For an actor whose legacy status could have likely afforded him much easier paths, Colin Hanks, son of superstar Tom Hanks, has embraced a wide range of projects, giving example to the pursuit of a life in the arts as one big, unending education. His latest film is John Stalberg’s “High School,” in which he plays an assistant principal, Brandon Ellis, to Michael Chiklis’ bewigged, obsessively authoritarian principal. When the school’s would-be valedictorian (Matt Bush) takes his first and only hit of marijuana before a school-wide drug test that promises to cost him his academic standing, he and his estranged stoner pal (Christopher Marquette) set out to spike and spoil the test results by getting all their classmates unwittingly stoned. For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to get together with Hanks one-on-one recently, and chat about the movie and his own high school experience, his embrace of Twitter, and crushing the spirits of Seth Rogen in this fall’s “The Guilt Trip.” Oh, and FourLoko. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: So this is an interesting place to meet, huh?
Colin Hanks: I feel like this is the place in the 1980s where the post-party took place, and people were just not finished doing cocaine. Furry walls…
ShockYa: I know. And there’s a refrigerator over there with FourLoko in it, which is banned, right?
CH: That’s illegal. And [the fridge] has every kind of bad malt liquor, and bad beer.
ShockYa: I know, it’s all very puzzling. Have you tried FourLoko?
CH: No, have you?
ShockYa: A good friend threw a birthday party for her boyfriend, another good friend, where it was rounded up from some out-of-the-way liquor store, and introduced. It’s sort of like if the devil drank a bunch of Robitussin and then took a piss. Except with some fruit flavoring.
CH: Oh my God, it’s like the “Boardwalk Empire” of malt liquors.
ShockYa: So for a movie like “High School” do you have to do any chemical research?
CH: Of course! [laughs] No, no, no. I think that with this one it’s not rocket science. If you have experience in [marijuana] that’s fine and if you don’t it’s really not going to make that much of a difference because we’re really not going for super-real on this one. There’s no reason for anyone to go method — it’s all fun and make believe and trying to make each other laugh.
ShockYa: Watching the movie, I couldn’t help but think back to a high school vice president of mine, who tried quite hard to be super hip. That’s not the case with Brandon, your character, but did you slip in any characteristics based on any school administrators from your past?
CH: No, not really. I had a conversation with (director) John (Stalberg) and asked what he was going for. Everyone has a very specific role and [Brandon] could go either way — it depended on what John wanted, what he had in mind. So we had a long conversation, one of those actory [conversations] with a director, where you come up with a backstory that will never be seen or told. We basically came up with idea that he was probably a smart kid, was probably the best in his class, and probably went off someplace but for whatever reason found himself back home. We just tried to keep him as down to earth and normal as we possibly could because a lot of the stuff is between my character and Chiklis’ character, and if [his] character is the yin then I’ve got to be the yang. I have to augment it, I can’t be my own version of that, so if Michael is going to play this over-the-top pompous [guy] then maybe it’s better to go with the very opposite of that — the quiet, servant-ish type, with a nod (to the fact) that I hate this guy, and am sick of hearing him. I wanted to keep the focus on Chiklis because I felt like in that relationship my job would be to serve that character more than anything else.
ShockYa: John also talked a lot about how he wanted Psycho Ed, played by Adrien Brody, to embody the dark side of marijuana.
CH: I think that’s hilarious, by the way, and totally true. Hey look, man, I went and saw Roger Waters the other night and I looked at some people and said, “Whoah, wow, OK, you really made that counter-culture decision, and just went over there!” You’re talking to a dude who’s a little bit older now, and has a kid, so I’m starting to see things a little bit differently than I did maybe 10 years ago or even five years ago. But I just have a feeling that there are some people that, for lack of a better phrase, just check out. That’s neither good nor bad, that’s just the decision that they make — whether they’re right-headed in that decision or it’s a clouded head is not for me to say. Life is whatever you find is important and whatever your thing is — and so if your thing is scientifically trying to grow the strongest strain of weed, great. …More than anything else, when I read this, I had never heard of the plot before — of kids who have to get their entire school high so they can pass a drug test. Just based on that, I said I’ll give it a read and I know it’ll have those stoner cliche-type things, but talking with John he had such a clear vision of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to do it — that concept of a weed thriller, almost, (and being) really tense. So I said, “I get that, I understand it, that’s a vision.” When you’re able to get that combined with a chance to be silly, that’s great.
ShockYa: I have a soft spot for high school and college movies in general, because when they’re done right they really capture that white hot intensity of feeling that is adolescence. So more broadly, what was your own high school experience like?
CH: Well, my high school experience was nothing like it was in the movies, which I think was the big issue. You see these depictions, whether they’re supposed to be quite realistic or not, and you say, “Well my school’s not like that, I wish it was.” There are some movies… look, man, when I saw “Dazed and Confused” for the first time, I was like, this is timeless. This is exactly what we’re doing right now — I know this person, and this [character] reminds me of that person. Nobody really knows what their high school experience was like because they chiefly want to forget it, or they’ve already blocked it out. What it’s really like is that you can’t wait for it to be over. [laughs] Get to summer or get to college or get out of this town — whatever [the motivations] are, it’s different for everybody. For me, I just felt like, “This kind of sucks, but I’ll make the best out of it.”
ShockYa: In both your film and TV work, eclecticism seems to be the name of the game. When you’re reading material is it filtered through that prism, of looking for something new that you haven’t quite done before?
CH: I’m looking for something that’s engaging. I’m never going to get to the point where I say, “I’ve got it! I’ve mastered how my job works!” It’s different every single time, but there are a couple patterns that I’ve noticed that tend to have been indicators as to why I did whatever it was I did. One of which is the speed in which I read the script. If I’m reading the script and all of a sudden I’m on page 70 and I feel like no time has passed, that’s a great indication that I’m engaged in what I’m reading. Keep in mind that some time I have to sit down and read four things in one six-hour period, so if it’s not engaging it’s actually a lot of hard work, as weird as it may sound. [laughs] The other thing is that I want to be entertained and challenged when I’m making it, I want to look forward to shooting certain scenes. I don’t ever want to be like, “Oh God, I’m not looking forward to doing that today.” And it’s different every time — sometimes I can agree with certain things a film says, and sometimes I can disagree. With this, it’s not like I was sitting around going, “I’m really looking for my weed movie.” Maybe in my youth I would have been a little more excited to be making a weed movie, but I read it, there was enough funny stuff in it that kept my attention, and in talking to John he was concise, he knew what he wanted, and he was able to convey it in a way in which I understood. (More broadly), it’s both a luxury and perhaps a detriment, because I feel at times no one actually knows what to do with me. It’s a little bit easier when you’re known for something and just do it, but the thing I always tell myself is that it’s a lot easier for people to get burnt out on that, or for you to burn yourself out. You have white heat for however long you do, however long they determine you’re hot, and then you’re not so hot anymore. I tend to look at it as a longer marathon, and I’m just trying to ride out peaks and valleys.
ShockYa: You’re active on Twitter. As an actor or public figure, what’s the upside to that, and what are some of the strangest interactions you’ve had with fans?
CH: It’s funny, I was so anti-it for so long, and I think part of it was a generational thing a little bit: “I don’t need to be doing that, I don’t need people to know my innermost thoughts all the time.” But I’d been working enough to realize that the people that would to find me or hear about this thing that I’m doing, they’re not going to find out by me doing this thing for “Entertainment Tonight,” or a six a.m. morning show. Looking at my own way of discovering things and getting information, it ended up being online. And Jenny Wade from “The Good Guys” was on Twitter and said, “You should do it.” If anything, it was a way to properly show people a side of me that I felt would never properly be shown in any interview on TV or, no disrespect, article. I just found it was an opportunity to tell people about things that I’m interested in and things that I like… maybe pop a bubble about what people’s ideas of what I’m like are. Whether it’s good or bad, I don’t know. I think it’s still so early that we don’t know yet. [laughs] But I also feel, in a strange way, that as popular as it is, there are still millions and millions of people who have no idea what Twitter is. They look at it and it’s like algebra to them, so they’re not going to care that I liked the last Tame Impala record, or that I’m excited about the L.A. Kings. More than anything, I’ve met more interesting people through Twitter than I ever would have imagined, and these are people who for some reason or another are fans of me, and I’m fans of theirs — football players and musicians and people I’ve never met before. There’s something about that entrepreneurial vibe that comes out of Twitter.
ShockYa: “The Guilt Trip,” which comes out at the end of this year, sounds pretty interesting.
CH: Yeah, that one was fun. Well, it’s quick. There are a lot of people that come in and do little cameos. I’m in it for a brief amount of time. I play the husband of the old childhood girlfriend of Seth Rogen, and he sees what her life is like now and the ideal home and husband that she has. It massively pops a dream bubble that he’s had that someday they may be able to get back together.
ShockYa: So you’re emasculating Seth Rogen, basically.
CH: Kind of, yeah, but the thing is that you think it’s (going to be) like Owen Wilson in “Meet the Parents,” but we don’t go that route. We try and make him a genuinely nice guy so that you can’t hate this guy for getting married and having a family. It’s just sort of sad for Seth’s character. And really, no one is going to emasculate Seth more than Barbara Streisand (who plays his mother) will, so let Babs do the work on that one! It was a lot of fun, and one of my favorite roles because I sat down in every scene. I was either sitting on a couch or in a car. I never had to stand up, so it was the easiest job.
Written by: Brent Simon