Tom Hanks may be one of the world's biggest movie stars, but he's still sensitive to the plight of regular folk. In Larry Crowne—which he co-wrote, directed and starred—he plays a blue-collar worker forced to reinvent himself when he gets downsized from his job. (Thankfully, when he goes back to college, his teacher is Julia Roberts.) Boxoffice joined a small group of journalists at the recent Los Angeles press day for Larry Crowne, where Hanks and Roberts laughed and interrupted each other while chatting about their own experiences as part of America's work force, the benefits of a good education and why college didn't work for them.
You worked on Charlie Wilson's War together and you've known each other a long time, can you tell us a little bit about your relationship?
Tom Hanks: We've known each other I'm guessing 10 years. We met, we figured this out—
Julia Roberts: Well we can't really remember when we met, but we figured out when we became friends.
JR: We did an inexplicable photo shoot now that we think about it.
TH: For Premiere Magazine, so Premiere Magazine had to be in existence so that's how long ago or how recently it was, and we laughed our heads off.
JR: We did.
TH: And from there, it became a pleasant thing, and then Charlie Wilson's War, and then we wrote this.
Obviously directing takes a lot longer than simply acting in a movie. Tom, what was it about this particular subject matter that made you want to do both and to stick with this project for so many years in order to get it off the ground?
TH: Six years of talking about this with Nia [Vardalos, co-writer] really started it off. I wanted to examine the theme of reinvention, and not just reinvention by way of fate dictating it, but by your own proactive place in how you move onto whatever the next chapter of your life is going to be. It really began: I lose my job, I go to college, and my teacher is Julia Roberts. What would happen? And then we go back and then you continually fill up the reasons that he goes to college in the first place and what those issues are. I actually think it's fascinating anytime you're going to talk about an individual's adventure, and in this case, it's the adventure of what he is going to do for the rest of his life. 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 you go, "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 then he gets fired and he loses all of his community as well as he possibly loses his house. That, to me, is something that we started off with and we just built on it and it was an idea that just never left. I thought that if we can do it in a very authentic manner meaning that we show it as truly possible, the logic of it all makes sense. As opposed to the usual contrivances of a movie like this: an evil father-in-law who doesn't want his daughter to marry him, a boss who is trying to blah, blah, blah, whatever goes along. It's the type of movie that I myself am attracted to as an audience going guy. I think it's a delicate balance trying to make a movie about it.
Can you talk about the diverse casting? Was that a conscious effort?
TH: It was a conscious thing because that's the college that I went to. When I went to junior community college, it was loaded with every conceivable type of person. It was greatly diverse and there was no individual, single race or culture that was represented. So we wanted to have that. In fact, we shot at Cal State Dominguez Hills which is down in Orange County and has the most diverse student body of any four-year university west of the Mississippi. We wanted to reflect the world as it actually looks, particularly in a community college.
What inspired you to use the comedy troupe Culture Clash in the film? They're three very funny guys.
TH: Yeah, they're great. I had seen a production of theirs that they did at the Getty a little over a year ago and I just admired them so much. I wanted to be able to number one represent what the restaurant industry looks like, which is an awful lot of Hispanics that work there—and also make one of them the boss because he'd been there for a long time-and also hire actors that would come up with so much great stuff. I was always able to say to them "Guys, come up with something in the background there." And, as you'll notice, they loaded it up in the frame with more stuff than I could have possibly imagined. So, great jobs for great actors, I hope.
While you were shooting the film, you made an appearance on the David Letterman Show and mentioned you were casting Peter Scolari, your old Bosom Buddies co-star.
TH: Oh yes, that's true.
He's not in the movie. Did it not work out?
JR: He cut him out. See, he's not a good friend.
TH: You liar! No, no, here's what happened. First of all, he was in the movie but he had a conflict that we could not work out. He was doing an Off Broadway play, I can't remember the name of it, forgive me, that was actually opening the week that we would have shot his stuff. So alas, it didn't work out. He was doing it, along came the conflict, and such is show business.
What role was it?
TH: It actually would have been Frank, the owner of Frank's. But we were lucky enough to have Ian Gomez, who we'd worked with before in the past as well. So it's just one of the things that happens in big time professional show business.
Do you hope to work with him again?
TH: Oh I always do. Peter was in From the Earth to the Moon. Peter was in That Thing You Do. I always want to work with Peter again.
JR: They're bosom buddies.
TH: There you go! That's how close we are.
There's a scene where Larry Crowne tells Talia who's just dropped out of school, "That was a foolish thing to do." There are people that do pretty well without going to college. What does that scene say to the Talias out there?
TH: Well, 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 in theater at the time—and that's what happens to Talia in this. You know, college isn't necessary for everybody and it's only from what you put into it, what you go there for, and I think Talia was actually going to college to hang out with cool people. I think that was the only reason she was going to college, in which case, mission accomplished. She got that job, she got the offer, and she moved on. Bravo to her. She's taken probably a bigger risk by leaving college and opening up that store than she would be staying in college and taking classes that she didn't really understand in the first place.
Julia, in the movie, your husband was addicted to porn.
JR: I know. So picky!
TH: And none of the guys here would ever think of spending their time in such a manner.
In real life, what are some of the behavior or addictions you would not tolerate in a husband?
JR: Well luckily, I'm happily married to a person that I admire and enjoy so it's not really fair to say or to conjure some kind of bad scenario that I wouldn't tolerate. I mean, people have their different ideas of what's good and what's happy, and in this particular scenario that Tom drew for me, it was fun to play and Bryan [Cranston, who plays her husband] is hilarious. But yeah, it's sad for both of them the situation they've gotten themselves into in that house.
You also started acting young and I don't believe you went to college.
JR: I didn't.
How did you get your education?
TH: That's a good question. It's the school of hard knocks.
JR: It's the school of hard knocks. Tom!
TH: Sorry, I'm answering your questions for you.
JR: Please do. Please, I beg you. I have very smart parents. I feel I learned a lot from both of my parents and life experience. 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. So I think that was probably my most valued characteristic as a teenager.
Can you talk about the soundtrack for this movie?
TH: Oh, some of the music that we chose? You see that Larry has that big record collection so we all thought what does Larry listen to? Well he would probably pull these songs out of there and that's the soundtrack of Larry's life.
In a summer full of blockbuster movies with explosions and animatronics, how do you compete and get people to come out and see a movie of this nature?
TH: How do we compete in the marketplace? Forgive me, I haven't the slightest f--king idea. It's going to be interesting because here we are in a summer of big time blockbusters. It's not the summer—it's year round. The nature of the movies is different than it was five years ago and they're all driven by the possibilities of CGI, which means you can make anything happen on screen that you can possibly desire. That's a great brand of freedom that is given over to the filmmaker. But when you're going to try and have people talk in a room and actually reflect life as we know it, and have people recognize themselves and their own street and their own house in it, well then you're aiming for the high country and it's a much bigger gamble. You can interview all the marketing gurus and the people in charge of, you know, the people you gotta fight with in order to get your seats here, and they all talk about release dates and counter-programming. At the end of the day, it's gotta be a good movie, it's gotta be a funny movie, and it's gotta 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. So I'm glad I went. Oh no, I'm not saying any movie sucked but you know what I'm talking about.
But the Depression still happened.
TH: It's still going on.
So this film took on a whole new meaning.
TH: Yes, and you can make a movie about that in which the best version of it is going to be a documentary that really examined what's going on. The second best version of that, I think, would be a movie that at the end of the day is extremely depressing and/or serious or so hard hitting that it offers up no hope. We are competing in a marketplace in which the thing we might have going for us is the true battle against cynicism. That's what Larry Crowne is about more than anything else. It's funny, at the end of this film, Larry Crowne lives in a crappy apartment. He still has a lousy job. He can't even afford to pay for the gas in his big car and he's going to school with no real set future of what's going to happen. But he's got this amazing new, forceful presence in his life and he can honestly say, "The best thing that ever happened to me was getting fired from my job." Now that actually does happen in the real world, and oddly enough, it's also a glamorous beat in order to try to create in a motion picture. That's what we're going for and if you do that well enough, enough people will respond to it.
Is Julia your glamorous beat?
JR: That's what you promised me in the beginning.
TH: That would be with a capital "B".
Tom, what is it like to work with your significant other and have Nia Vardalos and Ian Gomez both on set and have that kind of family aspect to this film business.
JR: Well, I would just like to say this about all the married people working together on the set: it was just a joy. That is the great joy to go to work with people that you love, whether they be people that you are in love with or people that you just love and be creative and artistic and make things that you want to send out into the world and make people feel good. It was a great environment to work in for me. Leaving my family behind and coming with all these people, it was a dream. It's so we do what we want to do and we appreciate that.
TH: My wife and I, we met making a movie. This is 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?" So she picked that out and she went to town on it and it's just a blast. It's fun. It's what we do for a living. We're amazed we get paid to do it.
JR: And she was a hot blonde.
TH: I said, "Baby, is there any way at all you could take that wig home at the end of the work day? Can you just keep it on? Let me take it off later on tonight." No, I'm joking, but it's just one of the great things that we get to play at work. It's fantastic.
Both of your characters undergo a reinvention. What keeps you two young and beautiful in spirit?
JR: I'm glad he said in spirit, because I was going to say lift.
When Larry Crowne gets fired, it seems at first like his life is over but he finds a way to make the best out of it. What was your darkest moment and how did you see it through?
JR: Well the darkest moment for me would have been about the fifth day of shooting—
TH: Larry Crowne.
JR: My life on Larry Crowne.
TH: Yeah, that was a bad day. I called you the "C" word. It was horrible. I'm joking! Jeez!
JR: Tom, when was your darkest moment? Did you find one in your life when you persevered and your life changed like Larry Crowne?
TH: Oh man! Thank you, Julia. That was very well put. Quite frankly, our careers have been pretty well chronicled. But there is a time, I'm going to guess for both of us, where we're living in a wretched 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 the Der Wienerschnitzel on Laurel Canyon. When you have that moment, that never quite goes away.
JR: I had the Manhattan version of that. So not the Valley, it would have been on the East side.
TH: What? Bru Burger? The Bruin Burger instead of the Der Wienerschnitzel?
JR: Athlete's Foot.
TH: Oh, that's right. She sold shoes. That's right. There you go.
You both have Oscars. Where are they and do you still look at them? Do you still remember the time when you got them?
JR: My Oscar's at Tom's house because I have all of his.
TH: We switched.
JR: We switched.
TH: Mine are up on the shelf with all the kids' trophies and horse ribbons and soccer plaques.
JR: Shiny bits.
TH: Shiny bits, all the family bling, celebrating all that.
Tom, you're not going to wait another 10 years to direct another film, are you?
TH: I tell you, it takes it out of you. Both That Thing You Do and this, they take a long time to develop and it just percolates in your head until you get to the point where you say to yourself "I don't want to give this up. I don't want to give this over to anybody else." It's like a very personal mission that you just find yourself on.
Was this film harder simply because you were the star of the movie?
TH: In all honesty, I've made quite a number of movies like Cast Away and a few others where I'm the only guy in the movie and the only place to be is right next to the camera in costume ready to go in order to get it. The years, and more specifically probably the four months prior to beginning shooting, is where the big preparation is that the director does because I knew we were going to get on the set. The best way in order to go about this is to relatively seamlessly jump in as Larry, come back, go back and forth, and just play because the good news is, if you're the boss, if it ain't good, you don't use it. You just cut it out.