Interview: Colin Hanks

Actor in High School


HIGHSCHOOL (D: John Stalberg). Opens Friday (June 8). See times.


Not too long ago, Colin Hanks starred in Orange County as a high school graduate desperately trying to finagle his way into college with the help of a perpetually stoned buddy.

Just a decade later, he’s co-starring in High School, in which a kid on the verge of graduation hatches a plan to dose his entire school (via pot brownies) to invalidate the results of a drug test.

This time around, Hanks is playing an authority figure – an assistant principal who watches bemusedly as his institution falls apart over the course of one long, goofy day.

Over the phone from Los Angeles, Hanks – best known as Peggy’s concerned priest on Mad Men and the Doomsday Killer on Dexter – talked about being comfortable working in ensembles, the comic stylings of Michael Chiklis and the appeal of throwing the odd curve ball.

You seem to seek out a lot of ensemble projects. With the exception of your arc on Dexter, you’re always surrounded by a big cast.

I started out doing plays and stuff it’s the company, you know? Almost every play I did early on – and I’m not even talking professional I’m talking about high school, middle school, college – was always ensemble stuff. When I was starting out, I was number seven on the call sheet, so I was very used to that sort of supporting role. I always want to try and work with fun, great people, and it’s kind of lonely when it’s just one other guy [laughs].

High School pairs you up with Michael Chiklis for a few scenes in a weird double act.

I remember telling Chiklis when we finished High School, “Look, I don’t know what the rest of the movie is like, but the one we’re making is hilarious.”

Is it weird to find yourself playing an authority figure in a movie like this?

[laughing] You know, it wasn’t too long ago I was auditioning for the valedictorian-type guy that Matt Bush ended up playing. I said, “Wow, times have changed, cuz now I’m an assistant principal.” At least I have principal to look forward to, you know? I can move up the ranks.

Can you tell me who Chiklis is channelling as the stuffy principal? I would have guessed Dean Wormer from Animal House, but then he throws some other stuff in there.

Chiklis will take the secret to the grave. It’s an amalgamation of people – that much I do know. He did tell me one of them, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.

And the bigger he goes, the drier your character becomes.

I made a decision early on. I told [director John] Stalberg, “There are so many of those bigger characters in the movie, maybe you need a bit of a grounding force.” I would love to have done a sort of broader character, but once I started seeing what Chiklis was doing, I said, “Well, someone’s gotta react to this. Someone’s gotta be the straight man.” You know, everybody’s got a role, and you’ve got to support the story. I just said, “My job here is to let Chiklis go hog wild with this.” And I had a front-row seat.

You’re often cast in friendly, unassuming roles, but your character on Dexter was atypical. Was there some perverse appeal to upending your image?

It’s not that I like making people uncomfortable, but I get a kick out of the fact that I’ve seen some people, like, have their minds broken. The other night I was at a Roger Waters concert and a lady came up to me and goes, “Oh my god, the Doomsday Killer is at a Roger Waters concert? This is insane!” That kind of stuff is great.

Interview Clips

Colin Hanks on how director John Stalberg sold him on High School:

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Hanks on performing in the live show The Thrilling Adventure Hour:

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Hanks on the status of his Tower Records documentary:

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