Exclusive Interview: Colin Hanks

By Adam Sweeney

You probably first got to know Colin Hanks on the hit TV show Roswell or when he teamed up with Jack Black in the understated comedy Orange County. Since then, Hanks has carved out a career with roles on AMC’s Mad Men and The Good Guys, and now he is taking his career to new heights with  by directing his own documentary ‘All Things Must Pass’, a tale of the rise and fall of Tower Records, as well as appearing on the Showtime series Dexter.

Hanks was kind enough to talk to Playmaker about the projects and also unleashed his inner-fan by discussing the San Francisco Giants and Star Wars.

Playmaker Magazine: What got you inspired to do All Things Must Pass and why was the Kickstarter Campaign the way to go to gain funding?

Colin Hanks: I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, which most people don’t know is where Tower started and was based until the end. Tower was always a source of civic pride for anyone from Sacramento. Russ Solomon started selling records out of his father’s drugstore. Then he borrowed some money from his father and opened up his first store in Sacramento. He opened a few more there and then one in San Francisco, which became really big. The initial idea was that Tower Records, which was this huge global chain that I was always proud of, had these incredibly small roots. It seemed like it was a special story, so that’s what peaked my initial interest. The more I read about it, it became fascinating to me. I reached out to some of my friends from Sacramento who worked in elements of show business and said, ‘I have this idea which might be cool.’ Then we reached out to Russ Solomon about the idea and he said, ‘Wow. You’re crazy. How are you going to make any money?’ But we told him this is a special story and the more we talked with him, we realized what Russ had created was a company, and more importantly an environment that was special. Sure, there were stores around the world but the way each store was opened…it was sort of an ‘us versus the world’ mentality. They would open one store and then eventually get another. It was run on a very specific mentality; that each store was run like its own store. It has its own manager and art department. The people that work for that location are given a sense of ownership and pride in that store. It fostered an environment where it wasn’t just a job. It was their lives. Speaking with people, they said, ‘This was my life.’ For many, it was the only job they had until 2006. It was some peoples’ college experience. It was extremely important chapter in their lives. They met their husbands and wives there. They had hardships there. Once I saw that human connection combined with the history, I thought we were onto something special.
The Kickstarter campaign was born out of necessity. I don’t get out to Sacramento much anymore, so on one of our first trips back we saw an old Tower Records store. I said we had to do some filming. I wanted to get some interviews in the store. I needed something and I wanted it to look good. This was going to be the definitive Tower story. I’m not interested in filming on Handicam and put it on YouTube, you know? I want this to be a feature length documentary that can be shown in theaters. So we pulled some money together and shot some compelling footage. We put together what they call a sizzle reel and we went around to production companies to try and secure more funds. We were doing this right when the economy went into the toilet and they all said no. They said, ‘We don’t really know what audience this is for. There are more pressing stories being made into documentaries. There are companies going bankrupt right now. Why would we make a documentary about a company that went bankrupt two years ago?’ So, we got tired of hearing no and it went on the backburner. I took a few acting jobs. Life sort of got in the way. I got married and had a kid. Some of the crew had kids. It wasn’t until I sort of embraced Facebook and Twitter… I’m a pretty old fashioned guy. I’m speaking to you on a rotary phone. I use a typewriter. I play vinyl. I’m not saying I’m a snob. I’m just slow to these kinds of things. So I was shooting ‘The Good Guys’ in Texas and started a Twitter account to connect to people. I sort of embraced that. I saw a friend of mine who was working with some friends to take an old Volkswagen camper to turn into a moving photo booth. They actually have a place in Austin now. They had a Kickstarter thing and I thought that might be an interesting way to raise funds. I said, ‘If we combined tat with Twitter and had a cool pitch, this could work.’ So instead of asking who cares about this movie, we could pitch it to people that would care about the movie. A really interesting thing happened. Unknowingly, we tapped into the very thing that Tower was about. We’re giving people a chance to take pride and ownership in a project. I’ve gotten some flak for the way we went about it. Some people say, ‘Why doesn’t he ask a family member for money?’ That’s really sort of missing the point. What we’re trying to create is a community that would like to see this movie made and be involved in it. Plus, they get some cool swag. We’re pressing our own records and DVD’s. In a way, the Kickstarter thing is an extension of that Tower mentality. The amount of money we raise is amazing but more important are the contacts we made when people reached out to us. This project would have taken years to do another way and it continues to grow. We keep bringing people in and hear their stories. It’s really exciting and the exact kind of thing that Kickstarter is great for.

PM: We used to go to Tower in-store performances all the time. Tower took its destiny into its own hands and Kickstarter allows people to do that. There are so many independent filmmakers who couldn’t achieve that otherwise. It’s cool to see you latch onto it.

CH: Well, we’re part of that group too, as much as people don’t think that. (Laughs.) I’m doing it because this is the best way to make the movie. Just because I happen to be an actor doesn’t mean people give me loads of money to make a documentary. But yeah, Tower was special because each store was suited for its particular city. Austin’s store was perfect for the city because of the music going through it. UT was right next to it and a lot of time Tower was in the right place at the right time. I think our film is kind of doing the same thing. Because of Kickstarter we’ve had other people reach out to us to help fund us more. We’re still in the process and its been great for us. The feedback has been nothing short of amazing and warming. I’m incredibly grateful.

PM: Another project you’re attached to, which a lot of people are excited about, is Dexter. Can you talk about how you got involved? We’re excited for the opportunity to maybe see you play against your type.

CH: Well, here’s what I can say. It’s going to be a really exciting season. I think fans of the show will not be disappointed. This season will be a real return to form. I’m not knocking other seasons but this one’s really good. I had never seen the show before. I’m watching it now and it’s fabulous. I think the performances and nuances are amazing.
To be honest it sort of came out of left field. My agent asked, ‘Would you like to be on Dexter,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ Then lo and behold, they said this looks like it may happen. So I got on the horn with Scott Buck and a few of the producers, and they told me about my character, to which I said, ‘Sounds great.’ It’s going to be a really good season. I don’t even really know specifics. They keep us in the dark until the end but it’s going to be great.

PM: Awesome. Playmaker focuses on sports also and you’re a big San Francisco Giants fan, correct?

CH: I am a big Giants fan much to the chagrin of the entire state of Texas.

PM: (Laughs.) Yeah, you guys were pretty rough on us.

CH: Well, you’ve got to understand, I was in Texas all of last year pretty much. The fact that my team made it to the postseason and then made it to the World Series where they played in the town that I had been acting in for ten months and just finished up the day before Game 3, it was absolutely amazing. I watched the NLCS clinching game against the Philadelphia Phillies in Austin on Sixth Street. I was amazed at how many more Rangers fans there were the next day. (Laughs.) But I went to a lot of Texas Rangers games last year and had a great time. Even when I rolled into the World Series with my Giants gears, the fans were so nice. Some of my friends came down from L.A. and were amazed at how nice they were. It’s a lot different than going to Dodgers Stadium.

PM: We can imagine. No batteries being thrown at you–

CH: Yeah, no batteries were thrown. My producing partner Sean is a big Giants fan and we call it the ‘D Series’ because we’re used to having D batteries thrown at us.

PM: Where do you stand on the Barry Bonds scandal?

CH: I think it’s safe to say that all of us have rooted for a baseball player who has since become tainted in his era. So, like Cardinals and Cubs fans, I’m bummed that it happened the way that it did. I’m sad but more importantly I am disappointed that he didn’t get to win a World Series ring. A lot of people forget, because this is geeky Giants trivia, that his last season involved a pennant race with the Dodgers. The last game the Giants lost and Barry had to sit through a gigantic celebration about what an amazing season he had. All season long he kept saying, ‘I don’t care about personal achievements. If we don’t win a ring it’s not worth anything.’ I’d like to believe that that’s true. I know it’s true. Without a World Series it hurts for him.

PM: Well, it looks like the team is set for some time.

CH: Regardless, the team always is entertaining. They always seem to go extra innings or have a walk-off run. It’s torture at its best.

PM: We’re big Star Wars fans and there was a rumor that you were in the front-running for the role of Anakin Skywalker—

CH: That was a total and complete fabrication.

PM: Really?

CH: Yeah. I had met with the casting director for a general meeting, much like every other actor my age on Earth. I ran into an actor who I knew on the way out and he mentioned a magazine article that had the rumor. But there was no truth to it as far as I know.

PM: You’ve talked about how your looks get you cast as the good guy. What would you have latched onto as the character of Anakin?

CH: Oh, I don’t know. Every actor looks at another actor’s performance and says, “I would have done this differently.’ The truth is you can’t really do that. You don’t know the direction the actor was going for, you don’t know the action that was given to them by the director, or if they were rushed in doing that scene. There are a million different factors that can affect a performance. I don’t think there’s anything I could say that would have changed anything.

PM: Right. Personally, I’m a defender of Hayden Christensen’s performance. You’re right. To call an actor a puppet is a bit much but the director definitely pulls the strings.

CH: You’re a tool for them to tell their story. From what I’ve read, George is very strict with his tools.

PM: Are you excited about any of the new Star Wars projects?

CH: Part of me says, ‘Why make it,’ but then there are also people who want to see it. I haven’t seen much of it but Clone Wars looks pretty cool. From what I’ve read, George seems to be sitting on sixty episodes of the TV show version apparently. As long as they can make a reasonably cost-effective production that isn’t cheesy or bad, why not? I’ve got a four-month-old now so my ability to sit around and watch The Empire Strikes Back, much less the expanded universe stuff, is tough.

PM: Well, any chance to see Empire, even a small piece, is always a good thing.

CH: Yeah. I am kind of interested in seeing how this 3-D thing is going to be. Everything I have read and the people I have talked to say it’s going to be some amazing stuff and not some schlocky conversion. That could be an interesting way to see the movie and actually make it extremely interesting. There are a handful of them that I know incredibly well. I am more excited about that than anything.

PM: Well, the old ones will be exciting.

CH: Right, but we have to sit through the first three to get through that one.

PM: (Laughs.) True.

About Bradford D Harrison

Bradford D Harrison is the co-publisher, managing editor, and webmaster at Playmaker Magazine. He covers the Houston Texans and Dallas Mavericks, as well music and film festivals like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest. He currently lives in Houston.