IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Larry Crowne'

Thursday, 30 June 2011 15:57 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Larry Crowne'

Opening in theaters on July 1st is back-to-back Oscar winner Tom Hanks’ (Philadelphia, Forest Gump) second crack at directing, after ‘1996s That Thing You Do, with the new comedy Larry Crowne. The film is a reunion for the actor/writer/director in many ways as it reunites him for a second time with his Charlie Wilson’s War co-star Julia Roberts, as well as writer Nia Vardalos who co-wrote the script with Hanks after first working with him on her hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which he produced. The film also includes a very eclectic cast of actors including Cedric the Entertainer (Be Cool), Tarahi P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers), Wilmer Valderrama (That ‘70s Show), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Pam Grier (Jackie Brown), Rita Wilson (Volunteers), and Star Trek living legend George Takei (the original Sulu).

In the film, Hanks plays the title character of Larry Crowne, a sweet, divorced, hard working retire Navy veteran who ends up loosing his beloved job at a big-box store because he did not attend college. Never discouraged, Larry takes the advice of his kind but eccentric neighbors (Cedric and the Entertainer, and Henson) and heads back to college enrolling into a local community college. Needing a cheaper mode of transportation, Larry trades in his gas-guzzling mini-van for an economic motor scooter. Upon arrival at school, Larry quickly makes friends with Talia (Mbath-Raw), a beautiful but eccentric young college coed who takes Larry under her wing and invites him to be part of her scooter gang, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend (Valderrama). Eventually Larry falls for one of his teachers, Mercedes, played by Roberts. Mercedes is fed up with her life, her job, and especially her loser of a husband (Cranston). The transformation that Talia puts Larry through to make him “cooler” begins to work as Mercedes begins to return Larry’s affections for her. In the end, Larry learns to overcome his fear of the unknown and embarks on the journey of life finding both friendship and love along the way.

I was recently invited to attend a press conference for the film, along with several other members of the press, and we had a chance to speak with Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Nia Vardalos, Taraji P. Henson, and Cedric the Entertainer about the hilarious and touching new film. I mentioned earlier that the film has a very eclectic cast of young and veteran actors but there was one close friend of Hanks that he cast but did not appear in the film. I seemed to remember that while shooting the film Hanks appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and mentioned that his former Bosom Buddies co-star Peter Scolari would be appearing in the movie, but unfortunately he is not in the final cut. So I asked Hanks what happened. “He cut him out,” replied Roberts with her signature laugh. “No, no. He was in the movie but he had a conflict that we could not work out,” replied Hanks. “He was doing an off-Broadway play, I can’t remember the name of it, forgive me, but it was actually opening the week that we would have shot his stuff. So alas it didn’t work out. He was going to do it, along came the conflict, and such is show business.”

I followed up by asking what role Scolari would have played. “It actually would have been Frank, the owner of Frank’s, but we were lucky to have Ian Gomez, who we worked with before in the past as well. So it’s just one the things that happens in big time professional, show business,” he said. I finished by asking the actor if he would like a chance to reunite with his old “Buddy” again in the future. “Peter was in From Earth to the Moon, Peter was in That Thing You Do, and I always want to work with Peter,” answered Hanks. “They’re Bosom Buddies,” chuckled Roberts. “There you go. That’s how close we are,” finished Hanks.

Hanks also discussed his attraction to the story and why he wanted to direct this film. “The six years of talking about this with Nia really started off when I examined the theme of reinvention, and not just reinvention by way of fate dictating it, but in a really proactive place and how you move on to the next chapter of your life. It really began with, if I lose my job, go to college and my teacher is Julia Roberts, what would happen? And you just go back and continuously fill up the reasons he would go to college in the first place, and what those issues are,” explained Hanks. “I 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’s going to do for the rest of his life. It’s not a midlife crisis … it’s a midlife disaster. A mid-life crisis is when you wake up and you go, I have everything but I’m still unhappy.”

“That doesn’t happen to Larry,” Hanks continued. “Larry thinks it’s the greatest day in the world when he gets fired and he loses all of his community. That to me is something that we just started off and we just built on. It was an idea that just never left and I thought if we could just do it in a very authentic manner, meaning 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 or whatever is going on. It’s a type of move that I, myself, am attracted to as an audience going guy, and I think it’s a delicate balance to make a movie about it.”

In a summer that features mostly, sequels, superheroes, giant alien robots, and raunchy comedies, Mr. Hanks was asked how he thinks a film like Larry Crowne will survive in the summer marketplace. “How do we compete in this marketplace? Forgive me, but I haven’t the slightest fucking idea. 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,” he explained. “When you’re going to try to have people talk in a room and actually reflect as we know it, and have people recognize themselves and their own street and their house, 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, and we all talk about release dates an counter programming, but at the end of the day it’s got to be a good movie, a funny movie and it’s got to make people think. By the way, the 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 movies suck, but you know what I’m talking about,” he joked.

While Hanks and Vardalos have been working on the script for the project for many years, they started before the recession had really taken hold of the country that way it has, and Hanks discussed how the real-world situation helped the film to take on a whole new meaning. “You can make a movie about the recession and the first best version of that would be a documentary where you could really see 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 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,” he said.

“That’s what Larry Crowne is about more than anything else,” Hanks continued. “It’s funny, at the end of this film Larry Crowne lives in a crappy apartment, he still has a lousy job that 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 a glamorous beat in order 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.”

In the film, Roberts’ character ends up breaking up with her husband because, among other things, he is addicted to Internet porn and the actress was asked what would be a deal breaker for her in a relationship. “Well you know, luckily I’m happily married to a person I admire and enjoy but it’s not really far fetched for me to conjure some kind of bad scenario that I wouldn’t tolerate,” answered Roberts. “I mean 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 Brian is hilarious. But it’s sad for both of them in the situation they’ve gotten themselves into in that house.” The Oscar winning actress also discussed her delight at reuniting with Hanks and working with the rest of the cast on this film. “It was a joy and that is the great joy of going to work with people that you love and being creative and artistic and making things that you want to send out into the world that make people feel good. It was a great environment to work in, leaving my family behind and coming to work with these people. It was a dream. So, we do what we want to do and we appreciate that.”

Cedric the Entertainer talked about what attracted him to the film and what he likes about the character of Larry Crowne. “I thought it was a very good look into the culture of the day especially with people losing their jobs and being kind of later on in life where they're having to reinvent themselves,” he said. “To see a guy who seemed like he was doing all the right things in life, but then things go wrong for him and he has to reinvent himself. Even the way he dressed and all that became a new attitude and again it was inspiring. I call this the real super hero movie of the summer,” he joked. “This guy will really have to take care of everything and get his stuff together and get back on his feet. It was real heroic and I enjoyed it for that reason. It's something I'm glad to be a part of.”

Oscar nominated actress Taraji P. Henson discussed the diverse cast of the film that Mr. Hanks has assembled. “I was most excited about the diversity because it's so true to where I live, when I go out in the world, that's what I see, different people. But that's Tom Hanks, he's smart like that, very smart,” added Henson. “The charming family, that lived in the house that we shot in, baked us cookies everyday,” she continued by talking about filming on location. “They welcomed us with open arms, which actually helped us. It was in Northridge, CA. and there was definitely a sense of community. Because you know, we shoot films in L.A. all the time and people are sick of it to be quite honest. They see those trucks coming in there and they say, oh my god, here comes Hollywood,” Henson laughed. “But this neighborhood, they were so charming and really excited and flattered that we were there.”

Henson and Cedric the Entertainer are no strangers to each other after working on the ‘2007 film Talk To Me together and the two actors talked about reuniting for Larry Crowne. “We had a good time shooting Talk To Me and we've known each other for a while. Actually she was definitely one of the reasons … of course you know when Tom Hanks calls you, that was reason enough to do the movie, but when they told me Taraji was playing my wife, of course I was ready to jump on it right away,” said Cedric. “It was all of that but for me … not so much,” Henson joked at Cedric’s expense. When they called me and said that Cedric was going to be in it, I was like, why? He’s so unprofessional and he likes to laugh and make jokes all the time. He’s not going to be serious. I'm a part of the Academy now, so I had to think about it for a while,” Henson laughed. “Now, when Tom said Julia was in the movie, you know… JULIA ROBERTS! I was like, oh yeah I'm in it! I had no scenes with her, but at least I can say I was in a movie with Julia Roberts. So yea that sounds good for press.”

Co-writer Nia Vardalos talked about the genesis of the project. “We were developing My Life in Ruins and Tom said, I have an idea for a movie. Do you want to write it? We sat down at his office and he laid out the entire idea. It was very clear in his head what would happen if a man at fifty-years old lost his job through no fault of his own, just downsizing, and had to reinvent himself,” she explained. “He wanted to keep it as a very quiet story and a very simple, streamlined idea. So he had the entire idea from the scooters to everything, it was all his idea.”

“There’s a relevance to Larry Crowne that is fortunate and unfortunate, but this is not a downer movie,” Vardalos continued. “This is an uplifting movie and yet it’s not out of the realm of ordinary. It’s what can happen if you keep your heart open. I certainly have lived that too. When we were trying to become parents, I thought the only way to become a parent was either to have a biological child or adopt an infant, and when I opened my heart and thought of different ways, we ended up finding our perfect daughter in American foster care. And that is what I think Tom has, this optimism and this way of looking at things, and that’s what Larry Crowne does.”

Vardalos talked further about the process of collaborating on the script with Hanks. “The way we wrote was, I called it the ‘no rules’ way. Neither one of us had an ego or a feeling of ownership of the script. Sometimes we would sit in a room and write together. Sometimes I would take the draft. Sometimes he would take the draft, go on vacation, write and then bring it back. I loved that process. For me, it felt like it was very honest in that we were just trying to write a story, but neither one of us was trying to force our own ideas into it.”

Finally, Vardalos, who of course is also an accomplished actress in her own right, discussed why she did not write a part for herself into the script. “I think I had a secret plan that I was going to play one of the sisters,” she explained. “We had a whole family in the first draft and the second draft. A family that’s up in his grill when he loses his job and wants to help him. But hen we realized that maybe it would be better to cut the entire family so that Tom is just an island. When he doesn’t have an income anymore, what does he do? We felt that it was more indicative of what is happening to people globally. But the writer in me always fights with the actress, there’s always going to be that."

Larry Crowne opens in theaters everywhere on Friday, July 1st.

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