Tom Hanks stars in his third directorial project, the rom com Larry Crowne, opposite his best gal pal Julia Roberts as a middle-aged man who undergoes a personal reinvention. Struggling with the emotional toll of sudden unemployment and divorce, Larry Crowne (Hanks) enrolls at East Valley Community College to better himself without realizing the life altering effects it will have on his future and that of his English professor Mrs. Tainot (Roberts).
At a recent press conference, Hanks and Roberts chatted about the making of Larry Crowne and working with co-screenwriter Nia Vardalos, Hanks’ love for wife Rita Wilson’s blond wig, not attending college, and their own career lows… (Athlete’s Foot?).
Q: We first saw you two in Charlie Wilson’s War so it’s great to see you both reunite in Larry Crowne.
Julia Roberts: Oh, you were in that. I knew I recognized him from somewhere when I was on the set.
Tom Hanks: I was the guy in the backup.
Q: You’ve known each other for years but how did the friendship blossom?
Hanks: We’ve known each other, I’m guessing, 10 years.
Roberts: We can’t really remember when we met, but we figured out when we became friends.
Roberts: We did a photo shoot, now that we think about it...
Hanks: For Premiere magazine, so Premiere magazine had to be in existence, so that’s how long ago it was. And we laughed our heads off.
Q: Tom, why did it take six years to get the film off the ground?
Hanks: I wanted to examine the theme of reinvention, and not just reinvention by way of fame dictating it, but by how you proactively move on to the next chapter of your life. It really began with, I lose my job, I go to college, and my teacher is, say, Julia Roberts – what would happen?
In this case it’s not a mid-life crisis; it’s a mid-life disaster. A mid-life crisis is when you wake up with everything and say, “I have everything but I’m still unhappy.” That doesn’t happen to Larry; Larry thinks it’s the greatest day in the world, and he gets fired and he loses all of his community. That, to me, is something that we started off and built on it, and it was an idea that just never left.
Q: There’s a scene where Larry Crowne tells one of his classmates, Talia, that her dropping out is a foolish thing. What does the movie say to the Talias out there?
Hanks: You’re talking to a guy who left college after his third year because I began work in the field that I was studying for. Someone offered me a job as an actor, and I was studying theater at the time. And that’s what happens to Talia in this. College isn’t necessary for everybody, and it’s only from what you put into it, what you go there for. I think the only reason Talia was actually going to college was to hang out with cool people, in which case: mission accomplished. She got that job, she got the offer, and she moved on. She’s taking probably a bigger risk by leaving college and opening up a store than she would be staying in college, taking classes that she didn’t really understand in the first place.
Q: Julia, you also started acting young. I don’t think you went to college, right?
Roberts: I didn’t.
Q: How did you get your education?
Hanks: That’s a good question. School of hard knocks.
Roberts: I had very smart parents. I feel I learned a lot from both of my parents and life experience. The two of my three siblings are older, so I suppose I learned from them and became a very avid reader at a young age, which I think enough cannot be said for what you can discover through literature.
Q: Larry Crowne is devastated when he loses his job. Have you both experienced any career lows you would like to share?
Hanks: Quite frankly, our careers have been pretty well chronicled, but there is a time, I think, I’m going to guess for both of us, where we’re living in a rented house in the Valley that we cannot afford. We have been fired from the job that we had, and it’s now been 13 months since you’ve actually worked in the city, and the phone still is not yet ringing, and you wonder if, in fact, you’re going to take the job at Wiener Schnitzel on Laurel Canyon. When you have that moment it never quite goes away.
Roberts: I had the Manhattan version of that, not the Valley, it would have been the…
Hanks: What? Brew Burger instead? Brew Burger instead of Wiener Schnitzel? What job...?
Roberts: Athlete’s Foot.
Hanks: Oh that’s right. She sold shoes. There you go.
Q: The casting is very diverse. Did you do that consciously?
Hanks: It was a conscious thing because that’s the college I went to. When I went to junior community college, it was greatly diverse, and there was no individual single race or culture that was represented. As a matter of fact, we shot at Cal State Dominguez Hills-– it has the most diverse student body of any four-year university west of the Mississippi. So we wanted to reflect the world as it actually looks, particularly in a community college.
Q: Tom, I seem to remember, while you were shooting the film, you making an appearance on David Letterman and mentioning that you were casting Peter Scolari.
Hanks: Oh yes, that’s true.
Q: I didn’t see him in the movie…
Roberts: He cut him out. See, he’s not a good friend. [Laughs]
Hanks: No, here’s what happened, you liar. [Laughs] He had a conflict that we could not work out. He was doing an off-Broadway play. So alas, it didn’t work out. Such is show business.
Q: Rita Wilson is also in the film. What is it like to work with a significant other?
Hanks: My wife and I met making a movie. It’s not just our job, it’s our life; it’s what we do naturally, whether we’re working together or not. I gave the script to Rita and said okay, Julia Roberts is playing one part. The other part is Gugu. So who do you want to be? She picked it out and went to town. It’s just a blast. We’re amazed that we get paid to do it.
Roberts: And she was a hot blonde.
Hanks: I said, “Baby, is there any way at all we could take that wig home at the end of the work day?” [Laughs] “Can you just keep it on? Let me take it off later...” I’m joking.
Q: In a summer full of blockbuster movies and explosions and animatronics, this movie, although upbeat, is about a downer subject. How do you get people to come out and see a movie of this nature?
Hanks: It’s the type of movie that I myself am attracted to as an audience-going guy. How do we compete in the marketplace? Forgive me, I haven’t the slightest f*cking idea. [Laughs] The nature of movies is different than it was five years ago, now they are driven by the possibilities of CGI, which means you can make anything happen onscreen. That’s a great freedom the filmmaker has. But when you are going to try to have people talk in a room and actually reflect life as we know it, then it’s a much bigger gamble. At the end of the day, it’s got to be a good movie, it’s got to be a funny movie, and it’s got to make people think, "Hey, I couldn’t have spent my time any better."
And by the way, that thing about the guy who wore a suit and the planet exploded and he still got the girl by traveling through time – that movie sucked. [Laughs]