Larry Crowne actors admit: Tom Hanks is 'magical'

Jun 30, 2011 at 2:24 p.m. ET

Larry Crowne co-stars Wilmer Valderrama and Gugu Mbatha-Raw give us a first-hand account of what it is like to work with greatness. Valderrama and Mbatha-Raw star with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in Larry Crowne and sat down in Los Angeles with SheKnows to dish the comedy that both confess could not be timelier.

Larry Crowneis the story of the title character, played by Tom Hanks, who is downsized from his career and forced to reinvent himself. He goes to a community college where he finds inspiration and perhaps romance with a professor inhabited onscreen by Julia Roberts.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Wilmer Valderrama in Larry Crowne

The UK-born Gugu Mbatha-Raw and the Venezuelan-born Wilmer Valderrama also share insight into their personal experience with having to scrap and save in order to achieve their own American dreams.

Wilmer & Gugu: Star struck?

SheKnows: You two must have been in such awe doing your thing opposite Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Was it a surreal experience?

Wilmer Valderrama: It was definitely very special. I've said this before that some of my idols growing up were Desi Arnaz, Anthony Quinn and Tom Hanks. When I got a phone call to work with him, it's one of those moments when you go, "Okay, you better be good." [Laughs] I wanted to bust my ass for him. I wanted to be as good as I could be for Tom, because an opportunity like this... I mean, how many Tom Hanks movies can you do? I've been very blessed to have him now as a great example to me.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: For me, in general, it was incredible. I was so thrilled when I got the call. I had an audition and then, similar to Wilmer, I had a chat with Tom. We discussed everything from Shakespeare to theater and it really wasn't just about the movie. And, for me, the chance to be on set with such experienced and established actors, it really was like a master class. Whenever I could, I'd sneak around and watch either Tom's or Julia's shots on the monitor and absorb their ways and their professionalism.

Gugu and Tom Hanks go over a scene on the set of Larry Crowne

SheKnows: Larry Crowne is a perfect film for today's recession world. Have either of you been personally affected by our economic times, either friends or family?

Wilmer Valderrama: I think what's really special about this movie is that it reminds us that no matter what our situation is, there's always a way to celebrate life and there's always a way to start again. My family and I had to start from scratch. We left Venezuela back in 1998 and sold the few things we had to come to America in search of the American dream. We went through really tough times. There were moments where we were wondering, "Are we going to make it?" There comes a time in your life where you're called to not only reinvent yourself but to rebuild your spirit. It's so relevant today. I think everyone is losing so much hope and if there's any hero that we have in the United States that could send this message that in your darkest times there's always room for a little light, it's Tom Hanks.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw: In terms of, personally, the idea of reinvention, when I got this film, this was my first film. I had just come from the UK, not from dire circumstances or anything like that, but in terms of starting again when no one knows you and no one knows what you're about -- so I can relate on that level.

Wilmer ValderramaSheKnows: Wilmer, if you had to go back to school like Larry Crowne has to, what would you study?

Wilmer Valderrama: My dad had a couple of professions in mind for me [laughs]. He either wanted me to be a doctor or he wanted me to be a soccer player. Myself, I thought that I would really love being a pilot for the Air Force. I think a lot of it had to do with the movie Top Gun. There's something about a high five that just made me want to put a uniform on [laughs]. The other thing that I really like is psychology. I love the human mind. I think psychology would be an easy transition and figuring out the human mind somehow.

Tom's tighty whities!

SheKnows: Wilmer, you had to shoot a scene with Tom Hanks in his tighty whities. Difficult?

Wilmer Valderrama: When it comes to the most difficult scene in Larry Crowne, it was challenging on so many levels. But it was one of the funniest days to shoot, man. It was. One of the things I can say about Mr. Hanks is that he really empowers his actors to do what they do. That day was really hard. What you see in the movie is one option of many situations that happened with his pants down. It was really hard for me to keep serious and I had to have a stone straight face. Imagine this: You pull up on a motorcycle and here you see Larry Crowne with his pants down. It's magical, magical to say the least.

SheKnows: Gugu, are you as bubbly in person as your character Talia is in Larry Crowne?

Gugu Mbatha-RawGugu Mbatha-Raw: I'm a multi-faceted human being. I love my Talia side, but there's more to me too. When you look at Tom Hanks' career, coming from the comedies that he's done, then to doing the really serious dramas like Philadelphia and Saving Private Ryan, and then to return to comedy, I think it's such a wonderful job for that reason that you can play up and play down your different strengths.

SheKnows: Wilmer, you're as equally adept at work behind the camera as in front. What did you learn from the Tom Hanks directing experience?

Wilmer Valderrama: It was really educating. Most importantly, I learned to never forget that this is also supposed to be fun. That's really the thing that I took away from the set more than anything technical is that sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves with any kind of job we have that we kind of forget that we do this because it's supposed to be fun because we love it. You get caught up sometimes in the deadlines and the pressures and certain things that you can't really control that you forget that this is supposed to be an enjoyable journey. I think at some point you have to empower others and really allow everyone else to do what they're hired to do and what they're brought onto the team to do and that's something that I learned so much from Tom. Something else I learned was staying consistent with your message and who you are and making sure that everything you produce and create is organic to you. But I think that's the biggest one for me.

Check out our interview with the stars of Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.