Larry Crowne - Tom Hanks interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
TOM Hanks talks about directing and starring in Larry Crowne and why it’s taken him so long to follow up his debut behind the camera, That Thing You Do!
He also reflects on his own career, including a time when he was mysteriously ‘fired’, deciding to say ‘no’ to projects and being in a position now where he was able to meet The Queen.
Q. Have you ever been sacked?
Tom Hanks: I’ve never experienced what poor Larry does, where he walks into a room on top of the world and someone says [in deep voice: “Can I have a word with you?” “Yeah sure…” “Listen, we’re re-organising, we’re letting you go, no offence and good luck.” I’ve never had that but I have thought I was doing a movie because the producers told me I was doing the movie, the director told me I was doing the movie and the studio told me I was doing the movie, so I went off and had a meeting on the movie and then the next day my agent calls me up and says: “What happened? Coz you’re not doing the movie anymore.” I don’t know what went wrong. Was I too tall? Did I offend somebody? No one ever says anything, they don’t explain. So that has happened to me but I’ve never had the rug pulled from under me like Larry.
Q. Was that early in your career?
Tom Hanks: Not as early as you’d think! And you’ll never know what movie it was – but it didn’t do that well [laughs].
Q. I read that you thought you screwed up directing after your debut, That Thing You Do! How so? And is that why it’s taken you so long to direct again?
Tom Hanks: I don’t know any director that doesn’t think he hasn’t screwed up at some point. Directing is a constant test of your communicative powers. You’re constantly trying to explain people your vision of what you want and steer these tiny little details into a cohesive thing and I did not have those instinctive talents when I did That Thing That You Do! I love that movie, I loved everything about it and it came out pretty darn good.
But at the end of the day I wished I hadn’t worried about things as much as I did and had paid more attention to things that were actually in my power. I have that a little more at my disposal now and I think I have a certain degree of strength… none of them are cinematic unfortunately. I know how to get the spirit of a scene together and there are some scenes that just make themselves perfectly but there are other times when I need the help of the actors and the cinematographers and a few other people. I’m not a director, at the end of the day, I’m a storyteller now, and I run a company and I can direct but instinctively I’m an actor, and that’s where I went in the 15 years between That Thing You Do! and Larry Crowne.
Q. What’s the difference between the guy who made Bachelor Party and the guy who made Larry Crowne?
Tom Hanks: The guy who made Bachelor Party couldn’t believe he was in a movie. He couldn’t believe he was getting paid to run around and do this kind of stuff. He was also hoping he would get another job after Bachelor Party and that seemed to work out OK. The guy who did Larry Crowne hopes he’ll get another job after that! I still have the same amount of enthusiasm and fun… the day before we start shooting a movie I can’t sleep because I’m so excited about getting to go off and do it, no matter what the movie is about… whether it’s Road to Perdition, Green Mile or Apollo 13, I still can’t wait to get up and do it. So, he’s a little slower, a little older and a little heavier now but he still has that enthusiastic boyish smile, doesn’t he?
Q. Is that true about not being able to sleep? Even now?
Tom Hanks: Yeah, I toss and turn and then get up early. Sometimes I’m standing outside the house waiting for the Teamster to come and pick me up and then I hop in the car and I’m jab, jab, jab all the way. The first day of a movie is almost a waste, because everybody is trying to find out where the trucks are and ADs are learning things and you always have a very easy scene to shoot so everybody can get the bugs out, because the self-consciousness is huge. It’s not really until the third day of making a movie that everybody settles down and relaxes into their roles and jobs.
Q. Given Larry Crowne’s emphasis on inspiring teachers, have you had any inspiring teachers along the way?
Tom Hanks: Tonnes, yeah. In High School, yes… in college, I had a class in Shakespeare, a couple of theatre classes and I had a great American history teacher that was just so clear in the way he taught. I never had a Julia Roberts, let’s make that clear. I had some cuties that I had some crushes on, without a doubt, but… I was lucky enough to have a couple of those teachers where the class wasn’t even like a class, it was like a conversation you had but it happened to be about the thing you were studying – those are the college classes that you hope to get to pay for.
Q. Who did you have a crush on?
Tom Hanks: That would be embarrassing. All I will tell you is that it was at Junior college, she was married, she had a new baby and she was one of the cutest, most adorable women I’ve ever seen and everybody in class was in love with her.
Q. How good on a scooter were you before Larry Crowne?
Tom Hanks: I had to learn. I mean I’m good now but you’ve got to get a license. It’s one thing to pass a written test, which is diabolical! I don’t know how it works over here but it’s multiple choice and you have to answer one of A, B, C or D and I swear, they all work. For instance: “Riding a motorcycle is a) dangerous b) requires a specific license c) can lead to injury or d) a cheap way of getting around…” And they’re all true but you have to think that what they want you to say is B.
So you’ve got to do that but then you have to run the course, go around in a circle and go through the cones. Well, this guy was just so overjoyed to have me as his test pupil that he didn’t pay any attention to how bad I did because I did not get `DQ’d’ as they say> I was not disqualified. Instead, I got my license but I still have my scooter and it’s a great way to get around. A terrible thing to compare it to is riding a jet ski. On a jet ski, if you fall off you hit water, it’s not so bad. Do not let that happen on a scooter, you will not hit water.
Q. How is being a grandparent?
Tom Hanks: Oh, marvellous. Better than television… we don’t even need the thing on when we are over there or she is coming to see us. My wife was home looking after her by herself yesterday and I am insanely jealous because I didn’t get time alone with her.
Q. Was there a specific point in your career where you thought you were in control of things?
Tom Hanks: There was a point where I realised you can say ‘no’ to projects. There’s a period of time where you just can’t believe… Bachelor Party and what have you, where they are asking you to do something and you think your job is to say ‘yes’. When you learn how to say ‘no’ to things, which is hard to do because the money’s good, it could be exciting to go to a new place but you don’t really have a thrust on what it is… that gets to be a problem.
I guess it came around the time I did A League of Their Own, I think I was 37 by then, and I said I’m not a young man anymore. So, I said I don’t think I want to play pussies any longer, and I mean that not in a pejorative sense, [in Mockney]: “I don’t wanna play w**kers anymore!” I don’t want to play those guys who were: “Oh poor me, I’m so unlucky, I don’t have a job!” I wanted to play men who were experiencing bitter compromise. That was the first time that, by saying ‘no’, I took a whole kind of movie off my desk, and they were all those movies about the dad who did the thing or the guy who wanted to fall in love, all variations of those ‘80s comedies that so many people did, including me.
And once those disappeared, it’s kind of scary in some ways because it only leaves you with that many scripts [separates hands by about 20cms] to choose from and they are not even going to be made into movies. But that’s the only control an actor can have is by saying ‘no’.
Q. How was your experience of meeting royalty recently?
Tom Hanks: I couldn’t figure out what I was doing there [laughs]! It was magnificent, I’m an American, so I should be hung for treason. It was an honour in every way shape or form and we knew that to be there for the President’s dinner, that and the speech in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Hall, built in 1100… you know, it was like: “How did we get here?” We had a few moments with the Queen and that’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Q. Will you be doing Captain’s Duty with Paul Greengrass?
Tom Hanks: I don’t know… that is one of those movies that is on the cusp of being made or not and there are high-powered studio meetings that are going on that I’ll never see the minutes of. Somewhere off in that higher zeitgeist of high finance, you know. Sony will have to report to the game station people who will have to report to the TV people, so I don’t know at this stage. It will be great if it did.