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Colin Hanks may be Tom's son, but he still had to beg Matthew Weiner for a part on Mad Men. He discusses learning about Catholicism and longing for the days when suits and baby-faces were the norm.
Q: Is it true you badgered Matt Weiner for a year to get on the show?
A: I read an article in the Business section of the New York Times back when they were shooting the pilot, and I thought, "Well that sounds kind of cool." Later on I watched the first six episodes On Demand and fell in love with it. I kept thinking, "I could be on this show. They're all wearing suits and are kind of baby-faced. I can do that!" So the next morning I started making phone calls to try to meet with the creator and plead my case. I got a chance to meet with Matt, who was very kind to me, the major geek that I was. And he said, "We'll keep you in mind, we'll let you know if we think of something." I didn't think it was going to be a priest -- that was sort of a shock -- but in a great way that was a huge challenge for me.
Q: Do you know much about Catholicism?
A: I'm not a very religious person. I'm not completely ignorant, but I didn't know about any of the pre-Vatican II stuff. I learned that the church was in desperate need of change at the time and needed to get its act together because they were losing a large amount of people due to the fact that it was steeped in this old tradition. And things like giving sermons in Latin and the practice of confession changed. So I showed up the first day and talked to Matt and was like, "Oh wow! So that totally explains why my character is different than most priests." It gave me a new understanding of the church, the sorts of responsibilities that a priest has to his congregation, and the relationship that a priest has with his parishioners.
Q: What's most challenging about the role for you?
A: Matt just said, "Be yourself." But I don't go around talking about religion very often. For me, I found that a lot of the scenes have me talking about one thing, but really it's about something different underneath. And it's very complicated when we're talking about sin and eternal hellfire -- much different than "How come you didn't invite me to the party?" For me it was a chance to be myself in one way, and by the same token, be someone completely different.
Q: You've been in plenty of period pieces - Band of Brothers, King Kong... What attracts you to these roles?
A: I'm really fascinated with anything that takes place between the 1920s up through the 1960s. In some ways it feels familiar, and in other ways it feels like it's from another planet. That's why I love this show, it sort of exists in this window that is neither BC nor AD. It's literally that turning point before everything changed. And of course, part of me is like, "Why did it have to change?" The suits and everything, it all looks so perfect. At the same time, some of it is so terribly wrong and so desperately needed to change. It perfectly embodies what people say about hindsight.
Q: Has going from a fan of the show to one of its cast members changed your perception of it?
A: I get to be on a show that I really admire. And I've been really fortunate in that now, instead of just watching the show, I get to admire it on so many more levels -- seeing something written and then seeing how that piece fits into a much larger puzzle; finding the subtleties and discovering that it's not just a happy mistake, that it's something that's in place there for a reason. Plus, I got to shoot a scene in the Sterling Cooper offices, man! I was like, "Wow, so this is where everything is!"