Lynn Hirschberg: Larry Crowne, which you cowrote and directed, is about a man,
played by you, who loses his job at a Walmart-like store. Instead of
wallowing in self-pity or descending into poverty and despair, Crowne
decides to go back to college. It is a profoundly optimistic movie—an
ode to opportunities in the worst of times. Was that your intent?
Tom Hanks: Yes. The movie is about combating cynicism. People are naturally optimistic, but you have to choose to walk away from cynicism. You have to say, I am going to combat cynicism today. I had this idea about a unique guy who loses his job and then, at the end of the movie, realizes that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He thought he was going to die, but it turned out great!
Is that a commentary on America?
In a way. People are afraid of change. People say, I can’t do this or that. Why? Because I’d have to change something. Well, yes: You should change. The idea of change makes them nervous, but I think change is good. Always.
At some point in your career, you changed from playing the romantic guy
in Splash to the serious Philadelphia guy. How did that happen?
I told my agents that I wasn’t going to play pussies anymore. I was tired of playing, “Oh, boo-hoo—I was in love, but oh, boo-hoo-hoo.” There comes an age when you can’t do that anymore. I wanted to play men instead of boys. In your mid-30s, it’s time to start playing guys of compromise. And as you get older, men of bitter compromise [Laughs].
In this film, you’re a man of happy compromise. What was the genesis of
I wanted to make a movie about junior college, and I wanted to be in it, but I didn’t want to play the teacher. When I went to junior college, I was in classes with middle-aged housewives, guys right out of the navy, and all kinds of other people. I found that intriguing.
Were you a drama major?
God, no. I didn’t think acting was a job. I did take a class called Drama in Performance. We read plays and went and saw them performed. That was the transformational experience for me: There was no chick, no girlfriend you were trying to impress. The whole world went black, and you were one with the play.
Was theater more powerful for you than movies? What was the first movie
you remember seeing?
Theater seemed more like a job; theater contained possibilities. Movies were abstract to me. In junior high, I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey three or four times in one week. During one showing, someone giggled behind me, and I turned around and said, “Be quiet—this is like going to church.” I was possessed by that movie, but I couldn’t imagine acting in it.