Making a a comedy drama out of a crisis

June 27, 2011

HOLLYWOOD producers of a certain vintage are fond of saying that there are no big stars any more.

No Jimmy Stewarts, no Bogarts, no Bacalls or Gables, the kind of Titans who could open a picture with nothing more than a face on a billboard.

Yet here is one such face, sitting two feet away doing battle with a mouthful of scone. “That was ridiculous, wasn’t it?” Tom Hanks laughs after realising he’s maybe bitten off more than he can chew, cake-wise. For a second, the 12-year-old boy he played in Big bounces to the surface. With Hanks you suspect he’s never far away – one reason, perhaps, for his longevity in the business and enduring popularity with audiences.

Apart from the scones, what brings the double-Oscar winning star of Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan, Toy Story and many another film that would feature in a time capsule of modern cinema, to London? His own baby, of course. Larry Crowne, a comedy drama about a middle-aged Everyman who finds himself out of a job, marks Hanks’ return to movie directing after 1996’s That Thing You Do.

“Quite frankly, being a movie star is a much better gig,” says Hanks, explaining the 15 year gap. “It pays better, less is expected of you, you don’t have to work as hard, and they let you go home early, sometimes.” Larry Crowne has taken six years to bring to the screen, but it arrives at a time when its message – that the end of a job doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of you – is one audiences are in the mood to hear.

“You don’t have to be a real estate developer whose condo unit went belly-up to understand that if you lose your job and you can’t make the mortgage on your house it’s a personal crisis you’re going through, not something you just read about on the business pages.

“The trick is, how can you possibly make a movie about that which doesn’t turn out to be the most depressing film you have ever seen? We still wanted to make a movie that was going to be funny, that if not upbeat is at least an example of how to fight cynicism, how to combat the depression that could go along with losing one’s job, and how to still have faith in oneself.”

Sounds very Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Hanks, 54, is often likened to James Stewart, with both being characterised inaccurately and unfairly as straightforward “nice guy” actors when in fact they have walked some mean streets on screen. For Stewart’s Vertigo (death and madness) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (corruption), see Hanks’ Road to Perdition (organised crime) and Philadelphia (the Aids crisis).

Hanks says he doesn’t feel the need to explore a dark side just for the sake of it. “This is my countenance, this is who I am, and I think I get to explore an awful lot of really great themes that are recognisable to everybody. Even when I have tried, when I made Road to Perdition for example, or Green Mile, which were pretty dark movies in a lot of ways, all the press still said: ‘Ah, but he’s still such a nice guy.’ When I say: ‘But I shot guys in the head,’ they say: ‘Yeah, but you did it in a nice way.’”

His inspirations as a director – “Outside of everybody I’ve ever worked with that got some good out of me” – have been Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick, both directors who liked to encourage intimate, relaxed atmospheres on set. As for the directors he’d still like to work with, Scorsese is top. He has also been impressed by Olivier Assayas’s Carlos and Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go.

He is about to start filming Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel by the Wachowski brothers (The Matrix) and Tom Twyker. “Boy, that’s going to be a beast, it’s going to be wild. I admire [the Wachowski’s] films because they throw deep and long, those are uncompromising movies that are forcing the audience to go on a very deep and different track, a very adult kind of journey. I want to be tested as an actor like that.”

Larry Crowne finds Hanks reunited with Julia Roberts, his co-star in Charlie Wilson’s War. Like Larry, her college lecturer character is going through a mid-life meltdown. Ask if Hanks, who has just celebrated 23 years of marriage to his second wife, the actor-director Rita Wilson, had a mid-life wobble and there’s another Big-like grin.

“No, I don’t think so. I kept having these repeated ages the same. I had my first kids when I was in my early twenties and my second kids when I was in my mid thirties, so I always seemed to be in my child rearing years no matter what.

“The biggest thing that happened was my 15-year-old decided to go to boarding school, so all of a sudden Rita and I were empty nesters. Hey, that’s not a crisis, that’s a celebration! The standard version of a midlife crisis is that people wake up one morning and realise that they are unhappy even though they have everything. I don’t know what that is. I might wake up tired in the morning but I don’t wake up unhappy.”

Source : Herald Scotland