Capone talks with Colin Hanks about THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD, working with dad, and Tower Records!!!
Published at: March 16, 2009, 3:25 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Austin here, clearing off my desktop of all of my pre-SXSW commitments before I dive head first into tons of SXSW coverage. As I'm typing right now, I'm still buzzing from a pair of interviews I just did this morning. One with two of the funniest guys I've met, and another with one of the smartest, most beautiful, and charming women I've ever met…and her significant other/talented writer-director, who was also incredibly nice. Another one slips through my fingers. Can't wait to share that one with you.
Anyway, speaking of smart, beautiful, and charming, I got the chance to sit down with Colin Hanks back in October prior to a Chicago Film Festival screening of the terrific film THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD, featuring John Malkovich as the washed-up titular entertainer and Hanks as his newbie personal assistant. As good as the film is, I haven't seen Malkovich this good in a very long time, and I think it's fair to say that Hanks comes into his own as an actor here, playing a guy who is simply trying to anticipate the bizarre needs of his boss while still maintaining something of a life. The film marks Colin and Tom Hanks on screen together played father and son, which sounds gimmicky, but actually comes across as rather sad and moving. Colin Hanks is just an incredibly nice, down-to-earth man, who knows how to laugh and tell stories and generally be cool. It was a real treat to meet him, and started off talking about a film he's directing (and is probably a lot closer to completing now than when he was back in October). Enjoy Colin Hanks…
Capone: I was going to ask you about this [pointing to a Tower Records button on Colin's jacket] later, but you got it right out there, don’t you?
CH: Oh, yeah…for those in the know.
Capone: Yeah, I remember from Quint's piece with you from Sundance that you couldn’t really say that much about [a documentary that Colin is making about Tower Records rise and fall].
CH: Yeah, we were still sort of in the early stages of talking with [Tower Records’] Russ [Solomon] and sort of getting in touch with all the people that actually worked at Tower that we felt we would really need involved. And so, it was sort of one of those things where I was having to play coy, and I didn’t really want to…and, of course, mentioned it once, and then, it sort of spread pretty quickly. And, then finally, I got to the point where I was able to talk about it once, and then somebody was, like, “We’ve got the scoop!” And, I’m like, Wow, I didn’t know that’s how this business works.
Capone: What does that say?
CH: This is a button for Tower Records Korea…But, yeah, it’s really early on in the process. And, there’s a million different little things that need to happen in order to get everything going. But, we’ve got Russ Solomon, the creator and the founder of Tower Records involved, along with a great many other people that were very instrumental in the creation and the running of the company. And, so now, it’s, you know, the very unglamorous side of financing, and budgets and this, that, and the other thing. But, we have been able to roll some film on it already, which has been pretty exciting. We were up in Sacramento, where I’m from, and we were able to film one of the empty stores that was still standing there. And, luckily, the…
Capone: You could film a couple in this city, too.
CH: Yeah. Well, in fact, every city I go to now, I tell people, I say, “Take me to where the Tower Records was. I want to see what’s there now.”
Capone: There’s one that’s within walking distance from here, yeah, in the downtown area.
CH: Does it still have the sign up?
Capone: I doubt it.
CH: Yeah. See, that is what was amazing. We went to the one in Sacramento, which is technically…the company actually started in Russ’s father’s drug store, but we went to the location that was--on a technical side--the first Tower Records location. And, I went out there once with my buddy who I’m making the movie with…and two of the guys I’m making the movie with I both grew up with, one of whom actually helped produce and write the Ron Santo THIS OLD CUB documentary. As someone from Chicago, I’m sure you know all about that.
Capone: Oh, yes. I've seen it.
CH: And so, we went out, just on a lark, to go check and see where this old, you know, what’s in the new space. What’s the newest thing in that old space? Is it a Bed, Bath & Beyond? And, we go out there, and the Tower Records is still there. The neon sign is still there. All of the CD racks are still in there, the fixtures are still in there. And, it still had one of the signs up that the employees put up that said, ‘All things must pass. Thanks Sacramento’. And, we both looked at each other and went, like, We’ve got to film this right now. We must film this! So, we spent the better half of a couple of months just trying to convince people, like, Hey, we need to go do this right now, ’cause it’s gonna be gone. And, luckily, we were able to do that. So now, we’re sort of being able to take a little bit of a breather and sort of work out what is going to be the large assault plan that will be the Tower Records documentary.
Capone: I can’t wait. It was such a large part of a lot of people’s musical upbringing.
CH: Well, yeah. Whenever you try and tell any kind of story, you need a theme, and you need that sort of in. What is it about this story that’s going to make people care? You can only make people care about the specific set of subjects.
And, in documentaries, they either need to be fascinating and informative and educational--or delightful: one of the two. And, also have an element of education and all that sort of stuff. What are you going to do? I think ours is, I hope, going to be a little bit of both. That’s what I’m shooting for. More than anything, I think it’s something that a great many people have a personal connection with.
Capone: Yeah, I remember the first time I ever went to one.
CH: Yeah, so there you go.
Capone: That’s great. Five minutes on Tower Records, excellent. Let’s talk about THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD. First of all, you certainly have guts narrating a film that Ricky Jay is in, one of the great narrators of all time.
CH: Yes…of all time, yeah. Ricky Jay…It’s so funny, he’s…Anyone in the know, in terms of the magic world, knows exactly who he is.
Capone: Sure, in the con-artist world.
CH: Exactly! And, there’s the sleight-of-hand and the sort of anything that involves tricks of the mind. I’ve seen people shake in his presence. And, then, there’s a whole other group of people that sort of go, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s that guy, there’s that guy who’s in a bunch of movies, and he’s always very cool and casual. And, he’s got a great voice’.
And, for us, it was, like, Well, we got to put him in the movie. It’s all about mentalism and magic. We thought it would be a great nod. And, we’re really happy that he’s in the movie. And, he’s very, very funny. The first day was just John [Malkovich], Ricky, and myself, and Ricky and I were just dying, it was so funny.
Capone: Yeah, I love him. I’m mostly familiar with him from the [David] Mamet stuff.
CH: Of course.
Capone: So, how many favors did you have to call in to get your dad in the movie?
CH: [laughs] It was strange. It happened in a very organic way that really sort of came as a shock. But, I had read the script, I think, in 2003 I think was the year. It’s now officially so long ago, I’m no longer sure. Since I’m no longer in the grades era of my life, I can no longer say ‘ third grade’ or ‘fourth grade’. I knew it was before Bush got reelected. That much I do know. And, I fell in love with it and spent the better half of a year or so with Sean McGinly, the writer/director, trying to find a place to do this.
And, someone within our agency had suggested, Well, maybe Playtone [Tom Hanks production company] would be a good spot. And, I had never really thought about it, because I’m not bold enough to assume that they’re going to want to do anything that I’ve got an idea for, and I’m not the kind of person that’s going to say, like, “Hey, take a look at this, and, hey, will you make it with me?”
So, we sent it along, and I sort of pre-warned them. I said, “Look, this thing’s coming to you. Take a look at it. And, if you could help point us in the direction of somewhere we could go, that would be really great.” But, not under the pretense of, hey, let’s make this movie together. And, they ended up liking it so much, both Gary Goetzman and my dad, that they said, “Well, we want to make it.” And, I said, “Uuhhh…well, uhhhh, ehhhh…yeah, okay.” You can’t say ‘no’ to that.
Capone: So, you weren’t looking for something to do with him? It wasn’t anything like that?
CH: No! And, in fact, it…That was one conversation, and then, the other conversation was--which was right after that--“Oh, and I’m going to play your dad.” And, I just…
Capone: So, he cast himself?
CH: He cast himself, and I like to think that I’m at least smart enough to go, you know, “Okay, sure, yes.” I can’t say ‘no’ to that, because I think it only makes the movie better.
Capone: When you think of those scenes, was it in any way strange or weird to be in a situation like that with your dad playing this dad who was so non-supportive.
CH: Well, look, I think that’s what made it so much fun, because it was sort of like, hey, we’re getting to have this sort of conversation that in real life my dad and I had never had. He’s always been very supportive. It was a little strange in that so…Even the people there that we were making the movie with--who we all know, some of whom we had known for a very, very, very long time--they were, like, ‘Man, this is amazing.” They were really building it up, and we were just sort of like ‘Uhhhhh’. We both just sort of went about it like any other day, and it wasn’t until we did a couple of takes that, then, we were sort of like “Oh, yeah, alright, this is…uhhh, yeah, this is fun. ‘You mean, so we just do what we normally do anyways? Okay, great, fine.’” And so, it worked out.
For me, it was fun. But, I’m also glad that it’s very self-contained within the movie, like, it’s not one of those overly long, drawn-out sort of things. It’s sort of very short and succinct and, I don’t think, abuses it, if that makes any sense.
Capone: No, there’s not a big spotlight on the two of you while you’re doing it.
CH: Yeah, yeah, and it’s definitely not two hours of that. For me, if we were ever going to do that, I did want it to be somewhat special. And, I sort of feel like we were able to contain it in a way and make those scenes special in their own right. It sort of fits well within the story. It’s not bludgeoning people to death with it, although we’ll see how people…We’ll see about the advertisements.
Capone: Last question involving, peripherally, your dad is that Emily Blunt…
CH: She was in [CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR]…Are we doing six degrees of separation?
Capone: Well, is that some sort of mild form of incest?
CH: I was before. We shot this before.
Capone: That’s right. It was a couple of years ago.
CH: Yeah, we shot this before, so without sounding chauvinistic and possessive of her--I had her first.
Capone: Sloppy seconds to dad. Okay, I gotcha.
CH: Yes! Although, she did say it was very strange.
Capone: Probably strangest for her, yes.
CH: She said, “It’s very strange to kiss both the son and the father.”
Capone: I seem to recall when I first heard about this movie, which was probably…well, it was definitely before you shot it…that Kevin Kline was a part of this. Is that true?
CH: Yeah, yeah.
Capone: At what point did Malkovich come in?
CH: Well, what happened was…This has been a long journey. And, Kevin had agreed to sign on to it, and for the better half of a year, we then went along, as many films do, of…okay, great, we’ve got a cast now, we’ve got our two leads, let’s secure financing. And, it took a while to do that. And, we had a couple of false starts with some companies, and it’s one of those things in filmmaking that happens where the stars don’t align, and the window closed.
Capone: It’s not a shocking development at all.
CH: No, no, it’s not a shocking development at all, and Kevin had some things that he had already lined up that he couldn’t get out of. And, by the time we were really ready to go, he said, “Guys, I kind of need to go do this other stuff that I’ve already agreed to do.” And, we said, “Great, we understand, and we’re sorry it didn’t work out.” And, then, we went about the process of essentially going back to square one--as commonly happens when trying to make a movie--and spent a lot of time trying to find another Buck.
I don’t remember how, I don’t necessarily remember what the conversation was like, but Malkovich came up, and, in a strange way, it happened kind of quickly, in my recollection. I know Sean went out to go meet with John, and before we knew it, we had found our Buck. And, thank God, too, because it’s his movie.
Capone: He’s terrific, yeah. And, he’s been on a real tear lately, just in terms of good stuff I’ve seen him in.
CH: Yeah, much to our chagrin, [laughs]…much to our chagrin. We were really…we did shoot this movie a long time ago, and it’s a very specific kind of movie. And, normally, that can sometimes have a bad connotation, but, with us, it’s in a good way, and we don’t want it to get overshadowed. And, we don’t want it to get overlooked…which is great. Malkovich made these two other movies with Clint Eastwood [CHANGLING] and the Coen Brothers [BURN AFTER READING], and you don’t want to get lost in that. And, you want each one to have its own sort of shelf life. So, we’ve sort of held on to this one, because we feel like we’ve got something special, and that no one has really seen Malkovich like this.
Capone: Yeah, I don’t think the guy knows how to repeat himself at this point.
CH: Well, that’s an interesting thing, you know. And, it’s funny, I was just talking with someone earlier, and I said, “You know, the thing with Malkovich is I think people know that he’s got a good sense of humor.” I mean, if you’re in a movie called BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and you’re John Malkovich, you’ve got a good sense of humor. But, no one has really seen him like this actually be funny. And, sort of do that, except, maybe, for his scenes with Charlie Sheen. That slayed me. And, those were some of Charlie Sheen’s best works, too.
Capone: What sort of fascinates you about those old-timers, like the Buck Howard character? Have you ever met people like that?
CH: There’s so much stuff that I look back on and am able, maybe, to find a string through it. I wasn’t cognizant of it when I read it, I just read the story, and I just liked what happened within the story. But, I think the thing that sort of drew me to it, without even knowing, is that I’m very lucky in that my profession is one in which I can look at an 83-year-old man and say “We do the same thing.” We might do it differently, but we’re both actors, and we both do the same thing. And, I can look at an 80-year-old actor with such admiration because, My God, this man’s been doing this for 60 years, or however long. And, that’s to be admired, because--as fun as the job is--when you spend a lot of it unemployed looking for work, it can be very lonely and hard and a very, very challenging thing to do. Never mind, then getting the job and delivering. That’s a whole other thing. But, just being in the grind, I guess, if you want to call it that. There’s something admirable about that.
And, I think, looking back on the movie, there’s something that I really like about it…is that Buck sort of has this idea about what he needs to happen in order for him to…he needs to get back to where he was, he’s got this goal, and he’s going to do anything possible to get there, and he’ll step over anyone in order to do it. And, then, he gets there, and he realizes, like, Oh, well, I was kind of doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and I had sort of forgotten that.
And, he sort of realizes that he doesn’t need to be extremely well known and on magazines and on TV shows. It’s just about the art of doing it. In his case, it’s being a mentalist and performing to crowds of, you know, two, three hundred in Bakersfield. And, I can relate to that. There is that element of ‘So I might not be in the biggest movie or the biggest TV show, and I might not have the same sort of publicity, but at the end of the day, I do feel confident enough that, if I have to make the choice of…alright, well, am I going to do dinner theater to pay the bills, I will do dinner theater, if that’s going to help me pay the bills, ’cause that’s what I love to do.’ I may not like doing it, but that’s…I find something admirable in that, in really sticking to it, because that’s his passion.
And, that to me, I think is really interesting. And, in a strange way, too, I remember when I was a kid, I watched MY FAVORITE YEAR, religiously--like three times a day.
Capone: There a lot of similarities between the two films.
CH: And, it’s very striking…once again, I didn’t even notice this until after we had finished this movie. It was kind of strange. [We get the five-minute sign from the publicist.] Five more minutes? Alright. Sorry, I’m going on too long.
Capone: That’s okay. I’m not going to stop you…You mentioned that just to keep acting you would take some…You’ve certainly done the roles where you a supporting player in something like KING KONG or UNTRACEABLE, versus these other things where your part of getting the financing. Do you enjoy one more than the other?
CH: Well, yeah. It sort of seems to be the way that things sort of go. I mean, even if you look at…I mean, not to put myself in the same class, but even if you look at guys like [Seth] Rogen and those guys, you got to create your own work. That’s the best way to do it. While I haven’t been able to have the opportunity to sort of act in something that I’ve written--and rightly so, because I need to work on that a little bit--but, at some point, you do realize, okay, there’s going to be some times where you’re just going to have to do some of the lifting yourself.
And, you really got to want to be able do it. And, it gives you a different perspective on your job, obviously, which I have. And, sometimes, it works. That being said, look, if Peter Jackson comes calling again, Great! I’m there in a heartbeat. ‘I will show up whenever you want me to show up, and I’ll do whatever you say, and I won’t say a thing.’ Sometimes, that’s the way it works.
And, with this movie, the story was so good that I really felt that it warranted really trying to help get it along, you know. Not that I really have that much to offer. I really don’t, to be quite honest, but the only thing I can help offer is the voice of, like, Okay, what can we do to help get this made? I’m not making big decisions, or anything like that, at all. In fact, I’m just the actor in this movie. That’s really it, but because I’ve been working on this for so long, in a strange way, some people have said, “Well, hey, why don’t you help do that,” and informed me on decisions and stuff like that.
Capone: There were rumors for a while that you were going to be a part of the [Steven Spielberg's] TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN movie. Is that real, or no? Does anybody even know at this point what is going on?
CH: Yeah, I don’t really know where it’s at now. There was a period where it looked like that was definitely going to go. And, I had been contacted about that, and I said, “I would love to. Let me know. It’s all great. And, let me know when I can really celebrate that.” And, then, it sort of fizzled away. So, there was truth to that, but…
Capone: Okay, that’s what I figured.
CH: But, now, I don’t really know what the status of it is.
Capone: I just heard something about Ben Stiller throwing his hat in the ring as a possible director.
CH: Oh, wow. Well, I know that he’s also been sort of interested in doing the Vaughn Meader thing as well.
Capone: This was just in the last couple of days I heard this.
CH: Oh, really?
Capone: Yeah. I think it was even on our site.
CH: I don’t know. I mean, hey, listen, I would like someone to make that movie, and, maybe, cast me in it. I think that would be kind of cool.
Capone: I like the way that BUCK HOWARD exists in the real world…all the magazines and the TV shows, the reasons for his star rising again, are all real. It comes across as much more authentic and believable. Was that a conscious decision?
CH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. And, I’m always a big stickler on that kind of stuff.
Capone: I hate that stuff. You don’t want to get it wrong, yeah.
CH: Yeah. In fact, I sort of felt that way about some of the stuff in W, where it was, like, Oh God, I wish you could have the real footage of people. But, yeah, we were very cognizant of it. And, luckily, it was one of those scenarios in which they read the script, and they like it, and so they let us be so lucky as to use them, and visa versa. So, it just sort of worked out that way.
And, really, I mean, no one’s a bigger sport about this than Jay Leno. And, it shows what a classy guy he is, because we’re not very kind to him in this movie, or, at least, Buck isn’t. But, they all got it. And, in a strange way, it helps cement their position. So, we’re scratching their backs, and they’re scratching ours.
Capone: It’s a nice shorthand. We don’t have to explain what the show is.
CH: Exactly. And, it’s just great, too, because, once again--you’re totally right--it just throws it into a reality in which you go, Oh, okay, I understand what he’s talking about.
Capone: I also like the way that your character, although some people might see him as a doormat, is very adaptable. He reacts on a dime to the moods, Buck’s moods. It’s not like KING KONG, where you’re also an assistant. There’s a little more room to examine his depths of his mental processes.
CH: Yeah, there’s a relationship. That was the thing I liked about the relationship between the two…is that it was a real relationship, a forced relationship, almost like a forced marriage in which there’s one person that doesn’t really want to be there, but, it’s their job. And so, their job is to service the needs of his employer. And, if his employer is temperamental, like Buck is, you got to find the best way to work around that, and try and fix that. And, I like that.
Capone: Well thanks, Colin. It was great to finally meet you. Good luck with this film and the Tower Records documentary.
CH: Yeah, thanks. I'm glad I can finally say something about it, but I think this is going to fun to make. Take care.