Actor John Krasinski told me outside of the interview below that when he came to Hollywood, he did so with his mother’s full support, but she also recommended that he give himself two years to find enough work to make a living, and if that didn’t happen, he should pursue other options. Two years passed, and although he managed to nabbed a few small roles in films (like KINSEY) and television series, it wasn’t enough to sustain a decent living. Deciding to wait out the small remainder of the year and then head back to his native Boston. And two weeks after his original two-week deadline, he booked the role of Jim Halpert on NBC’s “The Office,” where he remained for nine seasons.
Krasinski told me this story as an example of how close and supportive his family has always been. Even so, he still saw a great deal of his family in the story of THE HOLLARS, his second film as a director (working from a screenplay by Jim Strouse, who also did PEOPLE PLACES THINGS and THE WINNING SEASON), about a dysfunctional family that has terrible communication, fights all the times, but still manages to hold it together and stay close.
Krasinski managed to squeeze in a few film roles during his time on “The Office” and beyond, including parts in Christopher Guest’s FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION; Nancy Myers’s THE HOLIDAY and IT’S COMPLICATED; Bill Condon’s DREAMGIRLS; LICENSE TO WED; George Clooney’s LEATHERHEADS; Sam Mendes’ AWAY WE GO; THE MUPPETS, Gus Van Sant’s PROMISED LAND (which Krasinski co-wrote with Matt Damon); Cameron Crowe’s ALOHA; and earlier this year in Michael Bay’s 13 HOURS. He also managed to write and direct the 2009 indie ensemble BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, based on a collection of stories by David Foster Wallace.
Later this year, you can catch writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s latest, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, which Krasinski executive produced. And next year, expect to see him playing a young Jack Ryan (based on the Tom Clancy character) in the recently greenlit Amazon series “Jack Ryan,” which follows an up-and-coming CIA analyst thrust into a dangerous field assignment for the first time. But with THE HOLLARS, Krasinski (who also stars in the film) has shown he is capable of pulling together a top-notch cast—including Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins as his parents, Sharlto Copley as his brother, and Anna Kendrick as his pregnant, long-time girlfriend—and putting them (and an audience) through the laugh-then-cry-then-laugh paces like an expert, the end result being a true crowd pleaser centering on mom being diagnosed with a brain tumor and the family rallying around her, all the while colliding into each other. I had a chance to sit down with him recently in Chicago just before a Q&A screening of THE HOLLARS. Please enjoy my talk with John Krasinski…
Capone: This wasn’t going to be my first question, but I just came out of the film and this scene was playing…
John Krasinski: So you didn’t even stay until the end?
Capone: No, I’ve seen it twice before. I actually saw it at Sundance, and then I saw it again more recently, so this is the third time. But they pulled me out during the scene with you shaving Margo’s head, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
JK: Oh, really? Good!
Capone: Yeah. Did you realize when you read it, that was going to be the big emotional apex of this film?
JK: Yeah, absolutely. I should say, I certainly thought it was. When I read the script, I was wearing at that point. I think that’s what’s so brilliant about this script. Jim just writes these hairpin turns between emotion and comedy in a way that very few people do, and I think that it’s the reason why it feels so real.
When you do it so deftly between comedy and drama—you’re laughing and you’re crying very quickly in this movie—that’s how life is. You can’t prepare for the good times; you can’t prepare for the bad times. I think Jim writes that unlike most people. I’ve never seen or heard of a scene that’s so intimate like that. I’ve never heard of something like that, and I’ve never seen something like that. There’s something very special about that visual, certainly as a son, and Margo of course was saying as a mother and as someone who is of that age, it’s a very vulnerable situation. She said that even shooting it was very, very vulnerable to be there. So yeah, that was one of the most powerful visuals in the script for me.
Capone: Margo is one of my absolute favorite human beings—actor and otherwise.
JK: She amazing, right?
Capone: I kept running into her at Sundance because she had two or three movies there. I’ve noticed different people who’ve seen the film have thought that different pairings were the central characters based on their experience.
JK: Oh, that’s interesting. Cool, cool.
Capone: To me, I see it as you and Margo, and some people see it as you and Anna dealing with your fears about being parents, some people see it as you and the bother…
JK: No, that’s fascinating. You’re the first person to bring that up. That’s so good.
Capone: People are bringing in their own baggage to this, but that makes sense with an ensemble like this.
JK: It totally makes sense. For me, I think the beauty about the movie, and what I hope people take from it is at some point, that family on the screen stops being that family on the screen and becomes a projection of your own family,. I come from an amazing family, a very tight-knit family, a loving family, yet when I finished the script I was like, “Oh, this is my family.” I don’t know how that’s possible. And I talked to my mom and dad about it last night who saw it in New York, and they emotionally connected to it on a very huge level. So I think that there’s something there.
Again, I think it’s a lot about Jim’s writing. Certainly the performances, where you start to feel very emotionally open to stuff that’s been going on in your life. And I know people who don’t even speak to their parents anymore and find this very emotional. I had one guy interview me who said, “I wish I was closer to my mom, because I would have called her.” But he said, “I was really moved, and it made me think of maybe calling her. It’s been too long. We’ve had our differences, but I might give her a call.” That’s the best compliment I can get on this movie.
Capone: As much as the dysfunctional family dynamic has been covered in film and television, I think that what we’re given here is an example of one that no matter how dysfunctional they get, they’re always going to talk to each other. There are people who hold grudges for decades and don’t talk, but this is a communicative family.
JK: Yes, though I wonder how long it was going to be until John came home again, because there’s that feeling when he arrives that he hasn’t been home in a long time. That’s not malicious. I think there’s laziness to family too.
Capone: You take them for granted, yeah.
JK: Yeah, you take it for granted. It’s the only family you’ve got. Like them or not, they’re the only family you’ve got, and I think that there is always that understanding. Again, I have a lot of friends who don’t get along with their families, yet I had a friend whose mom had just past, and all of a sudden she had this huge wellspring of emotion just before her mom died. They hadn’t spoken in 10 years. There’s something that’s always going to connect you to those people more than anyone else in the world, and I think that’s pretty powerful.
Capone: You came into this film initially just as an actor on the strength of the script. Explain the transition and how you ended up buying the rights?
JK: Like most small movies, it was having troubles getting made. So I was attached for I guess four years or something, and it was having trouble getting made, and the financier just said, “I can’t do this anymore. Would you ever want to buy the script?” And I think I made that lame joke that “I’m not George Clooney” But the truth is, I’ve never taken on any financial commitment like that. I’ve never financially committed to put my money where my mouth is, literally, and I remember calling Jim and saying I have to do it. It’s a movie I connect to and I think a lot of people will. So that was it. I did that, but I will say when I did buy the script, I said “I’m only going to direct this if I get the right cast.” I called Margo first. And I think if she hadn’t said yes, I may not have directed it. She’s so perfect for this.
Capone: I think I read somewhere that a lot of other people fell in once she was attached.
JK: Richard Jenkins wrote me an email that said, “I like the script. Get Margo Martindale, and I’ll do it.” And I wrote back, “Ha, ha, ha.” And he wrote back, “I’m not kidding.”
Capone: Did he know you were going after her?
JK: I think he had heard from his agent that she was in the mix, but no that was pretty amazing, and only he can be so bold.
Capone: I don’t know what the timing was in terms of when your own daughter was born [Krasisnki and wife Emily Blunt had their first child in February 2014; they had a second child last month], but what was the timeline in terms of when you made this?
JK: To be honest, to say that my understanding of the script when I signed on as an actor to the day that I started shooting was different would be the understatement of the year. If I had shot this movie five months earlier, it would have been a completely different movie. My daughter was four-and-a-half months old when we started shooting. So I definitely connected more to the guy who was on the doorstep of having a baby, but more than that, it was this unbelievable, existential pull to me understanding my parents more, my bothers more, even the idea of coming from a family name, as cheesy as that sounds. You start to understand lineage in a different way. So I think I was working a whole lot out in this movie.
Capone: I actually interviewed most of your male cast members at Sundance—Charlie Day, Sharlto…
JK: Oh, really? I just blew you off.
Capone: You were definitely around; Margo was there, even Josh Groban, who I had a great time talking to.
JK: Isn’t he amazing?
Capone: I love that in the music world, he is in control of everything. As an actor, he’s like some waiting running around doing auditions for commercials. He’s basically at that level of insecurity.
JK: Exactly, but he’s so good.
Capone: I love that John is clearly his mother’s son, and Sharlto is clearly the father’s son.
JK: That’s so cool that you saw that.
Capone: I asked him about it, and he even admitted that he watched Richard the first couple of days, just trying to pick up on a few physical movement and personality quirks. That must be very deliberate that that’s set up that way.
JK: Oh yeah, absolutely. You know what was really funny? I actually just remembered this a couple of days ago when I talking to Margo and Sharlto. We did a table read at my house that I was staying in, and it was just me, Richard, Margo and Sharlto. We had not met each other. This was all the first time. It’s all very scary, and I was nervous , but we were moving forward, and we read a bunch, and Margo and Richard immediately became a married couple. They were just so good, and Sharlto and I were feeling a little intimidated, and Margo was tearing up at every conversation we had about anything, and I’m a cryer, so I was like “That’s my mom for sure.”
And then all of a sudden, Sharlto said, “I’ve got to go watch this World Cup game. I’m sorry, I just have to step out,” which was crazy, and even I was like what’s going on? And before I could say anything, the door shuts, and Richard Jenkins goes, “What the fuck?!” And he screams it and goes, “That’s bullshit. Get him back in here.” And Margo literally tuns to him and says, “It’s okay, let him go, let him go.” And I was like We’re a family!” It was perfect.
Capone: Sharlto and Charlie, in a lot of their other work, have a tendency to go big and broad for laughs or whatever purpose. I love seeing them dialed back this way. Why did you hire them for these roles that require them to be more subdued?
JK: That’s great. Yeah, I mean listen, I’m the guy from “The Office,” so I try to be seen as other things, and I firmly believe that everybody should be seen as different things. But Sharlto, I remember DISTRICT 9 being one of the best performances I’d ever seen, and then I read somewhere that he wasn’t even an actor. He was supposed to be a producer on that movie, and that was so crazy to me. And I was writing PROMISED LAND with Matt Damon and I went up and visited him on ELYSIUM, and I met Sharlto, and he was in this metal suit and he was still the sweetest, kindest, puppy-like guy, and I just thought “Oh my God. That’s exactly who I need for this movie.”
So I knew he would do it. I knew he’d bring all his quirk and all his natural vibe, and I wanted the brother to be extremely lovable. Yes, he’s extremely frustrating, but he’s got to be lovable. He can’t be the asshole brother. It was really interesting because when I called Charlie his first question after he read the script was “Are you sure you want it to be me?” And I said yeah, and he said, “Okay, great. Then I’ll show up.” But he just wanted to know that this wasn’t just some weird thing. I said “No, dude. I love that you can be funny here, but your funny is coming out of insecurity. Everything has to be real.” To be really honest, I think that’s the reason why “The Office” was so successful. Not because we were a funny show every week, but because you had a Dwight in the office, or your boss was insane, or you were in love with someone at work. It was that you could put your own stuff on it. So I needed these performances to be very organic and very real.
But I will give a huge amount of credit to those guys, because they are good enough actors—Sharlto admits it too—that both of them came to me and said, “Make sure I don’t go big.” That’s your job as a director, which I thought was very nice of them to understand, but then they started watching Richard and Margo, and they used that vibe and they immediately were like “I can sink into this, because this is so helpful to see how everyone else is doing it.” So Sharlto credits Richard with his performance.
Capone: Free acting lessons.
JK: Yeah, exactly. And to pull it back, because you’d look like a crazy person.
Capone: As a director, this film is very different in every way from the last film you directed. Do you think going forward, that that’s going to be the tendency, to try to mix it up and adapt to the material as the director?
JK: I would love it to be. I’m the luckiest dude in the world to have been on “The Office,” but it’s afforded me the ability to take chances. So 13 HOURS was a huge chance, “Jack Ryan” is going to be a big, huge chance, which I’m really excited about. But it’s crazy. So directing this movie…I need to find a script that I can’t not direct. If I’m not the guy to direct, have someone else do it because let’s be honest, there’s a lot of great guys and women out there. So I just need to find something great, but I do think I know that my instinct is going to be to stay away from anything I’ve done before, so the next one, I hope, will be a little more thriller-ish.
Capone: You mentioned writing PROMISED LAND. In college, writing was your focus, right?
Capone: So do you have anything you’re working on writing-wise right now?
JK: Yeah, I’m writing on two shows we’re developing, and on “Jack Ryan,” they made me an EP, so I don’t know if I’ll write episodes, but I’ll be a writing consultant there. And then I’m writing two scripts that we’ll see what happens with them, so I’m bopping around.
Capone: You also have an executive producing credit on MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, which is the best thing I saw at Sundance this year, and one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.
JK: Oh, that’s awesome. I’m so glad. It’s amazing.
Capone: I’m dying to see it again.
JK: It’s so special. That was my first original script idea. So I had that idea, I wrote an outline, and I went Matt Damon and we were going to do it, and then we started going on PROMISED LAND instead—my second original idea. So we brought it to Kenny Lonergan, and as soon as we pitched it to him, Kenny got it, understood it, and started to immediately plug in. His whole world is that world. I gave him the framework and the idea why to write a story like that, and he took it. So I give him all the credit.
Capone: Since we’re talking about Sundance, talk about the importance of debuting at Sundance for you. You didn’t have a distributer for this going there, tight?
JK: No, we didn’t. Sony Classics bought it after the first screening, which I remember everybody saying “This screening is for so-and-so. No one will buy it here.” And they bought it right away, which was insane. But for me, Sundance is vital in a lot of ways because it was a place where I brought BRIEF INTERVIEWS. One of the first movies I ever did was DUANE HOPWOOD that went there, and I remember just feeling like it’s a place that’s truly at the forefront of storytelling and storytellers. So when you get in there, you feel like you’re in the cool kids club and you feel like you’re a part of something exciting and special. I don’t think there are places like it. There aren’t very many places like it anymore, where you can be a film nerd like I am and feeling like you’re amongst peers and comrades there.
Capone: Alright, thank you so much.
JK: Perfect. Thank you. It was great talking to you.