CANNES, France - You have to feel sorry for Tom Hanks. For nearly two decades from "Saving Private Ryan" to "Bridge of Spies", the actor has been the go-to star for director Steven Spielberg.
But now Hanks seems to have been pushed down the Hollywood mogul's speed dial by British actor Mark Rylance.
The Spielberg-Rylance "bromance" is the talk of the Cannes film festival, with the director blushingly admitting that the two had become "buddies". "I have so much respect for Mark," he said.
Spielberg has cast Rylance in four films in a row, including his adaptation of the children's classic "The BFG", with critics adoring the actor's performance as Roald Dahl's friendly giant after its weekend premiere at the festival.
"I have not done that with any other actor since Rod Steiger, who was in everything I did from 'Jaws' to 'Close Encounters,'" the director told AFP.
"Working with Mark on 'The BFG' was one of the most astonishing experiences I ever had in my entire career working with anybody," he had earlier told reporters.
"I just feel lucky to know him. I am even luckier that we became friends," he added.
"I have made a lot of acquaintances over 44 years of directing and I haven't brought a lot of people from the movies into my life.
"We have so much fun together as friends, as buddies. But that is not why I am casting him. There is nobody better to play the roles," said 69-year-old Spielberg.
Rylance, regarded by many as one of the greatest stage actors of his generation, is to play Pope Pius IX in Spielberg's upcoming tale of 19th-century anti-Semitism, "The Kidnapping Of Edgardo Mortara", as well as starring in sci-fi thriller "Ready Player One".
'My golden whizzpopper'
"To have a friendship and a professional working relationship (with Rylance) is just a dream come true. That's my golden whizzpopper," Spielberg joked, referring to the word the giants in "The BFG" use for farts -- a sign of happiness in Giant Country.
And he laughed off any idea that Hanks had been elbowed out of the picture.
He said Hanks saw the genius of Rylance's Oscar-winning performance in Cold War thriller "Bridge of Spies" from his very first take.
"My jaw dropped open (too) at what he was doing," Spielberg said of Rylance's first scene in the movie, in which he plays a Soviet agent being handed back to the Russians in a spy swap negotiated by Hanks' American lawyer.
"The second we finished this long four-and-a half-minute shot, Tom Hanks hustled me to the side of the room and gasped, 'Oh my God!'
"Tom's eyes were popping out. 'Can you believe him! Can you believe what he did?' he said. Hanks was going nuts. It was an incredible day. At the end of it I asked Mark to read a script for 'The BFG'," he added.
Ironically, Rylance told AFP that he turned down the chance to work with Spielberg 30 years ago on "Empire of the Sun" when he was still a struggling young actor.
"I was offered a theatre job the next day which did change my acting fundamentally and I met my wife," he said.
"It was a good decision," he said, even if that season at London's National Theatre ended with him being laid off because the audiences were so small.
"I did think at the time, 'That was my chance to get into film and now I never will'," he said.
"Steven is very sweet," said Rylance, 56. "He said if I had done 'Empire of the Sun' he would have cast me in a lot of films. But I don't think I was ready."
Asked what it felt like to be Spielberg's new best friend, he said: "Inexplicable... it's very remarkable for me as an actor to have the chance to hang out with him.
"He has a very good and sensitive heart. He likes to work so the only way you can hang out with him is to work as well. And you gradually become aware that he also surrounds himself with geniuses, so that is very interesting," he said.
Spielberg said he loved the gentle, vivid openness of Rylance's imagination. "My dream life is my creative process. In everything we do we play with each other's dreams."
But for all his Oscars and success at the box office, the director said only two films had changed his life -- "E.T." and "Schindler's List".
"I never wanted to be a father before 'E.T.' but I really bonded with the three kids. I walked away wanting to have kids and my first son was born three years later," he said.
His film about the Holocaust, "Schindler's List", was made as a warning about "hatred, homophobia, Islamophobia and the rest of what we read about today. It changed my life... and it continues be a reminder that this could happen again."