He may be the son of a famous actor, but don’t tell him that. Colin Hanks – son of Tom Hanks – has carved out his own path in Hollywood, with roles in the films “Orange County,” “King Kong,” and “The Great Buck Howard.” On TV, he starred in the short-lived “Roswell,” and most recently as the season-long antagonist Travis Marshall on Showtime’s “Dexter.”
Though he has yet to reach the level of stardom of his dad, it is impossible not to bring up comparisons. He surely looks like his father, and in his latest film “High School,” he gets to show off a bit of his physical comedic side and a zany humor reminiscent of early Tom Hanks roles.
“High School” is a stoner movie where an entire high school unknowingly gets high. As the Assistant Dean, Colin Hanks has many scenes opposite the school’s principal played by Michael Chiklis (Vic Mackie of FX’s “The Shield”)
I recently had a chance to speak with Colin Hanks about his career, his relationship with his father and his new film “High School.” Talk about the new movie inadvertently led to a discussion about drug use and marijuana with Hanks weighing in with his thoughts on the subject.
Tom Santilli, Detroit Movie Examiner: Awesome to speak with you Colin, thanks for taking the time!
Colin Hanks: My pleasure, Tom! Thanks for speaking with me!
So tell me about the character that you play in “High School.”
I play Brandon Ellis, who is an assistant principal to Michael Chiklis’s character. Basically, he’s a guy who is stuck working for a horrible boss, who’s just a ridiculous guy who has to deal with a bunch of nonsense. As time progresses, my character is able to put two-and-two together and sort of realize, hey, this is kind of a familiar feeling I’m having [being under the influence of drugs]. He’s able to deduce that the entire school has been dosed.
Your character spends a great majority of the film “under the influence” so to speak. Any real research that went into playing the part?
No, no. You just sort of try to not go too far over the top. You just try to do it in shifts almost, like not going too big too soon. You try to just plan the arc of it, and then just try to be as zany as you can.
Were you given a lot of freedom to do your own thing? Were there a lot of takes?
There were a lot of takes, but there really wasn’t a lot of improv going on. I think that we were really just having so much fun trying to make each other laugh. The scene where Brandon kind of loses his mind a little bit, where he is dancing and all of that, then I was able to kind of do my own thing. Brandon goes crazy in his office, that was what it really was [in the script].
Maybe more than anybody else, Michael Chiklis really plays against type in this film. In the scenes with him, did you find yourself losing it a lot?
Oh completely. You always want to be able to work with someone who is having a good time. There was no one having a better time than Michael Chiklis. He was just so happy to be doing the exact polar opposite of Vic Mackie, with the wig and the glasses and the accent. It was incredibly funny just letting him go to that place. A lot of my job was just to react off of that, which is just so much more fun when you have another actor who is really just going for it. I had a lot of fun working with him, he’s great. I told him, I’m not sure what the other kids are doing on this movie, but the movie that we’re making is hilarious. I’m digging it.
“High School” could clearly be defined as a “stoner film” comedy. The pot-heads are the heroes and all of the bad guys are the prudish adult figures. Do you feel that the movie glorifies drug-use or how should it be taken by audiences?
Glorifying drug-use is making a hard-core drug addict the President of the United States, or something like that. This is a comedy. This is supposed to be silly. This is supposed to not be taken literally. I sort of feel like comedies have always taken taboo subjects and have tried to make them funny, and I feel like this is no exception. I think that this one is so obvious what it is and we’re not trying to hide it, I think that is so much less subversive than some of the jokes that are in movies in the 80s. There are some serious drug references in movies in the 80s, where you say wow I can’t believe they were able to get away with that. This is pretty tame.
What are your feelings on the legalization of marijuana?
I don’t see why it shouldn’t be legalized when alcohol and tobacco kills more people. I mean that’s pretty obvious to me. Look, there is a lot of people that don’t feel that way, so the debate continues. But for me, it’s like such a non-issue. I don’t really care (laughs).
I’m sure you get asked a lot about your dad, Tom Hanks. As you grew up and got into the business of acting, did you feel any added pressure that your dad was so famous and so successful?
No, not really. I’ve been doing this long enough now where this is my profession just as much as it is his. I don’t necessarily feel that there are any sort of things that I need to do to prove myself. I mean, I’ve been working for over 10 years. I still feel challenged by what I do and that I need to prove to people that there is a lot more that I can do. But that just comes from an actor place, not from that other place.
Clearly he was an influence on your career path.
Not really, no. For me, he didn’t fit into my thought process in terms of jobs that I was going to do. I don’t really spend as much time thinking about him as people assume that I do. What I always try to do is to find stuff that is entertaining to me, to find roles that I would be challenged by. He didn’t really come into play. The only time he comes into play is when he asks me like, hey, what are you doing? And I’ll be like, oh, I’m just going off to do this thing, and he’ll be like, oh that’s great. And really, that’s about it.
Last question about your dad: Do you have a favorite film or performance of his?
I’ve answered that question for so many years, I’m done answering that question (laughs).
OK, no problem. Back to the film then, what kind of kid were you in high school, could you relate with any of the character types in “High School”?
For me more than anything I felt like I was a social butterfly, I tried to be friends with everybody. I didn’t really feel like I was ever part of some super click. I just sort of floated around and tried to be friends with everybody although I’m sure I had some pretty douch-y high school moments, as I’m sure we all do at that age (laughs).
What was it like working with first-time feature film director, John Stalberg?
Stalberg was great. You know, a lot of times you’re never really quite sure what a first-time director’s relation is to their film. Sometimes it is something they’ve been working of for decades and sometimes it is something they’ve only been working on for a few years. You never really know how they’re going to be on set. But when I spoke to John for the first time he was very concise, he knew exactly what he wanted and had a very clear vision. I thought he had a very unique script, I had never heard of this plot before. When we got on set, not once did I ever question that he knew what he wanted. He’s an incredibly competent director, a funny guy and just a great collaborator.
So “High School” is coming out very soon (Friday, June 1st in the Detroit market), who do you think that this film is for?
I think it’s for anybody who wants to laugh (laughs). I think this is sort of a younger-persons movie, I don’t expect a lot of people over the age of 45 to want to go see a movie called “High School.” But more than anything it’s for people who want to laugh, it’s a comedy.
Check back tomorrow (or subscribe to this column above!) for my interview with another actor starring in “High School,” Curtis Armstrong, best known for his role as Booger in the “Revenge of the Nerds” film series.
My full review of “High School” will be out on Friday, June 1st.
Follow Colin Hanks on Twitter, @Colin_Hanks.
Follow me on Twitter, @tomsantilli, and at tomsantilli.com.