Set Visit: Riding scooters with Tom Hanks on the set of Larry Crowne!
A beautiful morning on the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus in Carson, CA set the stage for our visit to the set of LARRY CROWNE, Tom Hanks's first feature directorial effort since 1996's THAT THING YOU DO!. Little did I know I'd be posing for pictures on a red vintage scooter by the end of the day, much less posing for director and star Tom Hanks - a talented man with a severe Twitter dependency! Yes, it seemed it would be that sort of a day: loose, relaxed, and above all, fun.
The film follows title character Larry Crowne (played by Hanks), a man who gets laid off from his job (a Wal-Mart type gig) amidst a rough economic climate and decides to return to college and start over. The central conceit is essentially about change and being able to not only embrace it but turn it into a positive and motivating element in one's life. As longtime Hanks producer Gary Goetzman states, with change comes "that new energy, sometimes naivete, and sometimes a curiosity that makes it so you learn new things about yourself and possibly lead a more interesting life."
Upon arriving to the California State campus - known in the film as 'East Valley College' - our lovely Universal publicists promptly escorted us to the site of the day's shooting: a small quad with an adjoining parking lot where Larry Crowne is found speaking with members of a scooter gang (Gugu Mbatha-Raw as 'Talia' and Wilmer Valderrama as 'Del Gordo') in an effort to join their ranks.
My four fellow journalists and I were then tucked away in a cramped corner, walled in by tall bushes and several monitors depicting the action of the scene. Producer Goetzman approached us soon after and explained to us just what it was that was being filmed. He took a seat behind one of the monitors and watched intently. I could hear Mr. Hanks giving direction to his fellow co-stars just beyond the tall bush (though I could make out the top of his hair), and it was interesting because this was the first time in my seven years of film writing that I was seeing a talent both act AND direct in the very same scene. Hanks, having only done that once before in his career, was a natural as he sure-handidly got what he needed from himself, his actors, and his troops behind the camera.
But the film is a big step away from the much larger work Hanks has either acted in or had a hand in creatively this past decade. It has a small budget, is primarily dialogue driven, and as the actor-director himself puts it, "The idea was to do a run-and-gun, smaller film. No one's making movies like this right now. No one gets laid, there's no gambling or tigers involved, nothing explodes, no one gets punched in the face. It's almost like taking the rock and roll sequences out of THAT THING YOU DO!. It's a character analysis as well as a situational one."
That situational analysis seems to want to take a direct look at our country's current (troubled) socio-economics, something Hanks seemed very interested in addressing: "Whether it's a huge budget thing that has to open day-and-date worldwide to 60,000 screens or something like this, it still has to hold a mirror up to nature. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I was watching a story about strategic foreclosures on '60 Minutes' and the next day we issued new [script] pages in order to get this whole concept into the film."
The last sequence we caught before our time on set ended was a scene that immediately followed the dialogue-driven one earlier. A cavalcade of about thirty scooters ignited their engines in near-unison, letting out a surprisingly hearty roar, as they took off and rode out of the parking lot and into the Carson sunset. (Or, rather, the parking lot next door.)
LARRY CROWNE - starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, and Rita Wilson - opens wide on July 1st.
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