilsons War (15) is now showing in cinemas.