After breaking in as prototypical nice guy Jim Halpert on The Office, John Krasinski is evolving into a Hollywood leading man after bulking up for soldier roles in Aloha and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi. That has led him to the iconic CIA analyst character Jack Ryan in a 10-hour series that Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes and Carlton Cuse are producing for Amazon, where Krasinski will go mano a mano with terrorists and other hot button geopolitical crises. But if you get right down to it, Krasinski’s heart really beats for movies like The Hollars, the James C. Strouse-scripted film he directed, stars in and produced, that Sony Pictures Classics opens today on the specialty circuit. He plays a reluctant expectant father forced to face his dysfunctional family because of a health crisis. The film stars Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day and Josh Groban. Here, Krasinski talks about straddling those dual career paths.
DEADLINE: The Hollars plays on themes of family dysfunction and mortality and loss, with some humor thrown in. This took seven years to come together, since you read the script by James C. Strouse. Since then, you got married, you had a child. What grabbed you initially, and what from the changes in your own life made this stay important to you?
KRASINSKI: That’s the all-encompassing question. I come from a very loving, tight-knit family, and that’s certainly not this family. But when I got to the end of Jim’s script the first time I read it, I was weeping. For some reason, I said, that’s my family. There was something universal about it, something totally real and honest in a way I hadn’t seen. I signed on immediately; I don’t think I’ve ever committed to any script that quickly. Four years later, the financier came to me and said, I can’t get this made. Would you just want to buy it outright? That’s something I’d never thought of. The financial commitment, and more importantly the overall responsibility, it usually is a losing proposition. But I said, absolutely, anyway, because Jim’s writing meant so much to me. But had I shot this movie even five months earlier than I did, it would have been different. Yes, I got married, but my daughter was 4-and-one-half-months old when I started shooting this movie. All the clichés are true; everything changed for me when she arrived. I know I’m not the first parent to say that. I better understood a guy on the doorstep of being a father, but what I understood more and was moved by more, was the floodgates of family. I understand my parents better, my brothers better. I felt this huge existential pull toward family, things that had never really crossed my mind. I was dealing with the weightier ideas that had come to me after I had my daughter. This movie really dials into the existential channels and communication and love that every single family has. There is this existential pull that your family has over you, that nobody else will have on you. Whether you love or don’t love your family or whether you communicate or don’t, the channels of love and understanding are always there if you want to open them up. Seeing a movie where a family tries to reopen those lines of love and communication is something people can really relate to.
DEADLINE: You see so many films like this one, and Spotlight is certainly another example, that have to go through years of tribulations to get made and then one day the clouds part and the sun shines down. What made this finally happen, getting the money and then a terrific cast that probably worked for free.
KRASINSKI: Probably less than free, if that’s possible. There was something blessed about the experience from jump. When I decided to make this, the MO of our production company is we don’t want to leave things on the shelf. We want to fall in love with something and make it exactly the way we said we would, and if not, give it to someone else who will. As soon as I bought it, something changed. I called Margo Martindale two days after buying the script. I knew if I could get her, specifically her, we’d have the centerpiece of the movie. She’s so well respected and so good at what she does. You’d be surprised how fast others sign on because of her and I will say, she became the catalyst. I bought the script February and we were shooting in July, which is the fastest I’ve seen one of these come together. Richard Jenkins had my favorite response. I like the script, he said. If you get Margo Martindale, I’ll do it. I wrote back, ha ha and he replied, oh, I’m serious. Once I got Margo, I got Richard. It was a two-fer.
DEADLINE: She is suffering from brain cancer and there’s a scene where your character, her son, shaves off her hair before an operation. What is it like for a director to shoot a scene like that, where you’ve got one chance to get it right?
KRASINSKI: I only did have one take, one chance to get it right. That put pressure on the crew, and the rest of the cast, and on me. That pressure felt very real. It added to the genuine feeling of that shot. Margo said it was the most vulnerable she felt, in her entire career. She’d never felt more open and naked then she did then and she said, watching herself lose her hair and seeing that for the first time, was so uncomfortable for her, but she felt so much love having it be done by her own son. That to me is a perfect example of why I jumped on the script. If you gave me a decade to just write one scene that would convey how much a son loved his mother, I wouldn’t come anywhere close to that. I would have done something classy, that I thought was powerful, but yet the specificity of that is the beauty of Jim Strouse. Nobody else would have thought of something like that.
DEADLINE: There is a tightrope walk on this film, because there is a lot of bright humor, but it almost felt like you had to rein it in and not allow it to make the film a comedy.
KRASINSKI: Tone was always going to be our biggest challenge. My job was to execute Jim’s script, which I felt never went too out there or got too wacky. A lot of the job was done for me and the other part was getting the right cast. Scorsese said that 90% of your job comes down to getting the right cast, and the key words are, the right cast. The thing about great actors is, we had 22 days to shoot this movie. I remember Richard Jenkins, in this scene with Sharlto Copley and this slap fight, and if you get that wrong, the rest of the movie goes poorly. Watching him take on that slap fight, with a tone of such honesty, was inspiring. Yes, it’s a funny moment, but within 10 seconds you could see every single person’s dynamic in the scene. That was my favorite part of it. You see him slapping his son, his son slapping back, Margo barking at both of them, and my character just being done with this family. We encapsulated so much just by these good actors playing the truth. Whether the audience laughs or cries is up to them. You just play the truth of the situation. It’s the same reason people liked The Office so much. I don’t think it lasted just because it was a funny show. They liked it because their boss is a jackass or the guy working next to them is a psychopath, or they were in love with someone. That tone really helped us here because every step of the way, the actors knew someone in their family who was like this, or maybe they were like this and they played it from a real place. That’s what saved us, really.
DEADLINE: The Office was so indelible and Jim Halpert was this signature nice guy. When you broaden into feature jobs, what’s the reaction of casting people who feel you have to be the prototypical nice guy? Did you feel you had to show them this wasn’t the only role you could play?
KRASINSKI: 100%, but I’m also a realist. There are a lot worse things you can be known as than the nice guy and I appreciate that. I was new when I got The Office, and that job gave me absolutely everything. People say, is it hard to be known as Jim, I feel it’s one of the best honors I could have, because that means you let me into your house and you cared enough about my character and what he was going through to actually believe I was him. Also, The Office gave me absolutely everything in terms of opportunity, so I had to take the opportunity to try doing different things. I know The Office will never be beaten in terms of being a special job for me, something that impacted me and I loved that much. Because The Office was so successful, I can take chances now. I relate to me in some of the different things I’ve done, like 13 Hours. It was so transformative for me, both physically and career-wise. That was something I always wanted to do. I wanted the chance, and if I’m not good at it, don’t ever have me back in that role, so I give huge credit to Michael Bay for saying, I don’t care what you’re known for; I think you did a good job, so let’s go do this movie.
DEADLINE: In a way, the Jack Ryan we best remember is Harrison Ford who had a bit of Jim Halpert nice guy in him, but he was a little brawnier, more macho, and dealing with national security issues. So maybe bulking up for 13 Hours was good training for the TV series you’ll do next?
KRASINSKI: There is a long line of actors who aren’t too shabby who played that role, and it makes me feel a bit terrified. But it’s a huge opportunity for me. I see Jack Ryan as our James Bond, but with fewer girls, and you can relate to him more. He’s a real guy. What impressed me about the first few scripts is, he doesn’t want to be the guy in the middle of everything. He wants to serve his country but the people he works with end up sending him over there because he’s the only one who has the intelligence to decipher the things that need deciphering. So he’s the fish out of water, which everyone can relate to. The part of this that’s lucky for me is the long-form storytelling platform. The pitch to me was, maybe two hours wasn’t the best way for Jack Ryan. Tom Clancy’s books are so deep and so rich and the character of Jack Ryan, if he has a superpower, it’s his intelligence. It’s hard, in two hours, to show very big problem-solving sequences and then at the end have all that action. In a 10-part series, you’ll be able to follow along with Jack Ryan as he deciphers things and really gets to the heart of them. That will be a huge plus in making us different from the other ones.
DEADLINE: Whether it was your directing debut on Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, or The Hollars, of films like the Gus Van Sant-directed Promised Land you did with Matt Damon, your heart is in these small dramas. They seem harder than ever to get made. Why focus on these movies and what do you see as the future of these films, where the special effects are emotions and studios don’t seem to care?
KRASINSKI: These are the movies I love most. I’m the billionth person to say I best love the ’70s movies. I think about them all the time in my head. One of my favorite movies is The Verdict. There is no way on earth that movie would get made, like a lot of movies I love.
KRASINSKI: It’s about one man’s moral struggle to decide whether or not he tries to stand out in the crowd, or just takes the easy road. That’s what we were trying to do with Promised Land. People ask about my hopes for this movie. Usually, I’ll push a movie and say, go see it because I was in it and we worked really hard on it. This movie in particular, I hope every single person who goes to see this has nothing with me being the actor and the director. These are my favorite kinds of movies, they aren’t being made now and if enough people go to see it, that means I get to see another one. With another director, and another cast and another writer, put on something that I will be able to viscerally respond to in a way that I never will be able to do with these big movies. Now, I love the Marvel movies, and being taken away to huge far-off places, but there is a responsibility we have as a business, as an industry, to continue to tell the stories that people have been telling in fireside chats for forever. There’s something about being human that isn’t captured in these big-budget movies. And the rewards are there. Something happened to me, making this movie, and I felt it recently with the response. People have genuinely been so moved at these Q&As that they can’t form the question they want to ask. That has to do with the movie, but more than half of it has to do with their own experience. They’re seeing something mirrored up there that at some point it stopped being the family on the screen, and it became a projection of their own family. That gives you a feeling of having done something special because something’s being released. Being able to tap into things that are that real, that’s the real honor here and why people have to keep making these movies.