The first time Tom Hanks stepped behind the camera on a big-screen production, he captured a story set in the early 1960s, a period he had lived through as a preteen. But the particulars of "That Thing You Do!"
— a rock band that rides a hit song to fame but can't follow through on their initial promise — couldn't have been further from Hanks' California childhood.
His second directorial effort, however, was inspired by events from his past, even if it does not seem so at first glance. In "Larry Crowne"
— the upcoming comedy he also co-wrote and in which he stars with Julia Roberts — Hanks plays the title character, a guy fired from his job at a big-box retail store and forced to go back to college, where he meets a professor named Mercy Tainot (played by Roberts). But as Hanks told MTV News as part of our Summer Movie Preview week, he actually relates to his character's plight.
"My first years in college were much like Larry's," he told us. "I was in junior college because it was my only option — if I didn't enroll right after high school I would have had no path to any future.
Two years in junior college became the jumping-off point for everything that came later and I think this was the same for others — not just kids out of high school, but guys back from Vietnam, wives going back to school after their kids were older, and folks who were looking to change their lives for the better."
While the genesis of the film came from Hanks' early college years, he enlisted Nia Vardalos, whose "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" he'd produced in 2002, to collaborate on the script.
"Nia and I talk all the time and laugh constantly, and I wanted a woman's voice to be a part of the movie, since Mercy Tainot is in a comparable life situation as Larry," Hanks explained. "Nia worked exclusively on the screenplay, based on meetings she and I had, for a number of drafts. Then the script sat in a drawer for a couple of years. I then worked exclusively on the screenplay through the complete production. The story evolved through both of us, though, and what I was shooting for was built up with every draft."
Roberts and Hanks have worked together before, on the political drama "Charlie Wilson's War," but they hadn't shared the screen on lighter material. He does, though, see a connection between that earlier film and "Larry Crowne" in that "we were playing real people in real circumstances." Similarities aside, Hanks simply knew Roberts was the perfect person for the role.
"Julia is Mercy Tainot — funny, wicked intelligent, driven and not one to suffer fools at all," he said. "But make no mistake of Julia's ability to find what is funny in a scene smack up against what is authentic."
For all the comedic elements of the film, there is a dramatic arc for both characters. Larry, for instance, essentially has to reinvent himself in middle age. And if Hanks had to refashion his own life, he joked that he'd strike out in a rather unexpected direction: "I'd go for the Iggy Pop look and gravitas."
Check out everything we've got on "Larry Crowne."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.