With a new movie out, a starring role on Broadway and a turn in the director’s chair, Colin Hanks may be the hardest working man in his show biz family—which is saying something, considering this native son of Sacramento also happens to be the son of Tom Hanks. The younger Hanks takes a rare moment between curtain calls to talk to us about being a Broadway baby and an East Sacramento kid, and having his movie-star dad play his movie dad in "The Great Buck Howard."
So this is Colin calling you at a ridiculous hour in Sacramento. I just realized it’s like 7:45 in the morning there!
That’s OK. One of my interviews for this column was with Sam Elliott, and his was at 7 a.m.
OK, well, as long as the narrator of The Big Lebowski beat me, I feel much, much better.
And just like a courteous actor from Sacramento would, you called right on time.
That’s how we do.
I appreciate that because we have a lot to get to. You have a new movie out, The Great Buck Howard, you’re on Mad Men—and, as we speak, you’re on Broadway in 33 Variations with none other than Jane Fonda.
When it rains it pours, and I’ve been very lucky. Moisés Kaufman [The Laramie Project] is a very talented and smart playwright, and it’s been going great. I’m having a good time. This [experience] has actually made me think a lot about how I started doing theater in the first place.
And Jane Fonda is fantastic. She’s an absolute inspiration. There are eight shows a week, but it definitely feels like we’re working eight days a week, and I hope to be able to tackle something this hard and vigorous even 20 years from now.
This is your Broadway debut. Anything special about that?
Oh, yeah. I’ve done theater in London, and that was another big thrill of my life, but Broadway is inherently different. I was just a part of this really amazing photo shoot for Vanity Fair with about 20 different Hollywood actors who are all doing [Broadway] plays this year. And it was everybody from Jane Fonda to James Gandolfini and Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen and Nathan Lane. Well, one of the guys I was talking to was Geoffrey Rush [who is making his own Broadway debut in Exit the King]. And, hey, I’m only mentioning this because I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation with someone like him. This guy is one of the most amazing actors I’ve ever seen and ultimately I really have no business talking to the man. Anyway, I was talking with Mr. Rush and he was saying the same thing. He was saying, “There’s just something different about doing the show on Broadway. You’re sort of welcomed into this world that has been existing here in New York for decades and decades.” It’s very hard to explain. I wish Moisés could write me something to properly explain it, but there’s just this mystique with doing a show on Broadway.
Speaking of mystique, you play Father Gill, the progressive priest of one of the copywriters on Mad Men. What can you tell me about the new season? It’s starting up again this summer, right?
The show, yes. I don’t know if I am. If they asked me to [come back], I’d do it in a heartbeat, but they play their cards very close to their chest over there at Mad Men.
I have sort of a weird history with the show, actually. I remember when they were shooting the pilot here in New York years and years ago, and reading an article about the concept of the show [Madison Avenue advertising world in the 1960s] and going, “What a fascinating idea.” But then I forgot about it, and a year and a half later, it premiered. Well, one night, I discovered it on On Demand. And I went, “Oh, here’s that show!” I started at 10 p.m. and watched the first six episodes [straight] until about four in the morning. I remember going, “It’s extremely well written, the actors are all perfect and this is a show I could be on—I look the part!” Listen, I would love to have been on The Sopranos too, but there was not really a role there for a skinny kid from Sacramento. But here, there were a bunch of young men in suits who look like kids. That’s always been a negative mark on me, so I thought, “Maybe this time, I could turn it into a positive.” So I started making phone calls, and luckily, after about six months, they said, “We think we might have something for you.” A couple of weeks later, I read for the part of Father Gill and got it that day.
That’s great. But when you were envisioning yourself on the show, you probably weren’t thinking “priest.”
No. In fact, that was the joke. I told the costumer, “You know, when I envisioned myself on the show, I envisioned myself being an ad man in the suit, looking dapper and smoking.” And the costumer said, “Well, you are in a suit.” But it worked out great. It was a fantastic role, one I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to play.
Let’s talk about another project that’s been years in the making: your new movie The Great Buck Howard.
I first read the script in 2003, so, yeah, it’s been a long process. The movie has been something I’ve cared about a great deal. I’m really proud of it and I’m so glad that it’s making its way out now.
What drew you to the script?
From beginning to end, I thought it was just a delightful little story [about a has-been mentalist making a comeback, played by John Malkovich, and his long-suffering assistant, played by Hanks] with some really great characters and some really funny moments. It was something where I just went, “Well, this works. This is a great little story that I think a lot of people would love to see.” The writer-director Sean McGinly and I, along with a few other people, spent quite a bit of time [at first] trying to secure financing and that whole thing. And then someone suggested sending it to Playtone, which is my dad’s [production] company.
It wasn’t you who made the suggestion?
No. But I said, “OK, let’s just send it to them and see what they think.” There was no over-the-kitchen-table thing at all. Well, my dad liked it and said, “This is great. It is going to be a great movie—and I’m going to play your dad!” And I just sort of went… [sighs] “okaaaaaay.” But if someone like him wants to be in your movie and wants to help make it, you don’t say no.
This is your first time acting with your father. I read that you were nervous about working with him.
It’s the classic thing—and it’s like this with all sorts of elements that relate to him—where people go, “Are you nervous?!” And so after you’re asked that a million times, you start going, “Am I nervous? Should I be nervous? Maybe I should be nervous.” People tend to make a big [deal] about it and I try not to think about those things. Once I was able to do that, it was fantastic.
And this is the part where it’s important to remember that it’s all make-believe. [In The Great Buck Howard, Tom Hanks strongly disapproves of his ex-law-school son’s career choice to go into show business.] He’s always been very supportive of me; we never had a conversation like [the ones in the film] about acting. So this was a fun chance to forever capture a father yelling at his son [in a way] that never happened in real life.
And I don’t know if you know, but in Sacramento, Buck Howard opened at the Crest Theatre (on March 20).
Oh my God! Are you serious? That might be the icing on the cake! That really makes me happy. I love the Crest. I have a lot of good memories of going to the Crest. The fact that it’s playing there, well, I’ll be damned if I’m not going to send some people down to take a photo of that [marquee].
Along with Tower Theatre, the Crest is an institution. I’ve seen movies there, I’ve seen concerts there, I’ve seen comedians there, I’ve seen animation festivals there—I remember seeing Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation there in high school. I also remember going with my high school English class to see an original print of Apocalypse Now. That was extremely cool. I saw Rollins Band there once and Sacramento bands like Little Guilt Shrine and Far.
Where did you go to school and where did you grow up?
I went to Country Day and I lived in East Sacramento over on 44th Street. I mean, it all gets a little rosy, but I just really loved being there. I have a real fondness for East Sacramento and Sacramento. And the older I get, the more I appreciate my time there. I remember being a kid and walking around that section of town feeling like I owned it, like every kid does, and going to Merlino’s and Burr’s [Fountain]—their hot dog sandwich is hard to beat. There’s just something about that neighborhood and also Sacramento on the whole; it was and is just a fantastic place to grow up.
I still have a lot of close friends and family in Sacramento, so I try and get out there as much as I can, once or twice a year. I’m lucky that I’m going to have the chance to go back to Sacramento quite a bit [more] because I’m making a documentary about Tower Records.
I heard! Where are you now in the process?
We’re still plugging away on securing everything we need in order to tell the story in the way that we want to. We’ve filmed some stuff, but there’s still a whole lot more research that needs to be done. Most movies, you’re able to shoot it and then do post-production, but editing documentaries is totally different. The research period itself takes years and your shooting schedule is actually broken up into segments. I’m directing it and two close friends I grew up with in Sacramento are helping me produce it: Sean Stuart, who helped create DirecTV’s The 101 Network, and Tim Comstock, who produced a documentary called This Old Cub about [Chicago Cubs legend] Ron Santo.
What made you want to do a documentary on Tower Records?
I just think it’s a fascinating story. Coming from Sacramento, Tower was a point of pride. The fact that a global brand came from my hometown was a big deal. Yes, there was Shakey’s [Pizza Parlor], but Shakey’s wasn’t as well known. Every now and again, I’ll still see a Shakey’s and definitely feel the urge to run in and grab a piece just for the cause. Anyway, Tower was this global brand and to me, represents an era [in music] that’s diminishing. So I want to try and make a film that celebrates that and reminds people of it.
Well, Tower Records is no longer here, but when you do come to Sacramento, are there places that are on your “must” list to visit?
Burr’s is definitely one. R5 [the new music store owned by Tower Records founder Russ Solomon] is now on my destination list, as is The Beat—I’ve got to be fair. More than anything else, though, I go to a place and it’s no longer there. The city, every time I go back, grows by leaps and bounds.
I wish I could come back for Buck Howard; sadly I have to be in New York every night until the end of May [for 33 Variations]. But—and I don’t want to say it’s an expectation because I don’t want to set myself up—it sure would be pretty sweet to have the premiere of the Tower documentary at the Tower Theatre. So that’s something to shoot for.
It sure is. Well, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.
No problem. Thank you for waking up super early for me.