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The Sunday Conversation: Colin Hanks

Colin Hanks, 33, breaks out of the good-guy mold as Travis Marshall, who teams with Prof. James Gellar [Edward James Olmos] for a bizarre killing spree in the sixth season of Showtime’s “Dexter.” He’s also appeared in the films “Orange County” and “Roswell” as well as the miniseries “Band of Brothers,” among other roles.

Your “Dexter” character, Travis, is pretty intense. He’s like a “Silence of the Lambs” villain crossed with a religious zealot. What can you tell us about him?

Travis is obviously a very lost and confused man that has fallen — I don’t want to say fallen — who has chosen to [align with] Prof. Gellar, which is Eddie’s character — and the two of them are obviously very determined to commit these crimes. But in their minds they’re not crimes. What they’re doing is trying to bring on the new world, so to speak.

The apocalypse.

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Yeah. They’re essentially trying to end this world and bring on the new one. So really it’s an interesting dynamic because unlike some of the other characters — the baddies, if you will — on the show, which have all been great, these guys are doing it because they genuinely feel like they’re in the right, whereas the other characters all know they’re doing bad things, and they get a kick out of it. Whereas these guys come with a righteous sense of purpose, which is a very, very different place to be coming from. So it really blurs, in a strange way, the concept of serial killers. At the end of the day, they’re still incredibly messed-up human beings.

Indeed, but are we to connect the dots between them and Dexter, who also is a serial killer with a sense of righteousness?

I think obviously that’s part of the connection the writers are making, that [showrunner] Scott Buck is making. I look at every villain that they’ve had on the show to be some sort of reflection of Dexter, and this season Dexter is going through a bit of a religious phase. His character is growing and asking questions of himself, not necessarily as a “serial killer” but as a human being, as a father.

You also played a religious character in “Mad Men” where you were a priest. Does religion interest you?

Not really. I guess maybe someone at “Dexter” saw the “Mad Men” stuff and thought, “He can do this.” To be quite honest, I’m not religious. So for me “Mad Men” was kind of hard for me to wrap my head around. The “Dexter” stuff is very different because it’s coming from such a different point of view.

More than anything it was hard to go to work sometimes, waking up in the morning knowing that I’m going to have to be in a very dark place for the next 12 hours and I’m going to be pretending to hurt people and I’m going to be saying some things that are very … it’s not easy dialogue.

One blogger said you have “the greatest evil glare of all time.” Have you been working on that or does it come naturally?

I’m going to say it comes naturally. The aspect of “Dexter” that’s been so fabulous for me is that it truly has been a chance to do something totally and completely different from anything else that I’ve done. Religion theme aside, most of the time I’m in some sort of comedy and I’m a straight man and it’s really just, let’s wind this guy up and see him explode. Or I’m just a character that just serves the story, who shouts out the exposition: “You mean we’re going to fight the FBI?” And with this I got to flex an entirely different muscle and I got to take all the preconceived notions that people have of me….

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Which are what?

Super-nice guy, not dangerous, sweet, sincere, the best friend, really honest — and I got to take those and manipulate it and on the surface have all of those traits but on the inside I’m really just an emotionally conflicted, confused, lost individual. And evil. In moments, very, very evil. So it’s been really fun to mess with the convention. And I’ll be quite honest: I’m totally looking forward to freaking people out in line at the coffee place.

Are the assumptions people make about you really assumptions they make about your America’s sweetheart dad, Tom Hanks?

I think so. Which is not to say people don’t know who I am or are fans of some of the stuff that I’ve done. But for a majority of people I don’t have a first name, to which I have to say, “Yes, my name is Colin, nice to meet you.”

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That sounds annoying.

It’s something I’ve come to accept. Depending on my mood that day, it can either not bug me or be a little annoying.

Do you think that a way to distinguish yourself as your own person is by currying a career that includes being a hard-core villain?

I hope so. That would be nice. I have no way of knowing.

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Coming from the family you did, did you ever seriously consider doing anything other than act?

This is a life passage for everyone. When you’re a kid, you have a gut feeling of what you want to do, and you get good at it. You get around 14, 15, 16 and you’re rebelling against everything, and you say, “That’s not what I’m going to do. You don’t know who I am.” And then you spend an undetermined amount of time eventually coming to the conclusion that that is really maybe what you want to be doing.

What did you think you wanted to do doing your rebellious phase?

I didn’t really know. I loved acting since I was a little kid. It was fun. Obviously, I saw my dad do it, my mother [Samantha Lewes] was also an actress in her younger days, my stepmom [Rita Wilson], I’m comfortable with the idea of it. It always seemed like fun, like make-believe, playing with toys. So during my rebellious period, I thought maybe I’ll go into radio. A little bit related, I guess. Eventually by the time I got into college and started doing plays I thought, “I really like this. This is really what I want to do.”

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And keep in my mind my dad didn’t become a huge, huge mega actor until I was halfway through high school — so right around the time he’s going through his big renaissance is right when I’m starting to do my high school revolting. And I think deep down I kind of knew it was going to be harder for me to break out from that. And I think what I really needed to do more than anything was make sure it was something I loved doing and that I couldn’t envision myself doing anything else. I needed to find that and I did.

calendar@latimes.com


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