If Hollywood star Tom Hanks chose to run for president you feel it’s a role he could pull off. He’s a bright guy for one thing, hugely likeable and has long since got used to keep exalted company, be it major movie figures like his friend Steven Spielberg, or Barack Obama himself.

Hanks was, after all, one of those stars invited by the President to a banquet during his recent UK visit.

“I couldn’t figure out what I was doing there,” he laughs. “It was magnificent, I’m an American – I should be hanged for treason. But it was an honour in every way, shape and form.

“To be there for the President’s dinner, for the speech in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Hall and to get a few moments with the Queen, that’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”

Some actors of his stature would react with a sense of entitlement to such an honour. A few might be resentful that Her Majesty didn’t bow to them. But Hanks is different, he seems like one of us even if his performing talents and shrewd judgement have brought him wealth, and the professional affirmation that comes with back-to-back Oscars for his work in the films Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.

So even though he’s Hollywood royalty these days we still believe him playing an ordinary guy like Larry Crowne, a navy veteran who is made redundant from his retail job because he never completed his high school diploma.

Although drowning in debt he resolves to meet the challenge head on, to enrol in community college and get the necessary qualifications to turn his life around. It doesn’t hurt, in this film that Hanks co-wrote and directs, that his teacher is played by Julia Roberts. The theme of reinvention is one any half-decent actor can recognise and it has been played out for real in Hanks’ own career.

He began as an amiable light comedian in films like Splash, the hilarious (but rude) Bachelor Party, the poignant Big and others.

Now he’s a modern cinema icon, adept in dramatic roles where his presence in films like The Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan and Road To Perdition lends them an extra weight and quality. Not to mention his recurring vocal role in the Toy Story films.

As Hanks tells it, the turning point came when he learned that real power for any actor comes from being able to say no to unappealing projects that are offered to him.

“They ask you to do something and you think your job is to say yes,” he nods. “Even when you learn how to say no to things it’s hard because the money’s good and the job could be exciting.

“After I did A League of Their Own, I think I was 37 at the time, I realised I was not a young man any more, and I didn’t want to play those guys who said ‘oh poor me, I’m not happy, I don’t have a job’. I wanted to play men who were experiencing bitter compromise.

“That was really the first time. And by saying no I kind of took an entire kind of movie off my creative desk, all those variations of those kind of 80s comedies that so many people – including me – made.”

Another area in which Hanks is able to exercise control is in developing projects as a producer, these include the global hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and writing and directing films as he did with That Thing You Do! and has done again with Larry Crowne.

“I think I have certain strengths, none of them are cinematic unfortunately,” he explains. “I know how to get a spirit of a scene together and there are some that just come together perfectly. There are other times when I need the help of the actors and the cinematographer and a few other people. I’m not a director, at the end of the day, I’m a storyteller.

“I still have the same amount of enthusiasm and fun, and the day before we start shooting a movie I can never sleep because I’m so excited about getting to go off and do it. No matter what it’s about, I still can’t wait to get up and do it.”