Much-loved Hollywood icon Tom Hanks returns to the big screen as the writer, director, producer, and star of Larry Crowne, which also stars his longtime friend and fellow Oscar-winner, Julia Roberts. That close friendship is on display front and center as they banter back and forth during their recent interview with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier in Hollywood, CA. Listen in as Tom and Julia discuss the beginnings of the film as a six year conversation with My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos, and share their thoughts on relationships, education, and maybe even a Bosom Buddy or two...
Emmanuel Itier: This is a reunion; you guys were in Charlie Wilson’s War together...
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.
EI: But you’ve known each other a long time: Tell us a little bit about your relationship.
TH: Okay. We’ve known each other, I’m guessing, ten years.
JR: We can’t really remember when we met, but we figured out when we became friends.
JR: We did an 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.
EI: There’s a scene where Larry Crowne told Talia, who just dropped college, that it’s a foolish thing to do and that some of us have finals. There are people out there who do pretty well without having to go to college -- they can make their own business and become wealthy. What does the scene or movie say to the Talias out there?
TH: 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, and I think Talia was actually going to college to hang out with cool people. I think that’s 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. That’s in time, but bravo to her. She’s taking probably a bigger risk by leaving college and opening up that store than she would be staying in college, taking classes that she didn’t really understand in the first place.
EI: The casting is very diverse. Did you do that consciously? Because usually you token the minority, but in here, it’s true to life. It’s people you know. Was that a conscious effort?
TH: 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, which is down in Orange County – that 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.
EI: Culture Clash – are you familiar with them? They’re funny guys...
TH: 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 and I wanted to be able to (1) 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 had 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 up the frame with more stuff than I could have possibly imagined. Great jobs for great actors, I hope.
EI: Julia, in the movie, you’re upset with your husband because he’s addicted to porn...
JR: I know, so picky, picky.
TH: And none of the guys here would ever think [laughs] of spending their time in such a manner.
EI: Both of you drink too much in the movie also. In life, what are some of the behaviors and addictions that you would not tolerate in a husband?
JR: I’m, luckily, 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 think people have their different ideas of what’s good and what’s happy in this particular scenario that Tom drew for me. It was fun to play, and Bryan [Cranston] is hilarious, but it’s sad for both of them -- the situation they’ve gotten themselves into in that house.
EI: You also started acting young. I don’t think you went to college...
JR: I didn’t.
EI: How do you feel you got your education?
TH: That’s a good question. School of hard knocks.
JR: 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. So I think that was probably my most valued characteristic as a teenager.
EI: Mr. Hanks, I seem to remember, while you were shooting the film, you making an appearance on the David Letterman show and mentioning that you were casting Peter Scolari -- your older Bosom Buddy.
TH: Oh yes, that’s true.
EI: I didn’t see him in the movie…
JR: He cut him out. See, he’s not a good friend. [Laughs]
TH: No, here’s what happened, you liar. [Laughs] 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.
EI: What role was it?
TH: It actually would have been Frank, the owner of Frank’s, but we were lucky to have Ian Gomez, who we’ve worked with in the past as well. It’s just one of the things that happens in big-time professional show business.
EI: Do you hope to work with him again?
TH: Oh, I always… Peter was in From New York to the Moon. Peter was in That Thing You Do. I always want to work with Peter again.
JR: They’re bosom buddies. [Laughs]
TH: There you go! That’s how close we are. [Laughs]
EI: Tom, you always said that when you're directing, it takes a lot longer than simply acting in a movie. So for you to pick this particular subject matter had to have been a specific reason why you decided to sit with this for the amount of years that it took to get this off the ground. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that. Secondly, in a summer full of blockbuster movies and explosions and animatronics, this movie, although upbeat, is about a downer subject matter. How do you compete or get people to come out and see a movie of this nature?
TH: Six years of talking about this with Nia [Vardalos] really started off with...I wanted to examine the theme of reinvention, and not just reinvention by way of fame dictating by 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 with: I lose my job, I go to college, and my teacher is, say, Julia Roberts – what would happen?
And then we go back and you just continuously fill up the reasons that he goes to college in the first place and what those issues are. I actually think it’s fascinating any time 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 midlife crisis; it’s a midlife disaster. A midlife crisis is when you wake up with everything: “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. As well, he possibly loses his house. That, to me, is something that we started off and built on it, and it was an idea that just never left. And I thought that, if we could 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, blah…or whatever goes along.
It’s the type of movie that I myself am attracted as an audience-going guy, and I think it's a delegate balance to try to make a movie about it. How do we compete in the marketplace? Forgive me, I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. [Laughs] It’s going to be interesting because you say here we are in the summer of big time block… It’s not the summer; it’s year round. The nature of the movies is different than it was five years ago, and they are driven by the possibilities of CGI, which means you can make anything happen onscreen that you can possibly desire. That’s a great brand of freedom that is given over to the filmmaker.
But when you are going to try to 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, 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 you’ve got to fight with in order to get your seats here, and they all talk about release dates and counter-programming, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, it’s got to 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.
I’m not saying any movie sucked [laughs], but you know what I’m talking about…
EI: But the recession did happen…
TH: It’s still going on.
EI: It took on a whole new meaning in this film...
TH: Right. And you can make a movie about that in which the best version of it is going to be a documentary that really examines what’s going on. The second best version of that, I think, would be a movie that is, at the end of the day, extremely depressing and/or serious, or so hard-hitting that it offers up no hope. But 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 his 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 glamorous in order to try to create a motion picture. That’s what we’re going for, and if you do that well enough, enough people will respond to it.
EI: Tom, you had mentioned that Ian is in the film; Rita [Wilson] was so funny in it. What is it like to work with a significant other, and have Nia and Ian both on set and working in that kind of family business aspect of this film? And your character goes under reinvention with the help of Gugu [Mbatha-Raw]’s character – she keeps him young. What keeps you two young and youthful in spirit?
JR: I’m glad he said "in spirit" because I was going to say lifts. [Laughs] Tape. [Laughs] 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’re 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. We do what we want to do, and we appreciate that.
TH: 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 she went to town on it. It’s just a blast. It’s fun. We’re amazed that we get paid to do it.
JR: And she was a hot blond.
TH: 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. But no, it’s just one of the great…we get to play at work. It’s fantastic.
EI: As Larry Crowne, he loses everything and it seems like life is over, but you make the best out of it. When you have you two been in a situation where you personally thought this is not going the right way, and something came along and changed it for you? The second part of the question would be: you both have Oscars. Where are they? Do you still look at them? Do you still remember the time when you got them?
JR: The darkest moment for me would have been about the fifth day of shooting…
TH: Of Larry Crowne?
JR: Of my life…of Larry Crowne. I’m just kidding.
TH: That was a bad day. I called you the ‘C’ word. It was horrible. I’m joking! Geez!
JR: My Oscar is at Tom’s house since I have all of his. [Laughs]
TH: We switch. Mine are up on the shelf with all the kids’ trophies and horse ribbons and soccer plaques.
JR: Shiny bits.
TH: All the family bling, celebrating all that. What was the first question?
JR: About your darkest moment, did you find one in your life when you persevered and your life changed, like Larry Crowne?
TH: 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 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 the…
TH: What? Brew Burger instead? Brewing Burger instead of Der Wienerschnitzel? What job...?
JR: Athlete’s Foot.
TH: Oh that’s right. She sold shoes. There you go.
EI: You’re not going to wait another ten years to direct another film, are you?
TH: It takes it out of you. 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 I don’t want to give this up, I don’t want to give this over to anybody else. Just like a very personal mission that you just find yourself...
EI: This one must have been a little harder, simply because you’re the star of the movie, as opposed to…
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. And the years and, more specifically, probably the four months prior to beginning shooting is where the big preparation for the director goes. Because I knew that 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, so you just cut it out.
EI: I really love your first movie as a director, and I wanted to know something about the soundtrack of this movie...
TH: 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.
Universal Pictures' 'Larry Crowne' debuts in theaters on Friday July 1, 2011.