What was your first acting role?
I played George in Our Town at Chabot College in Hayward, California. I was working weekends as a bellman at the Oakland Airport Hilton.
Did you go on auditions while you were a bellhop?
Bellman. Bellhop and bellboy are derogatory terms. Call them “sir.” Terms of respect go a long way in that job.
I’m sorry. Were you nervous at the start of your career?
Always. I get nervous now. But I always remember three things: Show up on time, know what you’re going to say, and have an idea about the character. And when I direct, that’s what I expect from my actors. You’d be amazed how hard it is to do those three things.
Did you write the part of your teacher for Julia Roberts?
Yes. I had some teachers who looked like Julia. I would see them and think, I love you. So there was never anyone but Julia. Still, even after she said yes, I was the boss. That meant I got to say, “You don’t wear this dress, you wear that dress.” And Julia’s Julia—she can be intimidating [Laughs].
Had you met before you worked together?
We had said howdy-do at those famous-people-club meetings: “Hi! I’m famous, you’re famous, and there’s a camera on us now!” And then we did Charlie Wilson’s War together a few years ago.
I really liked that movie. Why do you think it didn’t find a big
Expensive movies full of moral ambiguity are interesting, but they aren’t economically sound anymore. Although, eventually, everyone sees everything. They might see Charlie Wilson’s War on their phone, but they will see it. It doesn’t bother me: Making movies is still a delightful living.
Movies can have an impact in the oddest ways—in Splash, your character
called the mermaid, played by Daryl Hannah, Madison. After that movie,
Madison became one of the most popular names for girls.
It’s a powerful medium: Movies hold sway over many people’s lives.
Lynn Hirschberg: In Larry Crowne, you play a professor at a junior college who teaches
public speaking. Did you go to college?
Julia Roberts: No. This was my first college experience. And the first time I had to speak in front of a classroom, I was apoplectic. All these faces looking up at me, thinking, What is she going to teach us? I needed to find my composure. It was very hard—it was terrible, in fact.
If you went to college, what classes do you think you would take?
What did Tom say?
He said he’d take history classes.
Oh, come on—does he need to learn more history? If you cut Tom Hanks open, you would find history books. Enough with the history [Laughs]. I guess I’d take a class in homeopathy or psychology—something that I would use in my life. I did actually start taking sewing classes recently. I can wear what I’ve sewn, if I’m not in a strong wind. And I’m taking piano lessons with my kids. We can blame this new frontier on Tom Hanks. I sat next to a musician at a dinner party at Tom Hanks’s house, and I started thinking about piano lessons. In your 40s, you’re supposed to learn new things so your brain doesn’t turn to mush. So I’m practicing scales.