BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Tom Hanks wants to be one of the Wright brothers in his next life. Halle Berry and Ben Whishaw would like to come back in feline form. Susan Sarandon wants to remain a woman, and she'd like a great set of singing pipes.
The stars of "Cloud Atlas" – along with British author David Mitchell, who wrote the novel that inspired the genre-bending epic about souls returning and intertwining over the centuries – shared their beliefs and disbeliefs about reincarnation as the film heads to U.S. theaters Friday.
Hanks himself doesn't buy into reincarnation, while Berry, Whishaw, Mitchell, Sarandon and co-stars Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess either believe or at least think it's possible that souls come back for an encore.
"I think there's far too many reincarnated Cleopatras to buy into the notion that the exact person comes back as someone else," Sarandon said. "But I do believe that this energy which can't be destroyed when a person dies, where does that go?"
"I've met people that I know I knew, where I had no way of knowing them," Berry said. "I think that comes from some other past-life connection. I never have been able to say, when we're done, we're done. I just choose not to believe that. I don't want to believe that when I die, I just turn into a lump of dust, and that's all there was to me. I want to believe that there's a soul.
"I've seen people die before, like right before my eyes, and I feel like I've seen their souls just leave their body. And I believe it goes somewhere. I don't believe it just goes off into this abyss of nothingness."
Directed by siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski ("The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run"), "Cloud Atlas" spins six stories spanning 500 years, with the actors taking on multiple roles playing the same souls progressing through the ages.
Here are their thoughts on their next-life prospects.
Hanks (interviewed alongside Berry): One of the Wright brothers. I'd love to be the first guy to see the earth from the sky. I think that'd be great. Either one, Orville or Wilbur. Who was the funniest? I want to be the funny Wright brother.
Berry: I'm going to choose an animal (Hanks rolls his eyes). Probably a lion. King of the jungle. Some animal roaming the earth.
Hanks: Let's say I'm going to buy the reincarnation thing. I'm taking animals out of it.
Hanks: You have never seen a happy old lion, and I would like to be somebody who can be happy when they're old. Old lions, you know what they do? They've got busted teeth, and they've got ulcers somewhere. They can't catch anything. They get thrown out of the pride.
Berry: How do you know that?
Hanks: Because I've seen old lions! I've been to the zoo!
Berry: But they're in the zoo. I don't want to be in the zoo. I want to be out in the wild.
Hanks: Oh, man. You've seen "The Lion King" way too many times.
Whishaw: I don't want to be human. I'd like to be an animal, and maybe some kind of big cat. A predatory cat.
Sturgess: You always want to say some sort of incredible artist of some sort, but actually, maybe not human at all. To experience life as a different animal would be kind of interesting. I mean, a bird. Having the opportunity to fly. That would be pretty awesome. Something as far away as what your experience this time around could possibly be.
Weaving: I love working on the land, actually. My dad's family came from a long line of illiterate farm laborers in the west country of England. Generations and generations of them. There's something of that in me, I think. I plant a lot of trees. I have a property about three hours north of Sydney and head up there with family and friends. So maybe something to do with the earth and the land, or trees or nature.
Sarandon: I like being a woman. I really do, and I guess it would depend on how the world is. But I would certainly like to be a very healthy woman, girl, young girl, that lives in a time of empowerment. Not necessarily wealthy, but empowered somehow. And I'd like to be able to sing like a black woman. That must be so joyful to be able to open your mouth in the shower and have Alicia Keys come out of you. I don't care what I look like so much, but if I could open my mouth – it doesn't have to be professional. It could be privately, but instead of talking like this, to be able to express yourself that way would be great. Anything musical, because I don't think I'm particularly musical.
Mitchell: We've really lucked out in this life. We're sort of reasonably middle-class-ish people in a lucky, privileged country where existence isn't a grim scramble for survival in brutal conditions. I'd be delighted to be here again pretty much in this form, thank you very much. If there's space for me.