Colin Hanks has spent the last decade or so establishing himself as one of the more likable, boy-next-door lead actors in Hollywood. Which makes him the perfect vessel to probe just how much Americans can love a serial killer.
The second generation charmer stars in the upcoming indie dark comedy, "Lucky," in which he plays a bumbling, hapless and lovelorn legal assistant with a secret penchant for murdering blondes. It's a subversion of his normal nice guy role, something that wasn't lost on him when he accepted the role from director Gil Cates, Jr.
"I love watching movies like that, and very rarely do you sort of get the chance to sort of be in the kind of movies that you really like," Hanks told The Huffington Post. "And I'm not disparaging any of the movies that I've been in, each movie is different, but I like being sort of able to toy with that and mess convention and sort of do those things kind of differently. It was one of the things that made this movie really appealing, was that I was able to take this sort of likability and funnel it in a way that was sort of subversive and different and play with that, and that to me is really fun as an actor."
Ben, Hanks' awkward Iowan character, isn't any run of the mill psychopath killer. Having grown up with cute blonde Lucy, played by Ari Graynor, he's tortured by the childhood rejection which she inflicted upon him, a sore prodded each day by their working in the same office. It is in no way a coincidence that every one of his victims looks like Lucy; before he murders, he becomes disoriented, seeing everyone as if they had Lucy's head. Presented with his view, the audience is given the opportunity to empathize with Ben, as evil as that may sound.
"I was sort of able to stay within that wheelhouse I know how to do, I know I can sort of deliver in that regard, but then I could incorporate something into it that makes it ultimately different and that to me was a lot of fun," Hanks remembered. "So for me it was like, 'Alright, so I'm playing this serial killer. I'm not going to play up that I'm a big serial killer, I'm not going to be this mysterious, scary type dude, because what would be, a whole lot more fun and interesting, and quite honestly funny because that's ultimately what this movie is supposed to be, it's supposed to be funny, is, let's make him like a nice guy, let's make him a sweet guy.'"
Perhaps envisioning that exact approach and juxtaposition, Cates had Hanks in sights as the movie began to come together.
"Over the years, there were various people attached to the project, but this latest incarnation of 'Lucky,' he was our first choice," Cates told The Huffington Post, noting that they needed someone eminently likable to sell what was a rather unlikable character on paper. "As soon as we were together with this group, these producers, the whole team, he was first on the list."
Graynor agreed with Cates' assessment of Hanks' ability to kill 'em with kindness.
"I adore, adore, adore Colin and we just got each other really fast and it was such a partnership between the two of us, and also with Gil, about creating these characters and sort of getting into this world," she said. "He's so funny, I think he is, I love this performance of his so much, because it does, he's so subversive, and he still manages to be such a sweetheart even when he's the worst things imaginable."
Hanks, though, isn't the only one whose character undergoes a massive transformation. The film hits its stride when Ben wins the lottery and, all of a sudden, Lucy, who barely acknowledged him before, is now showing up in front of his house with her own bumbling mating dance. Her motivations seem to change throughout -- how would you react if you found out the bumbling man you just married is a wanted murderer? -- making her far from a standard victim.
She largely concentrated on perfecting her character, but Graynor said that the larger subversion was not lost on her as she made the film, either.
"Nowadays in movies, and especially with romantic comedies, it's so formulaic," Graynor offered. "I mean you know exactly what's going to happen, and you know exactly their dynamic, and you know exactly where their conflict is going to come in, and it was really exciting to turn it on its head and sort of relish the ridiculousness of some of the things that they're saying. But they're so real to them in the moment, that was just delicious."
Veteran funnyman Jeffrey Tambor felt the same way, too; he plays a dogged detective, the straight man that he is certainly not known for, and said that, in part, it was the script's willingness to flip standards that attracted him to the project.
"I read it, and I went 'this is different,'" Tambor laughed in a conversation with The Huffington Post. "I mean serial killer, lottery, love story... Supposedly [Ben and Lucy] don't mesh in any way, and that's where you kind of go 'where did this come from? What's this about? The nice guy? Except he does this, what?' Just when you think you know somebody, you don't know them. Which is... one of the more frightening things in human nature, where you go 'I didn't know that about that guy?'"
Tambor was perhaps even more convinced by Hanks' and Graynor's because of the fondness he grew for the pair as they filmed together.
"You know, he is a terrific guy, he's his own man, he's terribly humble, there's nothing about him that would even speak of his pedigree," He said of Hanks. "He's just terrifically modest and he has his own style. He's Colin Hanks, he does his own deal, I really liked working with him. And Ari Graynor just hits it out of the park, she's a real fine actress...I was unaware of her. She's killer, no pun intended."
And as for Ann-Margaret?
"I'm still starstruck... I was sort of 'humma humma humma.'"
Tambor didn't just let the other stars take all the fun, though. Subverting expectations the audience may have of him was part of the draw, too.
"I've always gone for roles that have a degree of difficulty for me, and I always like the danger in it," Tambor explained. "This guy, not terribly dangerous, but I like the fact that he's sort of dogged and he's after this and he seems to take more of a humanitarian interest and y'know he gets scared of a bird on the street.
"The director later told me... I said, 'Why were you thinking of me?' and he said 'Because you were unlike the Hollywood steely guy, you're just a guy' and so I really liked that."
There was one problem: while the film, with all its twists and turns and plays on convention may have been delicious for actors, and, as Cates said, fellow scriptwriters and third parties, but, for a long time, no matter how aromatic the cinematic dish, no one was biting.
"When you're making a movie, unless it's a studio-financed dark comedy, nobody can look at it and say, 'Oh, we know we can make this poster...' It's a dark comedy and so, people always liked the idea, people always liked the script, a lot of people really liked the script, but that didn't mean they were willing to finance it and see it get made."
All told, it took eight years -- with three films directed during that interval -- for Cates to make the film. But Tambor thinks those sorts of troubles won't be an issue for Cates for very long.
"There'll be a lot heard from this guy. I really fell for him, he was terrific," he said. "I've seen this movie with an audience, and it does a very interesting thing. The audience sort of, it turns, the audience goes 'ha-ha-ha-ha' and all of the sudden they go OMG. You can kind of hear that 'uhhhh' coming and it's great."
"Lucky" hits theaters July 15th.WATCH:
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