Every once in awhile, a movie comes along that truly captures the hearts of moviegoers with its catchy soundtrack, its memorable cast and its brilliant cinematic storytelling. That Thing You Do is one of those movies. Released to theaters in 1996, the story follows the short-lived yet still extravagant journey of The Wonders, a foursome group of Erie, Pennsylvania friends that make it big with their hit single “That Thing You Do” in 1964. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release and after all these years, its popularity continues to reach new milestones.
To effectively celebrate this important anniversary, it was time to “get the band back together” now in 2021 to chat with actors Tom Everett Scott (“Guy”), Johnathon Schaech (“Jimmy”), Ethan Embry (“T.B.”) and Steve Zahn (“Lenny”) as they reflect on filming That Thing You Do and how the movie’s ongoing momentum continues to shape their lives today.
What might be most interesting is That Thing You Do was actually not an overnight success initially in 1996. The movie only brought in just over six million at the box office its opening weekend. However, through word-of-mouth from satisfied moviegoers and the popularity of its soundtrack, particularly its title theme song, That Thing You Do has become a bonafide gem within pop culture. “People love that movie. It’s always on TV,” Johnathon tells Forbes. “Anyone who plays music or in a band, they’re the first ones to fall in love with it because it tells their stories. It tells their stories of dreams.”
Ethan says he just recently realized the full magnitude That Thing You Do has had on the public today. “I had no idea so many people still love the movie, listen to the soundtrack,” Ethan continues. “To me, it’s a movie that I made and I would hear the theme song play at the grocery store every once in awhile.” Steve recalls having a similar encounter. “The funniest thing is I was grocery shopping and I was walking with my list and the song came on in the store. Those are the moments that make me smile. I recorded myself lip-syncing while I shopped and sent it to Tom. When the movie you do permeates other parts of life, the song is playing at the grocery store! That kind of thing is wow, that’s crazy.”
The bond these four made while filming on-set more than 25 years ago has grown into life-long friendships. “It’s just so cool that we’re still friends,” Tom says. “Steve and I really struck up a friendship. He was the Best Man at my wedding. We just stayed in touch and we’re just as close.” Johnathon says that Steve, who has now been living in Kentucky for several years, was the person that encouraged him to leave California and move near his neck of the woods. “He said you got to get out of that rat race,” says Johnathon remembering Steve’s words to him. “Your brain just doesn’t work that way. Creativity doesn’t work that way. You just got to go to the backroads.” Steve shares an excitement in having Johnathon close by these days. “Johnathon now lives in Nashville and he’s closer to me and we’re excited to hang out once all this crap is over,” Steve says regarding the pandemic. “Steve is the only one I haven’t seen in 20 years,” Ethan reveals. “Johnathon and I kept in touch a lot after filming. Tom and I started running into each other again maybe ten years ago. It has always been super lovely. They’re all just really lovely dudes and always have been.”
All four men did virtually reunite last year in the form of a That Thing You Do watch party together, in honor of the passing of Adam Schlesinger, the music artist who was the actual singing voice behind their movie’s hit song. Adam lost his life to the Covid-19 virus in April 2020. Proceeds made during the watch party went to the MusiCares Covid-19 Relief Fund, which provides health, financial and rehabilitation resources to music people in times of need.
The love and admiration for one another goes well beyond just these four alone. Liv Tyler, who played “Faye” in That Thing You Do, not only made a lasting impression on the guys while filming but she too continues to keep in contact with them today. “Liv and I had just finished Empire Records,” Ethan recalls filming directly before That Thing You Do. “We had just spent the whole summer together and had an absolutely beautiful experience together. I had curbed my love for her because I was in a long-term relationship. There was love there. It was absolutely fantastic to be able to hang out with her yet again.” Steve says that he even had Liv come visit him at his Kentucky home in 2013. “Liv was driving across country in a camper and her and her sons stayed at my farm for a few days. She just sent me pictures from that. This was so much fun! I taught her how to drive a tractor and everything.”
That Thing You Do really gave many of these young, charismatic actors their first real break in Hollywood. Even Charlize Theron, who has gone on to build an Oscar-winning career, started out as “Guy’s” fleeting girlfriend “Tina” in the movie. However, the indisputable mastermind behind this beloved project is none other than their “Mr. White” co-star and That Thing You Do’s writer & director Tom Hanks. “He was like a big kid,” Steve remembers of Tom Hanks on-set. “He was almost more excited for us than we were for ourselves. That’s what is beautiful about Tom. Not only is he a great artist and an even better human being, his enthusiasm is infectious. He’s truly one of the most inspiring and influential in my career.” Tom Everett Scott shares a similar appreciation for his fellow Tom. “He really taught me a lot. He took me under his wing and was extremely gracious. He was incredible. He was a great mentor and he is a very nice man, it’s true. Everything you hear is true.” Johnathon recalls the value Tom Hanks brought to set. “Either Tom cast people who had optimism or he just led with it. We were constantly laughing. All of us were just amazed by him.” Ethan shares what he would like to see more of from Tom Hanks. “I would want to see him direct again because he was so good at it. We all know how brilliant of a performer he is, but I would love to see him direct again. I hope he does because what he gives to actors is really amazing to be a part of.”
That Thing You Do recently made headlines once again, as the movie’s soundtrack went platinum, which Tom Everett Scott proudly posted a semi-reunion photo on March 1 to his Instagram page. “Gary Goetzman is the greatest producer in the history of producing and he said Come on, let’s go have lunch. Johnathon Schaech is in town and I’ll give you your platinum record. I didn’t need any further instruction,” Tom laughs. “We all got Covid tested and had socially distant lunch and I got the platinum record.”
As the 25th anniversary of That Thing You Do continues onward, the guys seem to have nothing but fond memories. “It was the perfect job at that time in our lives,” Steve continues. “What a unique experience we had as actors to be a part of such a great movie, such a great experience.” Ethan believes the longevity the film has seen is thanks in large part to one major aspect. “I think it really is about that music. Watching it again recently while we were doing the live commentary thing, let the music take you which is a great way to live in general.”
As for fans of all ages, who have latched onto That Thing You Do, Tom has some kind words for this loyal base of supporters. “I just want to say thank you to the fans. Thank you for loving it. I’m glad you enjoy it. I’ve enjoyed it just as much, if not more.” Johnathon wraps up our discussion with a motivating message for their growing fans. “They need to get louder. They need to want to see this more and share it with everyone! It can’t be cult, it needs to be in the forefront. Whatever it gives out, the goodness of That Thing You Do, we need more of that in this world.”