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Everyman the younger

In 'Untraceable,' actor Colin Hanks continues to make his way in his famous father's town.

January 24, 2008|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

He's tall and slender with neatly cropped dark hair, a boyish grin and glasses -- just the kind of guy-next-door persona that allows the actor to walk the streets and not always get noticed. But study his features more closely and the resemblance to his famous movie star father becomes clearly evident. Indeed, the Sunday Times of London once wrote of Colin Hanks that his "lost-puppy eyes" confirm he is Tom Hanks' son.

At 6 feet 1, he said, he is taller than his dad, but as he points out, "he weighs more than me."

Over the years, Oscar-winning Tom Hanks has used his everyman persona to perfection in films like "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Saving Private Ryan." And it's that same quality that his eldest son exudes on screen as he pursues his own acting career. He appears opposite Diane Lane in the grisly thriller "Untraceable," which opens nationwide Friday. And last week, a comedy called "The Great Buck Howard," which stars John Malkovich and Hanks, had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

"He didn't want me to be an actor," Hanks said when asked what advice his dad gave him. "He wanted me to find out what I was passionate about. And it just so happened that it was acting, to which he said, 'OK, well, you could do it as an actor. I feel you have the ability to do so.' But he stressed that it really needed to be something I wanted and was passionate about."

The son harbors no illusions about where his acting career is in relation to his dad's. "He's been on top of Everest now for a long time," Hanks said, then quipped: "I may be at the lower base camp of Machu Picchu. We might be both climbing mountains, but they are very different peaks."

But Colin Hanks is no wet-behind-the-ears performer.

In "Untraceable," Lane and Hanks play FBI agents Jennifer Marsh and Griffin Dowd, who go in pursuit of a ghoulish, tech-savvy Internet predator who tortures and kills his victims on a website.

To gear up for their roles, Lane and Hanks spent time with real-life FBI agents who work on cyber-crimes. "My [character] ostensibly is really there to be funny," Hanks said, "and then, in a very significant way, he moves the story along."

Hanks said he had trouble at first comprehending why his character had such a penchant for joking around the office with his female partner, since their work -- tracking down pedophiles and purveyors of kiddie porn -- is so horrific.

"It wasn't until we sort of saw how the real agents let the steam out a little bit by using humor and making fun of each other that I went, 'OK, that's where it comes into play,' " Hanks said.

Director Gregory Hoblit said casting Hanks as agent Griffin Dowd was tricky because he wanted the agent to embody a certain innocence that would allow the audience to react with, "Oh, no! Don't do that to him!" when the killer begins stalking the FBI agents.

"Colin is a walking, talking personality," Hoblit said. "He can take a fairly pedestrian dialogue, inasmuch as it's there, and give it a little color and life and do it well." The director noted: "He's kind of at that gawky age -- tall and slender. I think he is very appealing. He's probably an actor who will get more interesting as he gets older and his face gets more interesting. There's no question he has talent. Look at the movies he's made over the last few years. He looks like he's 14."

In "The Great Buck Howard," written and directed by Sean McGinly, Hanks plays a recent law school dropout who answers an ad to be road manager for a celebrity performer, thinking this will be the big break that will get him into the entertainment industry. Instead, he discovers he has signed on to work for Buck Howard (Malkovich), a has-been magician trying to revitalize his career. Tom Hanks, who produced the movie, plays Colin Hanks' on-screen father.

"I don't really want to build it up too much," Colin Hanks said of the pairing. "We're in two scenes. I want to keep everyone's expectations down. He plays my father. That's obviously part of what makes the movie memorable for me."

Beyond that, the son noted, there was no tension to speak of doing scenes with his dad.

"I would almost say it's the same as working with Diane [Lane]," Colin Hanks said. "It was very easy. It was very natural. It was a good challenge because when you are doing a scene with actors like Tom Hanks and John Malkovich, they make it so easy that you are able to just do the work."

Although he might be considered part of Hollywood royalty, Colin Hanks points out that he was raised in Sacramento. His late mother, Samantha Lewes, divorced Tom Hanks in 1987. "I grew up like a lot of kids," Hanks said over lunch in Santa Monica. "I'm a child of divorce, which is obviously not a great thing. That's not to say I didn't see a lot of my dad. I saw my dad more than most kids see of their father when they live in the same city."

He points out that his father wasn't always rich and famous.

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