Colin Hanks Interview: "Life in Pieces" Star Talks "The Rise and Fall of Tower Records" and Famous Father
Image attributed to Colin Hanks
Colin Hanks is known for television roles including Officer Gus Grimly in Fargo, Alex Whitman in Roswell, Henry Jones in Band of Brothers and Travis Marshall in Dexter, as well as for starring in the 2002 film Orange County.
Other film roles include That Thing You Do!, King Kong, Untraceable, The Great Buck Howard, Barry Munday, The Guilt Trip, Parkland and Vacation, and television appearances in The O.C., Mad Men, The Good Guys, Robot Chicken, Burning Love, NCIS, Bad Teacher and Mom.
"I still believe you have to work for it. You have to really want it. You have to do the work. You have to be good at it. You have to embrace it completely. It’s not something just to do on a lark or on the side. Well, other people can do that, but that’s not how I’ve approached it. My approach is almost like a blue collar mentality. You show up. You do the work. You work your ass off, for lack of a better phrase. I really love it because at the end of the day, it’s just make believe, playing with toys."
The Sacramento native can currently be seen in the CBS sitcom Life in Pieces along with James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Betsy Brandt, Thomas Sadoski and Zoe Lister-Jones, which debuted on September 21, 2015. He directed the documentary All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records to be released in theaters October 16, 2015. The film examines this once retail powerhouse’s explosive trajectory, tragic demise and legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon.
Hanks is the eldest son of actor Tom Hanks and his first wife, Samantha Lewes. He and his wife have two daughters: Olivia Jane Hanks (born in 2011) and Charlotte Bryant Hanks (born in 2013).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Colin, are you filming today?
Colin Hanks: I am, but luckily I got a nice little break here so I’ll be able to schedule some things, which is very rare. Normally it’s like I’m working and have no idea what my day’s going to be like, but this is actually quite nice.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found the documentary, All Things Must Pass, to be informative and very interesting!
Colin Hanks: Oh thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it your first time undertaking a project like this?
Colin Hanks: Yeah. I’ve done some short docs in the interim as we were doing this, but yeah, this was the first attempt at this.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe part of the reason you wanted to do it was because you were born in Sacramento, and that’s where Tower Records began. What were the other reasons?
Colin Hanks: Well, there were a couple of things. Obviously I thought that the story was a special one. What Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records, was able to accomplish is pretty extraordinary. I think it was very unique especially in this modern day world where companies fall away right and left. The story of Tower Records tells what it means to have job security, but more importantly, what it means to have a job that you love and you are passionate about. There was a large amount of this story that I thought was really great, and I thought it was a story that not many people knew about.
People have this connection to Tower. They have this knowledge about Tower whether it’s a passionate knowledge or just on the periphery of like, “Oh I may have bought some CDs at that store.” But I thought the history of the company was incredibly unique in the way that it started, how big it became and how it was run. I found there were certain facets of it that a majority of people did not know about, and I did not know. I thought that was worthy of a documentary.
I was also an actor that was constantly looking for more of a creative outlet than auditioning for jobs (laughs). So there was an element of being an unemployed actor needing to do something. Those two things in conjunction and that chemistry really got me excited. I knew that Tower was going to be something that was worth celebrating. I was probably about five years too early, but now I think Tower is far enough in the rearview mirror that people can look back and go, “Wow! I really miss Tower. That was a special place.”
I think it’s a distant enough memory now where people are a little nostalgic for it without a doubt, but also wanting to maybe hear more about it and more willing to learn about it. I think they’ll be surprised when they hear the history of Tower Records.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I agree. For me, since I’ve never been to Tower Records, the documentary brought back memories of record stores in the 60s and 70s.
Colin Hanks: Where are you?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Birmingham, Alabama.
Colin Hanks: Your closest Tower maybe would’ve been New Orleans.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, but I couldn’t wait to go to the local record store and buy the new 45s. It was so much fun to shop there also because the employees knew so much about music. That made it actually a very unique experience.
Colin Hanks: Sure. At the end of the day, one of the things we’re really trying to celebrate is the fact that although there were 192 of them around the world, it was not just this huge chain that was run from the top down. They were really a sort of city0-centric mom and pop type stores that were run from the bottom up. Every city’s Tower tried to represent that city or town, and it was represented by the people that worked there. It really was a record store in the classic sense. It wasn’t just one of these chains that just threw in the Top 40 or the most recent album of the most popular artist.
They had a little bit of everything. They had deep catalogues and inventory, buyers that knew what was popular and what people needed to know if they wanted to dig a little deeper. They had all of those things that made a really good record shop. That was Tower Records for a very long time, and you didn’t have to live in a city that had Tower to appreciate what kind of record store it was. That, I think, is important. I’ve talked about that a lot with many people. You don’t have to have lived by a Tower Records or shopped at one to appreciate the store.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Exactly. It’s such an important part of music history. You mentioned that you had done some shorts here and there. Any other ideas for another feature documentary?
Colin Hanks: We have a couple of different ideas for some other features. It’s a difficult business, to be honest (laughs). If we’re going to tackle another feature documentary, I would really like to be able to have the money to make it up front, without sounding too crass (laughs). After doing it piece by piece over seven years, I don’t know if I really want to do it again. But that said, there are a couple of ideas that I have that I can’t really talk about because it’s too early. But I’m trying to decide if they’re worth doing the piece meal thing. I think a couple of them are, but we’ll wait and see.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think Life in Pieces is hilarious!
Colin Hanks: Oh good! Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I saw an interview with creator Justin Adler, and he said that they didn’t expect you to do the show. What was it about the script that you liked?
Colin Hanks: The fact that it was different. You read so many scripts throughout the course of pilot season or throughout the course of the year, and they all end up following the same kind of formula. There was something about the way that this was written, the format and the structure of the show that I thought was not only engaging as I was reading it, but would be engaging as an actor to do for hopefully five or so years. It seemed like it would be an interesting way to tell these stories.
In a strange way, it was kind of what I learned in Fargo. If you’re able to mess with the convention a little bit and break from the overall story concepts where you have to introduce all of the main characters in the first five minutes of the pilot, it makes for an interesting story. Some people may want to call it a gimmick. I don’t think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s a new way of being able to do something to keep it unique and different and make it stand out. That’s the thing that makes Life in Pieces stand out. The structure’s different, it’s well written and funny. It was also a chance for me to live at home and see my kids at night which is a pretty powerful lure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Aren’t you tired of people comparing Life in Pieces to Modern Family?
Colin Hanks: Yeah, well, they’re both about families, and they’re both on television, so they must be similar.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) I don’t remember another TV show having a delivery scene and focusing on the mother’s vagina in the pilot episode, which was just so funny to me.
Colin Hanks: (laughs) Oh good. Good. I’m glad. Yeah. It’s funny. Some people thought that was a little too much. But pretty much for anyone who’s had kids are like, “Yeah. I remember that.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think you have a natural comedic talent, Colin. What’s next for your character (Greg) and wife Jen?
Colin Hanks: Oh thank you. We’ve been having so much fun. I got very lucky that they cast Zoe Lister-Jones as my wife. They cast a bunch of amazing actors. I’m such a fan of pretty much everyone who’s on our show (laughs). We got very lucky. But really I’m excited about being able to grow the dynamic between Greg and Jen so that this show is not necessarily about the funny situations they get in, but the situations they get in and how that affects their relationship and what their dynamic is.
We’ve been having a lot of fun creating this relationship, how they complement each other and how they rub each other the wrong way, messing with the conventions or the preconceived norms of husband/wife/mother/daughter dynamics. We’ve been playing with that. I never had more fun on a show. I’ve never laughed as hard on a show. We really have a very good time working together, and I’m speaking for all of us. We have a good time, so we’re looking forward to a whole lot more of it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): As an actor, do you prefer comedic roles to dramatic ones?
Colin Hanks: No not really. I try to find stuff that is engaging to me. That is the biggest thing. If I’m excited and engaged when reading a script, that really says it all for me. There are other facets of it that are probably not remotely interesting to other people like location and schedule. But there really is no difference.
It has been a really interesting lesson going from Fargo to Life in Pieces. They’re both incredibly different projects, but at the same time, they have a lot in common. They’re incredibly well written, have amazing casts and different within their own realms, but they both play at a high intelligence level. So I really don’t see any difference.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was your early interest in acting something you really wanted to do or did Tom Hanks have an influence over that choice?
Colin Hanks: It was definitely something that I wanted to do. It’s what I’m passionate about, what I love to do. I genuinely enjoy it so much. I think the biggest thing for me was that being around it made it not this crazy dream (laughs). It wasn’t this unattainable thing that would never happen. So if you’re passionate about it, and it’s something that you really want to do, it can happen. That’s the only thing. It’s not like, “It can happen for you regardless.”
I still believe you have to work for it. You have to really want it. You have to do the work. You have to be good at it. You have to embrace it completely. It’s not something just to do on a lark or on the side. Well, other people can do that, but that’s not how I’ve approached it. My approach is almost like a blue collar mentality. You show up. You do the work. You work your ass off, for lack of a better phrase. I really love it because at the end of the day, it’s just make believe, playing with toys.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and your dad have done several projects together. Is the working relationship easy for you, or does he offer acting advice along the way?
Colin Hanks: We don’t really talk about it. We don’t really talk shop about it too much. We don’t compare notes. We are much more focused on what time we’ll see each other for lunch or when he can see the grandkids, that kind of thing. That’s really much more of what our relationship is. It kind of sounds like every relationship, right? (laughs) It kind of sounds like a normal relationship, right? That’s kind of what it is, yeah. I always hate to burst people’s bubbles, but that’s the way it is.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tom Hanks and son have a normal relationship. You are bursting bubbles out there (laughs). What’s the most important thing you want to teach your kids?
Colin Hanks: I want them to be able to be honest at all times and know that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and that there’s safety and strength in being honest at all times. I want them to do whatever it is that they want to do provided they are passionate about it, and they can’t see themselves doing anything else. I think those two things are the most important things a person can do, and if I can somehow get that into their thick skulls … no, I’m kidding. That won’t translate well. That won’t read well (laughs). But if I can at least teach them or have them understand that, then I guess I’ll be okay. And more importantly, they’ll be good.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Wise words indeed. You have a film called Elvis & Nixon coming up?
Colin Hanks: Elvis & Nixon will come up down the line. I don’t know exactly when that’s going to come up, but I’m very excited about it. That’s a fun project. I got to spend a day with Kevin Spacey dressed up as Richard Nixon and Michael Shannon dressed up as Elvis, so that was incredible. I’m excited for people to see that and hopefully a whole lot more of Life in Pieces. That is what I’ve been focusing on along with Tower Records for a while, and those two things have really been eating up all my time as of late.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You know, All Things Must Pass is released on October 16 which is the same day as your dad’s big budget blockbuster Bridge of Spies.
Colin Hanks: Yes. Congratulations! You’re the first person to put that together. You win the prize. We’ve been sitting here waiting and wondering when someone would put that together, yes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Thanks. I feel honored, but I’m really interested in the prize.
Colin Hanks: The prize is just the knowledge and the joy in which you realized you’re the first person to put it together. That’s the prize.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ll take it (laughs). Thanks for taking the time, Colin.
Colin Hanks: Thank you so much, Melissa. I appreciate it.
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