For Hollywood veteran Tom Sherak, being president of the film academy carries practically the same honor and responsibility as leading a nation.
"I just found out just a little while ago I'm the 33rd president of the academy, and I was trying to think who the 33rd president of the United States was," Sherak said Wednesday in his first interview as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "I'm not quite sure why I would think that, but it just came to my mind for some crazy reason."
Perhaps it's because the 64-year-old executive loves the movie business so much, that leading the academy dedicated to it is almost too good.
Sherak has 40 years of film experience — as a partner at Revolution Studios, where he worked on "Black Hawk Down" and "Anger Management" and as a senior executive at Fox, where his marketing and distribution credits include "Wall Street," "Die Hard," "Aliens" and "Independence Day."
Movies "become part of our lives," Sherak said, his eyes widening. "Something that we learn from, something we're able to escape to and that never goes away."
Now a consultant to Marvel Studios and a visiting assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Sherak has served as governor of the film academy's executive branch for six years.
"I didn't get it right away, what this organization really was," he said. "I had been a member for many years, but I got to learn from board members both past and present what this organization is really about. What it did, the things it does for our business, for the crafts ..."
"It's one of those philanthropic organizations that deals with an art and a science and strives to make this business better," he continued. "It sounds kind of hokey sometimes to people who are not a part of it... I didn't get it at first, but it became such a privilege to be involved."
As president, Sherak hopes to guide the more than 6,000-member organization into the future, to tap the minds of its members and "give some sort of stewardship to put all those ideas together to move the academy forward into the next five or 10 years."
He's already been part of a big change in next year's Academy Awards: Sherak led the committee that proposed increasing the number of best-picture nominees from five to 10.
"I thought it was a radical idea that, if it worked, would make our show better and give more people the opportunity to be thought of as a possible best picture," he said. "And if it doesn't work, we'll go back to five."
Sherak is so humbled that his peers chose him to lead the academy and so grateful for the chance to contribute to the business he loves that his election Tuesday night left him almost speechless.
"I'm not a person who is normally at a loss for words," he said. "The confidence all my peers showed in me, it made me do a lot of thinking... It really shook me a little bit, it did."
And the 33rd president of the United States was Harry Truman.