John Lee Hancock Heads to the Texas Film Hall of Fame
A writer, a director, and a writer/director
Writer/director and Texas City native John Lee Hancock has been to the Texas Film Awards before, and sat in the audience. This year, three days before his latest film, The Highwaymen, receives its world premiere at SXSW, he'll be inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame by his old friend (and regular star) Kathy Bates, alongside Rising Star Award winner Brooklyn Decker, and the cast and crew of Office Space, who will be coming in on a Thursday to see the workplace comedy classic receive the Star of Texas. He talks about the honor with outsize humility. "Maybe I've just outlived other people, and had a good degree of luck in terms of projects, and staying working for 30 years, but I'm grateful for it, however they came to the decision."
For three decades, he's been a constant presence in front of the keyboard and behind the camera. "I consider myself a writer and a director, and sometimes a writer/director," he said, but he generally keeps a clear line between those tasks. "The job of a director is to take what's on the page and bring it life, and that's the same whether it's a script that I've written, or that someone else has written. I have to take the writer hat off, and put the director hat on. Now, sometimes having written it gives you a leg up in understanding and circumventing problems in production, but the job's the same as a director, whether you write it or not."
Hancock began his career with 1991's Hard Time Romance, and since then his IMDB page has swelled to include a roster of modern Texas classics (The Rookie, The Blind Side, and The Alamo), which cross over with his other strong suit – true life stories, with Disney biopic Saving Mr. Banks, his retelling of the birth of McDonald's in 2016's The Founder, and now The Highwaymen (the death of Bonnie and Clyde, told from the perspective of the Texas Rangers sent to take them down). With his trip across the state line into Louisiana for his script for true-crime drama Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, he's undoubtedly become one of Hollywood's go-to filmmakers for real-life drama. However, Hancock insists that was never a deliberate plan. He said, "You're always just in search of a good story, and I think sometimes if someone tells you a story, and you go, 'No, that sounds outlandish and crazy,' and then you find out it is true, then it's the cherry on top for you."
Throw in pure fiction script credits for Snow White and the Huntsman and A Perfect World, and his induction seems like a slam dunk. Well, not to Hancock, who said he was "pleasantly surprised" when he got the email informing him that he was joining an illustrious list that already includes his Highwaymen star Woody Harrelson.
Hancock lives in Pasadena, Calif., these days, but by sheer coincidence, he and his wife were in Austin that day, visiting his son who is a student at UT. "I had this look on my face, and my wife says, 'What? What is it?' So I told her, and I said, 'For a kid from Texas City, you don't understand how great this makes me feel. Right now, this is better than an Oscar.'"
The Texas Film Awards are Thursday, March 7, at AFS Cinema. Cocktails and red carpet arrivals, 6pm; dinner and awards show, 7:30pm. Tickets and details at austinfilm.org/texas-film-awards.
The Highwaymen receives its world premiere at SXSW, Sunday, March 10, 6pm, Paramount Theatre. For more on the film, see austinchronicle.com/sxsw.