The star of ''The Great Buck Howard'' talks about his new indie -- and that other Hanks guy

By Gregory Kirschling
January 23, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

In The Great Buck Howard, which has been screening at Sundance all week, Colin Hanks takes on his biggest role since Orange County came out in 2002. The star plays Troy Gable, a young man who drops out of law school, then promptly takes a job as the personal assistant to a ”mentalist” played by John Malkovich.

The movie — a bouncy, kind-hearted, and even family-friendly showbiz comedy — was produced by Colin’s dad, Tom Hanks, who appears in two scenes as his disapproving father. We asked Colin (truly a junior-looking version of his old man, who also appeared in King Kong and has a starring role in Untraceable, which opens on Friday) a little bit about the film — and a lot about his dad.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you make The Great Buck Howard?
COLIN HANKS: I just thought it was a really delightful read. The goal was just to try and make a little delightful film with some colorful characters. The thing that I told Sean [McGinly, the film’s writer and director] when I met him was, for me, it seemed like the perfect telling of a story. At the beginning, the curtain opens, and you have this beautiful story, and it’s light and it’s fun and it makes you laugh and smile. And in the end the curtain closes and you go, ”Omigod, that was fun.” That was it. We’re not striving to start big debates. I would just like people to be watching this movie with a smile on their face.

If I understand it right, it’s because of you that this film got off the ground.
In 2003, the script was sent to me via the normal routes, and I read it and, yeah, I fell in love with it. I met with Sean and tried to convince him that if he was going to make the movie, I’d like to be in it. Then we went about trying to get the movie made for a good number of years. Then, after a few false starts, somebody suggested sending the project to [Tom Hanks’ production company] Playtone.

Were you like, ”Wait a minute…”?
At first I didn’t know what to think. But people felt that it was a Playtone-type film. And knowing the type of films that Playtone makes, because I know everybody there [laughs], I said, ”Yeah, well actually this might be something that they might be interested in.” And we sent it, and they flipped for it. Gary Goetzman, one of the head guys there, and then my dad, they both said, ”Yeah, we’d love to make this movie, if you don’t mind.”

How worried were you that people would say it’s your dad’s company?
Well, everybody’s going to say that, and I’m prepared for that, anyway. I know it’s not true [that they agreed to make this movie because of nepotism]. But, hell, Playtone hasn’t had a movie at Sundance, so I was able to bring them something they liked. So I figure if I can bring them stuff they like, it’s okay. But it’s not like they’re sitting around trying to plug me into different projects they have. It doesn’t really work like that.

How much do you and your dad talk about your career and his career?
Not that much. It’s really strange. We don’t sit there and really talk about it. If anything, we sit there and compare notes about what things are like now. When he was my age, he already had two kids and had to do anything that came his way. My career’s been a lot different. But if we talk about it, the only thing we’ll talk about is, you know, how I got my start when there were TV channels devoted to young kids with extra babysitting money. That didn’t exist when he started. So it’s those kind of things. But not stuff like, ”Hey, when I saw you lock eyes with King Kong, that was really good.” Nothing like that. At most, he’ll call me up and say, ”Hey, you were good in that movie.” And that’s really all I need. I don’t need much else.

Does it help or hurt to have him as your dad?
I don’t know. I can’t really say. It’s got its pluses and its minuses. It’s something that, for better or worse, is going to be with me forever, which I’m totally comfortable with. I’m looking forward to a time in my career when it’s not one of the things that’s sort of mentioned later on. But I’m much more comfortable with it now than when I started. Because it’s just not something that I obsess about that much. It was sort of frustrating at first because everyone would ask me all these questions, and I’d be like, ”I don’t know! I’ve never looked at it that way.” But now, I’m 30 years old, I’ve been doing this for enough time now where it’s not that big of a deal.

What are you doing next?
There are a couple of pots…. There’s one [project] I’m really excited about. I’m going to be directing a documentary this year. It’s a little early, so I can’t say too much, but it’s a documentary about the fall of the music industry in the last 10 or 15 years.

So do you like where you are in your career so far?
I do. I definitely feel like I’ve survived the first onslaught of working. I’ve been able to make a little bit of a career at this, and have been a working actor now for almost 10 years. And that’s exciting — it’s not an easy thing to do. I’m happy where I’m at. I just want to keep making movies.

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