On Monday, October 27, 2008, at the Chicago Film Festival, I attended the showing of Colin Hanks’ new film “The Great Buck Howard” in Chicago at the AMC Theaters (on Illinois Street). The film is based on the life and career of the Amazing Kreskin, (with dramatic license taken). It was written and directed by Sean McGinly, who worked for Kreskin as his road manager and wrote the film from his personal experiences.
Previously, in June of 2008 I attended the HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) national conference in Newark, New Jersey. While a gopher at a local club in Davenport, Iowa, a writing collaborator acquaintance had been assigned to perform the same sort of duties that McGinly/Hanks is seen performing in the film. Press Kreskin’s pants. Get him water. (John Malkovich as Kreskin comments, in the film, when brought water by Hanks, “Spring water. I’m not an iron.”)
Kreskin came to our hotel in Newark to have dinner with his old friend. I joined the two for dessert for over an hour. Therefore, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with Kreskin, one-on-one. I also had seen Kreskin’s act at Circa 21 Theater in Rock Island, Illinois. I was familiar with Kreskin’s practice of having his paycheck hidden during his performances. [Wikipedia says that, in 5,000 tries, Kreskin has only failed to find it 9 times, although that statistic was not used in the film.]
Colin Hanks is the son of Tom Hanks and his first wife, Samantha Lewes, who died of bone cancer March 13, 2002. Tom Hanks was married to the actress/producer from 1978 until 1987. The younger Hanks plays McGinley in the film. He’s been quite busy this summer, starring as police detective Jack Bailey in the new Fox comic television summer series “The Good Guys” with former “West Wing” alum Bradley Whitford as Detective Dan Stark. The younger Hanks is perhaps best known for his role in “Orange County” opposite Jack Black in 2002. He had a role as Carl Denham in 2005’s “King Kong,” a recurring story arc as Father Gill on the acclaimed AMC series “Mad Men.” He is directing a documentary on Tower Records. In addition, much like the character Hanks plays in “The Great Buck Howard,” he fell for (and married, on May 8, 2010) New York City publicist Samantha Bryant.
During the Question and Answer following the film, Hanks admitted that he had never met the real Kreskin nor ever seen his act. In fact, I was the only audience member who (a) had had a dinner with Kreskin and (b) had seen Kreskin’s act “live.” Colin said, when I mentioned these two facts, “I’ve never met Kreskin. Oh, wow! It’d be neat to talk to him.”
At the end of the screening of “The Great Buck Howard,” the younger Hanks and I talked at greater length. I shared some insights from my earlier experiences with Kreskin (aka “The Great Buck Howard.”)
Here are the questions I had for Hanks and the answers from Colin Hanks, standing in for writer/director Sean McGinly, expressed at the AMC Theater in Chicago after the showing of “The Great Buck Howard” on October 27, 2008:
Question #1: How long did it take to get the “The Great Buck Howard” made? A: “It took us 3 years to get the financing and 2 years to make.”
Question #2: Do you feel that Buck Howard is like the real-life character of Kreskin upon which Buck is based? A: “The handshake thing is for real. I’ve actually never met Kreskin,” said Hanks. “I hear Malkovich’s portrayal is pretty amazing.” [I didn’t notice “the handshake thing” portrayed in the film during our evening together in Newark, but I’ve been assured that it is Kreskin’s normal greeting. When I arrived at the table, he was already seated, and he rose and pulled out my chair, but no over-active handshake.)
Question #3: Do you think you’ll ever do more movies like (2002’s) “Orange County?” A: “I think I’ve pretty much done all I can in that genre.”
Question #4: Where did this story come from? A: “The Great Buck Howard — at least about the first 15 minutes of it — is all about the experiences of the writer/director Sean McGinly. He’s the one who worked for Kreskin. I just liked the story. I just think this is a really cool story and it is just a great little movie that can get a few laughs and tell a story.”
Question #5: How did you get all the people to do the cameos in the film?
A: “Most of the cameos were written into the script. I have some mutual friends with
Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien. Martha Stewart was the one I was surprised to get, but all of them were petrified to have been performing with John Malkovich. I’ve actually thought it would be cool if John would dress up as Buck Howard and go back on the same shows to promote our film. We also got Ricky Jay (Gil Bellamy in the cast, as Howard’s manager), because he’s kind of a historian of magicians. He was too busy to consult, but he came in and said, in a matter of seconds, ‘˜This is about Kreskin, isn’t it?'”
Question #6: What was John Malkovich like to work with? A: “Malkovich was extremely friendly, very funny, a pleasant surprise, because, obviously, you don’t always like the people you work with and people say, ‘˜That dude is supposed to be the weirdest man ever.’ I asked John about his weekend one day. He said, ‘˜I woke up on Saturday. I read the paper, even though it’s all bullshit, but I read it, anyway. I hung around the house and went to the park and played in a pick-up game of basketball.’ Anywhere he is filming, John Malkovich will be taking part in a pick-up game of basketball. The thing that makes John such a great actor was his adding little touches like the Captain & Tennille and telling me, ‘˜Those flowers are expensive. Take the flowers.'”
Question #7: What was it like working with your dad? (Tom Hanks has a small part as Colin Hanks’ dad in the film) A: “A lot of fun. It was good. He makes it easier, more enjoyable because he’s so good at what he does. With Malkovich, as well, it was a trifecta, a sandwich of joy.”
Question #8: Did you always know you wanted to be an actor? A: “If my team was in the play-offs in sports, then I often wanted to be whatever sport that was. I always enjoyed acting, though, and I always did it. It was not until I got to college that I realized I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I love what I do and actually there is nothing else I would really rather do. The truth is, I love what I do. I have genuine passion for it.”
Question #9: What is your next project? A: “To be honest, I’m not working on a whole lot right now. I just had a story arc on AMC’s “Mad Men” and a bit part in ‘˜W.’ I’m directing a documentary on Tower Records, which could take a while.”[*Since then, Colin Hanks has begun the Fox summer series “The Good Guys.”]
Question #10: Do you have any other idols, other than your dad? A: “No, not really. I do like Jeff Bridges in ‘˜The Big Lebowski.'”
Question #11: What have you been doing while you have been in Chicago? A: “Well, I just killed an hour in the bowling alley that’s attached to this place, and I was hoping to go to a World Series game while here. I saw a Black Hawks game. I heard some good comedy at Second City. I ate a buffet at the John Hancock building. I saw some great art.”
Question #12: Did you visit any bars? A: “I’m gonna’ plead the fifth on that one? Well, okay: Timmy O’Toole’s.”
Question #13: What is your favorite Tom Hanks film? A: “I really can’t pick ‘˜a favorite,’ but I can tell you that I can’t watch ‘˜Philadelphia.'” (The elder Hanks won the Oscar for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett, an AIDS victim who dies, in “Philadelphia.”)
Sources: Chicago Film Festival showing of “The Great Buck Howard” at the AMC 21 Theaters on Monday, October 27, 2008; www.wikipedia.com for Tom Hanks and Colin Hanks; 2008 June (HWA) dinner with The Amazing Kreskin in Newark, New Jersey.