I still can’t wait to get on set, says Larry Crowne star Hanks

July 01, 2011


Tom Hanks may have enjoyed a long and hugely successful career but the American actor is as enthusiastic as he was at the start. Rob Driscoll meets the friendly star to talk about directing, royal engagements and moped lessons

Tom Hanks bounds into the room at London’s Claridge’s hotel like someone half his age.

His beaming smile and relentlessly cheery nature pound you into helpless submission – just like the man-child he played all those years ago (23, if you’re counting) in Big.

After a couple of Oscars in the bag, and a tally of mega-hit movies that have earned a combined $8bn at the box office, the world’s most bankable film star could be forgiven to be just a little jaded, or even world-weary, as he goes through the motions of promoting his latest product. Yet there’s no chance of this 54-year-old Hollywood multi-tasker – actor, director, screenwriter and producer – resting on his laurels and taking it all for granted.

He’s still the same guy, he insists, as the one who made his big-screen debut with the lowbrow ensemble comedy Bachelor Party back in 1984 – even though he’s now both the director and leading man of his new film Larry Crowne.

“The guy who made Bachelor Party couldn’t believe he was in a movie,” says Hanks.

“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. And 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 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?”

He certainly does, but then he has plentiful reasons to work those cheek muscles.

Unlike many other 50-something household-name film actors, Hanks has still has the box office clout to keep churning out big blockbusters such as the two Da Vinci Code thrillers. And even his voice will do, as the much-loved cowboy Woody of course, in the Oscar-winning Toy Story trilogy.

The rather modest Larry Crowne, by comparison, is somewhat small-fry – a labour of love, nonetheless, produced by his own Playtone company, and the first film he’s directed since 1996’s That Thing You Do!

In this recession-set comedy drama, Hanks also takes the title role of an everyman mid-lifer who is unexpectedly made redundant, and decides to return to college to get the necessary qualifications to re-enter the crowded workplace.

Much to Larry’s surprise, he develops a crush on his cynical tutor (played by Julia Roberts), who has lost as much passion for teaching as she has for her deadbeat husband. It’s an unlikely scenario for romance but a rather charming and heart-warming one.

Hanks once again wins you round with yet another good-guy character.

And after a 15-year gap behind the camera, he enjoyed returning to the director’s reins, but he’s not kidding anyone that it’s the most natural job in the world for him.

“Directing is a constant test of your communicative powers,” he explains.

“I know how to get the spirit of a scene together, 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.”

Can he relate to his character Larry losing his job, though? It turns out that Hanks was once sacked.

“I’ve never experienced what poor Larry does, where he walks into a room on top of the world and someone says, ‘Can I have a word with you?’ in that ominous way.

“But I have thought I was doing a movie because the producers, the director and the studio all told me I was, and I went off and had a meeting on the movie and then the next day my agent calls me up and says, ‘What happened? Because 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.”

Was this early in his career? “Not as early as you’d think!” he laughs.

“And you’ll never know what movie it was – but it didn’t do that well...”

Hanks co-wrote the script for Larry Crowne with actress Nia Vardalos, whose runaway smash-hit comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding was produced by Hanks’ company in 2002. There’s also a small but amusing part for his actress wife Rita Wilson in the movie – that of a very blonde, pushy bank clerk who has bad news for Larry about his mortgage payments.

There was a physical challenge for Hanks to overcome while playing Larry – riding a scooter, as part of his renewed student status – for which the superstar had to obtain a licence.

“It’s one thing to pass a written test, which is diabolical, but then you have to run the course, go around in a circle and go through the cones,” he says, grimacing at the memory.

“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 disqualified. Instead I got my licence, and I still have my scooter and it’s a great way to get around.”

It’s sometimes difficult to remember that this oh-so-affable, chatty individual, who gives you his undivided, attention, is such a Hollywood icon. After all, this is the first actor in 50 years (after Spencer Tracy) to win back-to-back Best Actor Oscars, in 1994 for Philadelphia, and the following year for Forrest Gump.

He’s also, alongside Steven Spielberg, the executive producer of massive TV war dramas Band of Brothers and The Pacific – epic series with the kind of running time and budgets once unheard of for the small screen. As he gets older, he suggests that’s probably where he’ll gradually spend more of his energies and working hours.

In any case, he’s got other, more domestic interests these days; his one son, the actor Colin (from his first marriage) recently fathered a baby girl. How does he like being a grandfather?

“Oh marvellous – better than television,” he beams.

Away from the movie world, Hanks’ presence was required by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in May for the American state visit of President Obama.

Hanks and his wife found themselves sitting amongst the likes of Gordon Brown and “some men from MI5”.

“I couldn’t figure out what we were doing there,” he says.

“It was magnificent. I’m an American, 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 – it was off the scale, like, ‘how did we get here?’”

By Rob Driscoll

Source : Wales Online