Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts last worked together on Mike Nichols’ movie Charlie Wilson’s War, which Julia says ‘cemented’ their friendship. So when Hanks approached her about starring alongside him in his new romantic comedy, Larry Crowne, which he was also directing, she jumped at the chance.
Hanks portrays Larry Crowne, a man who was the team leader at a company where he’d worked since his time in the navy, until he was suddenly fired from his job. Underwater on his mortgage, and unclear what to do, he decides to go to East Valley Community College to start over.
Much to his surprise, he develops a crush on his public-speaking teacher, Mercedes Tainot (Roberts), who has lost her passion for teaching, and her deadbeat husband, Dean (Bryan Cranston).
How did the idea for this movie come about?
Tom Hanks: Out of my experience in junior college came this character of Larry Crowne. He has his life completely altered by the fact that he gets fired. They let him go under the pretense that he couldn’t advance because he didn’t go to college.
So what does Larry do? Much like when I was out of high school, thank goodness, there’s a place called junior college, where nothing is expected of you except what you put into the day when you drive to campus.
It was the mid-‘70s, and there was a sensibility of flux. In my class, there was somebody who was middle-aged, somebody in his fifties, somebody who was just back from Vietnam. I became friends with almost everybody in class, and I found this rich life experience amongst them.
What was it about the script that attracted you?
Julia Roberts: The story was charming, yet topical, for so many of the characters who are losing faith and trying to cope by rediscovering themselves. I was intrigued by it all, especially Mercedes and her drinking problem.
As an actor to be able to play that, it is so fun and heartbreaking and challenging. She has pickled herself into this cocoon of an unhappy life. So without hesitation, I called Tom back and said I would hitch my wagon to his.
This movie seems to have a lot of fun energy that’s different from other movies this summer – can you talk about that?
Julia: What else is coming out the day we open?
Tom: Nothing, we’re all along – Transformers 19 opens up and that’s robots [smashing each other] up.
There are a number of atmospheres that we had to establish and they had to be realistic in this movie. One is at work, at school, and I work at a coffee shop, another one is what it’s like to have speech class at 8 a.m.
The only way you can do that in the course of making a film is to make sure everybody looks forward to coming to work. I viewed part of my job as the boss of the movie, to host a good film, make sure everybody feels great.
Julia: Tom is amazing at that, he makes everybody feel part of it, participating in it, that their 2 cents are meaningful cents and it really is a collaboration, he really does create an environment that we’re all happy and we feel that we’re doing our best stuff.
This is the second movie you’ve done together – what do you love about working with each other?
Julia: Now we’re going into that dark place. We’re kind of similar. I’m not as smart as you –
Tom: Oh please, come on –
Julia: But I have better hair.
Tom: I’m not the logic police that you are, ‘And why would I do that exactly?’ I think that we just approach it the same way. I went into this and I bet you did too, because it’s a blast.
The joy of telling a story, even if it’s a dark story, or a non-cynical story like Larry Crowne, is by and large fun, it’s a great way to spend your day, as well as put out some sweat. I went into it because it’s fun. Did you?
Julia: Yeah. Well, it can be fun, it can be miserable, but we both believe that it should be fun and we feel a certain responsibility to create that idea for everybody else.
Tom: Otherwise the pressure would just kill you anyway, so let’s come in, if we’re the people that everybody is looking at, and let’s establish it so that everybody is relaxed.
What was it like having Tom direct you in this?
Julia: Tom gives 100 percent in every department all day long. He’s happy. He’s buoyant. He’s present. It’s mind-boggling that this is his second time directing, and he has it down. He can shape-shift from acting to directing. It’s pretty impressive.
The movie seems to target a lot of different audiences? Do you feel the story relates to both men and women of different ages?
Tom: I think everybody can remember what it feels like to show up on the first day of school, whatever year it was. There’s anxiety, because you’re scared of failing, but there’s excitement because you’re in a brand new atmosphere.
There are all sorts of new people who might be your friends. And so there’s this wonderful sense of possibilities that exist that I think everybody enjoys. I think it’s the beginning of a grand adventure that everyone can relate to and I think we actually reflect the diversity in both age and everything else.
Julia: When is the last time you saw an age appropriate couple in a movie?
Tom: Surrounded by young people that aren’t trying to steal from them? Everybody is at school for a purpose here and it’s to see what’s going to happen.