Even a movie star like Tom Hanks needs to take a break from big-budget films every once in a while -- and making a simple movie about a middle-age guy losing his job and going back to community college for some self-discovery seems like just the ticket.
Hanks co-writes, directs and stars in Larry Crowne, a topical story about a 53-year-old box-company employee who is laid off after working there most of his life – and sees his life take a tailspin. With very little skills to do anything else, Larry decides to head to community college to try to reinvent himself and finds new friends who like to ride around campus on scooters. They open Larry's eyes to new possibilities, including finding love with a disillusioned teacher (Julia Roberts), who is also at a crossroad in her life.
On the Larry Crowne set at Cal State Dominguez Hills, Hanks took a moment to speak with the visiting journalists about making a nice, easy film. "This idea had been stewing for a few years in my head," the actor explained. "After doing the massive, huge scope projects between The Pacific and the Da Vinci Code movies, I wanted to do this smaller film that was in my head."
It's also a story that is all too familiar in this day and age. Hanks confessed he might not necessarily be in the same situation as Larry – but he can relate. "Look, all these things are biographical somehow. I remember losing a job and feeling horrible about it. I remember very well the anxiety of not being able to pay your rent and trying to make a plan over the course of time. And quite frankly, public education, specially junior college, changed my life. I wasn't 53, but the atmosphere I remember is distinct and still pays off now."
Besides, community college is hot right now. "Sure, if you go around the country," the Oscar winner concurred, "community colleges are bursting with people who are willing to learn arc-welding, composition I, bicycle repair and hotel and restaurant food preparation. I went to college for three years and got a job and drifted around. For me, quite frankly, ADD helped, being able to take that and turn it into a lucrative living. There are no rules, you can do it any way you want to."
He continued, "College is great. In the line from Marathon Man, in which Laurence Olivier says to Dustin Hoffman, 'I envy you your college days. The only time in your life when nothing is expected of you' – if you can stretch that out as long as you can, that's pretty great."
Hanks also admitted he was ready to get behind the camera once again, after learning many things since his directorial debut That Thing You Do! "There are a lot of things that will provide you the skills to direct but acting is not necessarily the best avenue for that," said the auteur. "Film editing is, cinematography is, writing and producing is. But if you're an actor, sometimes the whole day is nothing but getting a free haircut and a sandwich any time you want. You don't really have to talk to anybody about what you are doing. So, I directed a few From Here to the Moons and Band of Brothers and kept my hand creatively in other things, just to keep showing me what I had done wrong on That Thing You Do!"
But probably the best part of making Larry Crowne was riding the scooters. On the set, we watched a scene in which Larry meets up with new friend Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who introduces him to her scooter-riding gang, or as one of my fellow reporters called it “The Mild Ones.” Hanks laughed, "Yeah, I did my own stunts. We were all dangerous here, but you got to be careful. We are so low budget, I'm not sure if we have insurance. We have stunt drivers when we've got like 30 scooters going at the same time. But everyone here is an experienced scooter driver -- or at least wrote it down on their resume. I think one of the girls got her license the day before, so she was a liar but we let her keep her job."
British actress Mbatha-Raw, best known to American audiences as the star of the now-canceled NBC show Undercovers, said she had a blast making her first feature film with Hanks. "It's been wonderful working with Tom Hanks. There's a lovely intimate feel to working with him and the rest of the crew. I had to had to have scooter lessons, so that all had to get sorted out. It's not remotely intimidating, but more inspiring. Every one goofs around."
Hanks is also using all the social media techniques possible to promote Larry Crowne, like Twitter. In fact, he took a picture of us journalists, calling us "A Mild Bunch" and tweeted it. "@TomHanks: Journalists! On the Larry Crowne set! A Mild Bunch and welcome. Hanx"
"Tweeting in a way bypasses all the standard stuff you have to do. We'll have an EPK, sure, and invite journalists on the set. Making movies, essentially it's a human endeavor. We come to work every day, get to know everyone. Some days there's a lot of pressure, some days there's none. Something goofy happens one day and another you want to slug someone because you aren't getting what you want. Tweeting is just a way to fill in on how ridiculous movie making is sometimes, how mundane but also how cool and special it can be. Some days, we'll send out seven tweets, other days it's one, like a telegram on what's going on."
Hanks summed up Larry Crowne succinctly. "No one is making movies like this right now. No one gets laid. There's no gambling or tigers involved. Nothing explodes, no one gets punched in the face."
Just a guy who finds out you can have second chances in life. Larry Crowne opens in theaters July 1.