In all three projects, he plays a caregiver of sorts. In Buck Howard, he's Troy Gabel, a disillusioned young man who takes a job as assistant to Malkovich's megalomaniac mentalist extraordinaire with hilarious results. "This is my first real grown-up film role and probably the first one people will actually see," he notes. So is it a bit surreal playing the on-screen son of his off-screen father? "Well, no, I'm quite used to having him as my dad," he says laughing.
Hanks' current ubiquity may seem like part of some large career plan, but the actor says that's not the case. "John and I were talking on the Buck Howard set, and he said, 'There is no plan ever! You can never really have a plan, but you can have options and you try to make the best choices.'" And what choices has Hanks made? "In general, I'd rather play roles that haven't already been done before. Oh sure if someone were to offer Hamlet, but I'm very realistic about the roles that I can play and it pretty much comes down to Biff in Death of a Salesman."
Still, Hanks -- who first came to audiences attention on the TV series Roswell -- will admit his current career is no accident. "When I first saw Mad Men," he recalls, "I thought, 'Finally a high caliber show about a bunch of young men who look like babies trying to be adults. Now that's something I can play.' And I pestered Matt Weiner for a meeting, imagining myself with a martini in one hand and a girl in the other, so of course he casts me as a priest!"
Hanks is not the only member of that series' celebrated cast to appear on Broadway this season: Elizabeth Moss, who plays the ambitious copywriter Peggy Olson, recently appeared in Speed-the- Plow and had some choice words for Hanks when they had dinner after one of her performances. 'She said to me, 'oh my God, you're going to have such fun!'" recalls Hanks, who appeared on stage in the West End production of This Is Our Youth.
"And she was so right. I'm at the Eugene O'Neill Theater with [director] Moises Kaufman and Jane Fonda, and I am having a blast now that I'm getting over the stress part. At some point, any kind of theater is still a lot like doing the college play, There's the same before-the-show rituals -- mine are basic boring vocal warm-ups, usually of lines I'm particularly afraid of -- and making sure your props are in place. That stuff's all the same even if it is Broadway."
After 33 Variations concludes its limited run in May, Hanks is on to the next phase of his career: gearing up to direct a documentary about the demise of Tower Records, a subject near and dear to his heart. "I grew up in Sacramento," he explains, "which is where Russ Solomon started selling records out of his dad's drugstore and wound up with a global enterprise. You can't get more American than that."