Shortly after moving back to North Carolina from off-Broadway performances in New York in 1993, Zach Hanner took a job in a restaurant called Crooks on the River. Downtown was a little grittier then, but with a burgeoning film industry, and by chance he found himself cast as a day-player in “Forrest Gump.” However, at the end of the day, Zach’s part was cut…twice.
Such is the film business, it seems, and though “it was kind of a bummer,” it taught Zach a valuable show business lesson: never get too high or too low about anything. And, while his part was cut, the film still won an Oscar and is still probably playing somewhere in the world every day–a nice consolation prize. I first saw Zach in 2006 when he played the burly Officer Lockstock in “Urinetown” at City Stage, and I became an immediate fan. I didn’t know he already had more than a dozen film and TV credits to his name by then, including roles in “Matlock,” “The Patriot,” and “Big Fish;” but his work ethic and talent came through.
Today, in person, for all the bravado he displays on the screen and stage, Zach seems refreshingly uninterested in his bragging rights. Rather, he seems most alive when talking about his work with local high school kids. As Artistic Director of TheatreNOW, his work includes after-school programs and outreach called Superstar Academy, a non-profit designed to help local kids at low or no cost, and Hanner teaches most of the classes. He also manages a lively dinner-theater roster. On weekends, Hanner hosts a weekly episode of children’s theater.
As Captain Coy T. Plunkett, a riverboat captain, Hanner, who also writes the show, leads the audience through a Scooby-Doo-style mystery designed around lessons about Wilmington. The response to Super Saturday Funtime has been overwhelmingly positive, winning awards in both the Star News and Encore. In April, folks can also look for his adaptation of Celia Rivenbark’s “Rude Bitches Make Me Tired,” with four local actors—Belinda Keller, Kathy Rudeseal, Melissa Stanley and Jordan Mullaney— star in a multi-media show a bit like the news segments on SNL. When I stopped in to see Zach on a Wednesday evening in early March, he was getting set to host a comedy open mic with a panel of celebrity judges. They weren’t serving dinner this particular evening, but the bar was open, and despite the cold and rain, there was a good crowd for a Wednesday.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Intensive preparation. A simple stretching routine and vocal warm-up, but the real work is done long before it’s time to perform. I’ll go over lines for hours until they occur from muscle memory. Once that work is done, you can add all the little character touches and start to become that person.
What have been some of your favorites?
Film-wise, I really enjoyed working on the b-horror, low-budget hip-hop-zombie-bank-heist flick “Dead Heist.” I played a bank manager who gets terrorized by a gang of robbers and then killed by zombies only to come back as a zombie and be killed again! On stage, it was playing country legend Hank Williams in “Lost Highway.” It resonated with me as a musician and actor raised on country music on Pilot Mountain [in North Carolina]. It took some time to climb back out of that one once the curtain closed on it.
Is there anything you can tell us about what’s going on in the film industry at the moment?
I would like to see the tax incentives remain and not end as scheduled at the close of 2014. The opponents cry “Hollywood Welfare” and “they bring in all their crews from LA” and other falsehoods to bolster their case, but they don’t understand the amazing effect the business has on [local] tourism. Tons of people come to see where “The Hunger Games” and “Iron Man 3” were shot and support local businesses. I would hate to see us give those dollars, as well as the hundreds of millions brought in by the productions, to our neighboring states, but we need incentives to make that happen.