Big Miracle (opening in theaters on February 3rd) is inspired by the incredible true story of a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle, and how an entire Alaskan community fought to save them, with the help of rival world superpowers. Animal lover and outspoken environmentalist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) is made aware of the harrowing situation when her small-town news reporter ex-boyfriend Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) makes a report that ends up going global. Soon, everyone from an oil tycoon to heads of state to ambitious journalists descend upon Barrow, Alaska, in order to unite and free the whales in time.
At the film’s press day, co-stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski talked about how unbelievable and impossible this moving true story seemed, reuniting with director Ken Kwapis, and what they loved about working with each other. Barrymore also talked about staying positive in a business that it’s so easy to become cynical in, while Krasinski talked about his desire to direct again and the currently untitled project he’s developing with Matt Damon, for Gus Van Sant to direct. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
John Krasinski: I remember hearing about it and definitely knowing something about it, but was probably too young to be at all involved in it and wasn’t necessarily the most current events guy at whatever age I was. When I read the script, I thought it was really great and really sweet. I said to (director) Ken [Kwapis], “Yeah, it’s really good, but we have to cut back a little bit of this stuff. Some of this stuff is a little unbelievable.” And he was like, “Nah, it’s all true.” I said, “All right, Ken, I don’t know how long you’ve been in Hollywood, but none of this is real.” And he was like, “No, these people got married.”
What seemed the most unbelievable to you?
Krasinski: I think that the press secretary and the National Guard pilot falling in love and getting married, after being so adversarial on the phone, is insane. That is insane! And then, when you see the picture, at the end of the movie, [when you see the images of the real people], it’s so moving. I think it’s just a great movie, especially at this point in time, to believe in the power of unity and getting together for a cause, or really for anything, with social media. I think this is the time where not only can you have a voice, but your voice can be the catalyst for something massive.
Drew, did you work with or speak to people at Greenpeace, at all?
Drew Barrymore: I did. I met with the head of Greenpeace and spent some time with him. And, I went and studied whales up in Seattle with Paul Watson, who did Whale Wars. And then, I spent a lot of time with Cindy Lowry, who is the woman that I play in the film. She’s just rad. She’s a total bad-ass and super-cool, and we really connected, which is the way you hope it will be, but never know. We were like two peas in a pod. It was great.
Do you see a correlation between your character and the environmental work that Ted Danson does, in his own life?
Barrymore: Yeah. Seeing this story and living in it, you just appreciate that everybody put their agendas aside for a second to work on the same thing and peel the layers away. I liked when I got to say to his character in the film, “You’re not as easy to hate as I thought.” I always just liked that moment and thought, “What would it actually be like, if you were stuck and got to know the people that had fundamentally different morals and beliefs?” I think galvanizing and trying to fight for something that you believe in is always inspiring, so I’m glad it inspired him. He’s the best.
Krasinski: He was, in a good way, very stressed, and I say, “in a good way,” because I think he understood the difference in the level he was trying to achieve, in this movie, versus the movie that I did with him and the movie that [Drew] did with him, and certainly The Office. That’s a little more low-rent than this movie. So, I think he wanted to make it really, really fantastic. He knew immediately that the visual spectacle would be an essential part of the movie and he’s very aware that, at this point, he wasn’t known as the visual spectacle guy, but he knew he could do it and he wanted to do it right. I remember his shot selection and his preparation. He was so dedicated, and it was amazing to see him do it because the movie I had done, and especially on The Office, he’s so performance-based, and he still was on this movie, but to see him be able to be performance-based and do these incredible crane shots, I was just so incredibly proud of him.
What was it like to film the scene with the two of you in the recording studio, when you finally find a way to speak directly to the viewers, so that they can relate to you?
Barrymore: I think it’s also making it very personal rather than just soapbox-y. It’s amazing how this film touches on so many things that could be different today, if they were different back then, but it doesn’t do it in a preachy, in-your-face kind of way. The more you do speak from the heart, rather than thumping the agenda, people will listen or relate or open themselves up more. That’s one of the things I really loved about that scene.
Krasinski: Agenda-based movements, in any way, though incredibly powerful and worthy, sometimes get lost in the white noise of people’s anger, and being super-adamant on one side or the other. What fails to happen is that you actually aren’t disseminating the information that you want to get across to these people. What you fail to do is tell them the basics and the details of how long these whales need to live and how this is scary it is, and all that very human, emotional stuff that will connect with people, rather than having them at home, feeling like, “Oh, this is too big an issue. I can’t get involved. I don’t know how to get involved. There’s no way to get involved. Someone else will take care of this.” And when you bring it to a small level and make it easy to access, which [Drew] did, is the most powerful part of the movie.
Krasinski: I get stepped on early on, in the movie. No, I totally agree, as far as the media thing. His whole thing is that he wanted the glamour of being in the national news spotlight and, as soon as people came, they pushed him aside, so he had to become an assistant to get his voice back with these people. I’ve always loved those movies where somebody thinks they want something, and then they realize that the thing they really want is right in front of them. I love that he discovers the real truth of life, which is that fact that, as long as you’re doing what you love and you’re around people that you love, you’re doing something right. I think that was the undertone of my character, with keeping that in check versus all of the other people who had a specific political agenda.
Did you bond with the young actor who plays Nathan?
Krasinski: He was so good. [Ahmaogak Sweeney] is definitely one of the coolest kids. He’s this handsome, cool, fun, really funny kid. He brought a couple of his friends from school and they were blown away, more so that he got to miss school for this. It was really fun. It was one of those things where it was frustrating to see how natural it was to him. He wasn’t sitting in his trailer, really figuring out the scene. He was like, “Yeah, I get it,” and he just understood it. It was really amazing. He was really fantastic and a great energy to have on set. He was always really excited to be there, and those scenes where I am alone with him are really amazing. I feel like one of the great relationships in the movie is mine and his, only because it bonds the Iñupiat tribe with the outside world. It was just really nice to be the character that pulled everybody together. I got to work with everybody, which was fun. I got to be in a scene with everybody.
Krasinski: Drew is going to blush, but I really appreciated how professional she was. I don’t think anybody really, fully understands what it’s like to be at the level that she’s at, and the amount of responsibility that it is. I’m one of the people that feels very, very lucky to be there, but I’ve only been doing it for a certain amount of time. She’s been doing it for longer, and achieving so much more than any of us could even hope to do. And, to stay so incredibly positive and normal, [is amazing]. You’d be surprised how much the sway of the day really wants to go to the negative, whether it’s too cold or lunch wasn’t good, or whatever it is. There’s always a reason to be grumpy. And, the entire crew will go with whatever the vibe is. They all look to one person, and usually it’s the biggest head-honcho on set, and that was usually [Drew]. But, she was always so positive, and it set the tone for the whole rest of the shoot.
Barrymore: Thank you. I was so excited because (director) Ken [Kwapis] told me that maybe this could happen. There was a scheduling conflict with The Office, which was a little bit terrifying, so we didn’t know if it would happen. He called me in the San Francisco airport [and told me], and I started running up and down the halls because I was so happy and excited. I was so excited about [working with John]. I was like, “Oh, good.” I just hoped that Adam and Rachel would be these certain kinds of people. While he was struggling with where he wanted to live his life, she was doing the things that she wanted to do. I just wanted them to be good people and exude a good energy. So, I was so excited about doing this with John because I love his acting and I just think that he’s a good person. You believe in that, and it’s true.
Krasinski: I just have to get over that kicking puppies habit.
Barrymore: Oh, no! We both had our dogs up there too, and our dogs love each other. It’s so cute.
Krasinski: As far as my brain has been able to process it, it’s a pretty incredibly exciting thing. I had this idea for a script, and worked on it a little bit with Dave Eggers, who came up with the story and actually wrote a first draft of a script with me. And then, I brought it to Matt, who wanted to direct, immediately. The script fell apart because of an issue that was happening, at the time, that wasn’t going to be a strong enough issue later on, so we had to re-write the script. He’s been an incredible friend and collaborator on the whole thing.
But then, just before Christmas, he realized that [it wasn’t going to work out]. It’s very similar to doing three or four movies over five years, and then having them all come out in the same year. Everyone believes that you shot them all last year. It’s the same thing with booking movies, I would assume. I’ve never been that in demand. But with Matt Damon, a lot of things that he had agreed to, all of a sudden, everybody was calling him and saying, “The only time we can do it is here.” And, he looked at his schedule and there was just no way to do everything. He’s a very, very talented guy, and an incredibly smart guy. He takes it really seriously, and he didn’t want his first opportunity to direct to be hindered, in any way, shape or form.
So, it really was purely scheduling. He’s doing Liberace (with Michael Douglas) in June. He would have had to shoot our movie, go shoot another movie, and then come back and edit, and that’s just not the way you want to do your first movie. And so, I was incredibly bummed, to say the least. It was a very hard night. He called me around 7:30. And then, I remember at 1:30 the next day, he called again and was like, “So, Gus Van Sant is doing our movie?,” and I flipped out.
I think Gus is one of the most talented directors there is, or ever has been. He’s an incredible storyteller, and for our movie, in particular, he’s going to be unbelievable. So, I’m thrilled. I’m really, really thrilled. It’s my first original script. I adapted a screenplay, which is very, very different because that was all David Foster Wallace. But, this is my first script, so to have this experience, I should just call it quits after this.
How soon will that go?
Krasinski: It’s going to go in April. It’s pretty exciting.
Barrymore: I’m so happy for you! It’s exciting.
Drew, can you talk about not getting jaded with this whole Hollywood system?
Barrymore: It’s just a choice, I suppose. I don’t know. I feel lucky all the time and I don’t take things for granted. I’ve also experienced in life that it really can all go away That was a really wonderful thing to experience because then you really do appreciate what you have. I’ve experienced a bit of both, which is really such a blessing. It always confirms to you that you really are lucky to have what you have, and you have to work to keep it going, but you really need to appreciate it as much as work for it. The two work, hand in hand. I feel really lucky. I genuinely do. It’s no B.S.
John, would you be interested in directing again?
Krasinski: Yeah, at some point. I had the best time, but I was also surrounded by the most amazing people. John Bailey, who actually shot this movie, shot my movie. He did a couple tiny movies, like Ordinary People, and he won the Oscar for As Good As It Gets. So, when you have a great team around you to make you look really, really good, if I could ever assemble that group of people and harness that courage, that would be fantastic. But, it’s a little like walking down a street with land mines, and then before the end of it, people are like, “You know there are land mines all down that,” and you’re like “What?!” Now that I’ve seen it, I’ll be looking out for them, and that’s a lot more difficult than just blindly running down the street thinking that it’s really fun. I had a blast directing.