Larry Crowne: Why Julia Roberts?

With the shooting script ready, director Tom Hanks made make one of his first casting calls to fellow Oscar-winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich).

The writer-director and the actress have been friends for years, but it was their pairing in director Mike Nichols’ last film, Charlie Wilson’s War, which, according to Roberts, “cemented” their friendship.

She was in Rome on the set of Eat Pray Love when she was asked to consider working with Hanks again.

Roberts was impressed with the part of Mercedes Tainot, the lushy college professor who studied to become an expert in political comparative discourse between Shakespeare and Shaw before she arrived at junior college. Much like Larry, Mercedes has a catharsis of her own.

The performer didn’t just bring her megawatt star power to the production, Roberts proved her commitment to the project daily.

Goetzman commends the actress’ work ethic on the set of Larry Crowne: “I’ve never seen anyone so prepared. She brought fascinating nuances to the character and shaped Mercedes into the complicated woman you see on screen. She’s pitch perfect.”

Hanks describes that Mercedes has found herself in a place where she feels she is stuck. Of the character’s arc, he notes, “There comes a time when you have to stop suffering fools…even if that means the one who sleeps in your bed every night and gets up every morning with you. Maybe that fool has to go.”

Roberts liked the challenge of portraying the teacher with an escalating need to drink her day away and a husband who was more interested in online porn than in his wife. Says the performer: “The story was charming, yet topical, for so many of the characters, who are losing faith and trying to cope by rediscovering themselves.

I was intrigued by it all, especially Mercedes and her drinking problem. As an actor to be able to play that, it is so fun and heartbreaking and challenging. She has pickled herself into this cocoon of an unhappy life. So without hesitation, I called Tom back and said I would hitch my wagon to his.”

The unlikely pairing of Larry and Mercedes plays out in the classroom, when Larry’s yearning to express himself motivates the professor to challenge her numbed existence. “Mercedes has issues,” explains Roberts.

“She’s in a position where her dreams are not coming to fruition the way she pictured them. In a way, she’s in opposition to what Larry has decided to do for his life. She’s given up a bit, and he inspires her to reinvigorate herself.” While it required a great deal of juggling, Hanks’ actors were impressed that he was able to pull off his multiple roles on the set effortlessly.

Says Roberts: “To gives 100 percent in every department all day long. He’s happy. He’s buoyant. He’s present. It’s mind-boggling that this is his second time directing, and he has it down. He can shape-shift from acting to directing. It’s pretty impressive.”