I Plead the Fifth: Colin Hanks Talks ‘High School’

The co-star of the new stoner comedy on playing the lovable henchman and his upcoming documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


Colin Hanks probably caught the public’s attention for the first time in Jake Kasdan’s high school comedy Orange County, wherein he played an ambitious student attending a high school that was most certainly not friendly to intellectuals. Since then, he has become a charming supporting actor in roles as varied as a presidential aide (W.), a friendly clergyman (Mad Men), and a vicious serial killer (Dexter). Coming this Friday, Hanks will be seen in the teen stoner comedy High School, where he got to play a teacher for the first time (he plays the henchman to the school’s callow principal) after so many offers of playing a student.

CraveOnline got to sit down with Hanks recently to talk about his role, his experiences shootingHigh School, the odd tragedy of how they got the set they worked on, and the state of his planned documentary film on Tower Records.


CraveOnline: I just saw High School the other day.

Colin Hanks: Beautiful.


It was very fun.



You were very funny.

Thank you.


The part you play is sort of the sidekick to the villain character. You’re wicked, but in a very National Lampoon sort of way. Sort of a sub-villain.

A “henchman?”


That’s the word.

Yeah. He’s a good-intentioned henchman.


You recently played a serial killer on Dexter. Now you’re playing a henchman. Are you into villain roles now? Are you being more drawn to bad guys?

[laughter] No. I think… The funny thing with this is the way I saw him. He was just a guy in a bad job. He’s just a guy who works for a really… horrible human being in the form of Michael Chiklis. So I didn’t necessarily think of him as so much of a henchman as sort of this super-cool vice-principal, if that’s possible. I don’t know if that’s possible. I might be golding it a little bit.


As cool as that position can be.

Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so not so evil.


Is he based on any teachers you know?

Oh no. Not really. If anything, it was just a chance to do something sort of silly and really just try and have a lot of fun, more than anything else.


You’ll probably get this question a lot: High School is a stoner comedy…

[quickly] I can neither confirm nor deny anything! I plead the fifth.


Don’t worry, I’m not prying into your personal life. But I do wonder about the set. Was it very straight?

Oh no! Yeah. It was very straight. It was a fun working environment. It was a lot of fun, but it was all work. In a strange way, it was sort of the most fun you could have in a school. Because we’re in this big empty school, it’s fabulous, and none of us really had trailers. We all just hung out in this one green room that had snacks and video games…


The cafeteria, essentially.

Kind of! It was like the kids had taken over the teacher’s lounge was sort of what it was like. And we always had TVs on, we had guitars out. We were often playing guitars or playing Rock Band. And then someone would sort of call us to set, and so I would… I stole a skateboard. A prop skateboard that’s actually in the movie. And I would just skate from our “lounge” to whatever part of the school we were shooting in because it’s all indoors. We shot the film in Michigan during the winter.


That sounds like a scenario out of a Cameron Crowe movie.

Yeah. We were sort of able to take the school over, y’know what I mean?  So it was the most responsible/irresponsible shoot. If that makes any sense. It was very Grated fun.


Yeah, since the film is so raucous, I was wondering if it was chaotic on set.

Not at all! Not at all…! Weekends might have been a different story.


I’m not going to ask about that. That’s your business sir. I was looking on, of all things, Wikipedia…

Everything is true on Wikipedia.


I read that you were working on a documentary on Tower Records. That interests me. I wanted to ask if you’re a record store rat. ‘Cause I’m a record store rat.

Yeah. Completely. Complete record store fanatic. Y’know, I was sort of late to collecting vinyl, but I have since… gone on a bender. Way too many times, and now I’m a full-blown addict. But yeah! The Tower doc is… We did a Kickstarter launch over a year ago now. Which was fantastic. That’s helped bring a lot of life to the doc. But y’know, documentary films are not easy to make. They take a long time. And they take longer than, y’know, just a year. I’ve been working on this thing for… over five years. Five, six years. Something like that. In various stages. And it’ll probably be another year or two before we have something we have to show people. It’s just a lot of work. And it’s a lot of juggle pieces. And because no one has really done any… y’know, we’re not basing it on any material; we have to do it all on our own, and that takes time.


What is it about?

It’s essentially the rise and fall of the company. The company.


Specifically Tower, or record store culture in general?

Tower Records. Tower Records. Russ Solomon, the founder, has pretty incredible story of how he started in the record business, and how he started to sell records. And the growth of the company is one that, when you sort of break down how they did it and what they did, combined with the fact that they were just kind of making it up as they went along, it’s a pretty fun story. And unfortunately it’s got a pretty climactic end. It ends in kind of a dramatic fashion in a way.


I do remember the sad liquidation days.

Yeah. So, it’s gonna cover that, but also, it’s really going to speak to the fact that that sort of era, that sort of time, it no longer exists. That spirit, that mentality, that way of interacting with people doesn’t exist anymore.


I have seen a documentary about Rhino Records, which seems similar. An enterprising group of outsiders who were driven by passion.

One thing I’ve already learned from this movie is that the amount of time I’ve already spent working on it, the focus has changed numerous times. So who knows what the movie will be like when it’s finished.


Well, I do want to see it. I’m sorry that this has not been about High School at all, but I wanted to know about this.

CraveOnline was very helpful about getting word out about the kickstarter.


What was the first record you bought with your own money?

Oo. That’s a good question. With my own money? Oh man, I don’t know if it was with my own money, but I remember the first CD I bought was Squeeze. Oh jeez. I can’t believe I’m forgetting the album title. It was the one with Hourglass on it. That was the first CD I remember buying, but I had bought tons of tapes and stuff like that beforehand. I had, y’know RUN-DMC, the first Beastie Boys record. I had a lot of tapes. But Squeeze was the first CD I remember buying. I think I bought that on my own. I didn’t buy the single for that one song! I bought the whole record instead. Already I was doing things differently than most kids.


I have a simple rule: Two singles; the record’s okay.

I don’t even know if that one had two singles.


What else do I have for you here…?

I answer the dumb questions too! I don’t care! I’m a Sagittarius, and never on Sundays.


Well that covers that. I was going to ask about your own high school experience. This is a film about stoners. I didn’t run with stoners, so this doesn’t resemble my own high school experience. I was wondering if you got to draw on anything from your own life to play this role.

No. If anything, I was having a funny time kind of adjusting to the fact that I was now playing one of the teachers. Y’know, when I started out, I was always the high school kid. I read millions of scripts. Well, seemingly millions of scripts that were all sort of high school guys. And then this was the first one where I wasnot one of the kids.


Was that a relief?

It was sort of… Yeah! It was sort of a relief. I mean it was nice. ‘Cause I can only “want to get invited to the party” so many times in my professional career. [laugh] But I went into this really… I had a conversation with John [Stalberg, the director], and I knew I was going be working with Chikky [Michael Chiklis], and he just said this one was going to fun. It was going to be a fun time. I’ll just go and try to have as best a time as I can, and maybe try to do some funny stuff. I’ve always been doing funny stuff; I’ve considered that to be, well, not a “strong suit,” but kind of where I cut my teeth, y’know? And all of a sudden I sort of woke up one day and realized “Oh! I’m not doing a lot of funny stuff lately!” So this was kind of the last funny thing I did [High School shot in the winter of 2009]. After this it’s sort of been serious stuff. So it’s always fun to make a fool out of yourself.


Absolutely. I do it regularly.

I do it every day too. In my real life.


Tell me more about the empty school. That sounded cool.

It was really strange. It wasn’t a set. It was a real school. It was actually incredibly sad. It was about 45 minutes outside of… not even outside of Detroit. We were staying 45 minutes outside of Detroit. The school was 45 minutes away from where we were staying. It was one of those sad things where two schools in this one county had joined together to inhabit this 77 million dollar school complex. It’s state of the art. Brand new. Fabulous. The students were in it for a year. I think the thing was there weren’t enough students to keep the school up and running, so they closed the school, and sent everyone back to their old schools.


That has to suck for the students.

Oh yeah. It was heartbreaking for the students. I mean, they were already in this incredibly economically depressed area. To then to get to spend one year in a 77 million dollar school, and then have to leave it. And of course, then, we go to make a movie there. It’s gotta be heartbreaking.


It’s gotta be weird for the kids to watch the movie.

Yeah! Yeah! Exactly. It’s kinda strange. The funny thing is that my school… I went to a pretty small school that was unlike any other schools that I’d seen in movies before. We never had indoor lockers or anything like that. So for me, it was kinda fun to be able to spend a buncha time in what my idea of what a high school was supposed to be like. Yeah, I was able to do that, except I was able to skateboard around the halls, and stuff like that.


Just like anyone would do!

Yeah, I was little subversive.