From director Gus Van Sant, the small town drama Promised Land tells the story of Steve Butler (Matt Damon), a corporate salesman who has been dispatched to the rural town of McKinley with his sales partner (Frances McDormand) to see if the two can get the citizens to sign over the drilling rights to their properties. But, when an environmental activist (John Krasinski) arrives in town, the residents start to question what’s best for themselves and their community.
At the film’s press day, actor/co-writer John Krasinski talked about what led him to write a story about American identity, how it was to collaborate with co-writer Matt Damon, sending the script to Aaron Sorkin for feedback, and what it was like to get that phone call that Matt Damon was no longer going to be able to direct the film. He also talked about being in the final stretch of episodes for The Office (they wrap the series in March), his hope that Steve Carell will return before they’re done, how hard the last day of shooting will be, whether he’d ever consider doing another TV show, how he’s currently developing some possible series, and that he’d like to work with his wife, Emily Blunt, at some point. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOHN KRASINSKI: I had never written an original script, so about two years ago, I started thinking about stuff that I wanted to write about and the thing I came to was American identity. For me, what that meant was, my dad grew up in a small steel mill town, just outside of Pittsburgh. His dad worked three jobs. They didn’t have a lot. And I remember when he talked about it, when we were kids. I was an ignorant eight-year-old and I remember being like, “Oh, so your childhood was awful!” And he was like, “No, it wasn’t. It was incredible! We had this amazing community of family and friends, and there was a faith that tomorrow was going to be a better day.” I think we’ve moved so far away from that, especially with the political landscape heading where it headed. We made so much noise about the people who were being elected. A lot of times, that means we forget to tell the story about the people who being effected by all this stuff. So, I’ve always loved where my dad came from and the ideals that instilled in me. That pure ideal of what he talked about never left me and I really wanted to tell that story, of a group of people who are living through the day-to-day version of what you heard about in political debates. They’re actually living it. This isn’t hypothetical. This is day-to-day survival. So, when the idea of natural gas drilling came into the story, we knew we wanted to tell the community and we had these characters figured out, but we didn’t have the backdrop yet. The natural gas thing was a perfect backdrop ‘cause it’s like high-stakes poker. There’s so much potentially to gain and so much potentially to lose that these people are in an incredibly complicated situation, on either side of the issue. It’s ignorant to say one side or the other is wrong. Somewhere in the middle is the truth, and you find it in these people.
KRASINSKI: When I brought this idea of American identity to Matt, he locked onto it really quickly ‘cause these are the things he’s been thinking about, too. We had this sense of not only working on sets – and Matt more than me – but also being a part of watching movies, as an audience member. The things we always disengage with are one-sided stories or one-sided characters. They’re very boring. When you feel like you’re being hit over the head, you disengage. If you feel like you don’t believe that these people exist, you disengage. So, we wanted the idea of this community to be the smartest guy in the room. These people are incredibly intelligent, incredibly impassioned, and proud about what they have and where they’re coming from. A lot of times in movies, you see the “small town” people, being bowled over by this creative entity or this corporate ideal, and it’s not true, at all. We were constantly writing [Frances McDormand’s] character, Sue. The more multi-faceted these people are, the more believable they are because that’s how real people are. People have a sense of humor, even if it’s not a good one, and everybody has stakes. There are thing that you are waking up for, every day. That is a fact for everyone. Whatever it is, you have something that you’re waking up for. That’s what we were going after. Then, you bring someone like (director) Gus [Van Sant] on, and you multiply it by a thousand. That guy is so dedicated to setting a tone, setting a look, and setting a believable opportunity or experience for you. We were so proud. There are many reasons why it’s amazing to have him on board, but that was one of them. Our idea of what we really wanted came to fruition more, the further along the process went.
KRASINSKI: Let’s be honest, he’s the dude who wrote Good Will Hunting. Being a Boston boy, that is surreal. I try to play it cool that Gus and Matt are involved in the movie with me, but being a Boston kid, having the team from Good Will Hunting on your team is insane. Being from Boston, I think we all have the tattoo of the movie poster on our back. That’s a night I don’t want to remember. Matt and I worked really, really well together. We worked very quickly. We had very similar sensibilities, and I think we have an innately positive outlook on life. Our idea of where we wanted this movie to go was always similar. The real drawback when you write with a partner is that where you want it to go and where they want it to go is similar, but not exactly lined up, and that’s where it’s going to lead you into trouble. For us, we had point A and we had point B, but filling it all in was the fun part. I remember Matt saying that, when he got on set, he was let down to know that he was only playing one character. For a second there, we were both playing 17 characters. But, one of the other things that was really fun about writing with Matt was that we had become friendly and we were in this fun situation writing this. Being there at breakfast and working through until dinner, a lot of times, Emily was there and we’d go out on a double date that night and recap. Our wives were a little bit like, “You’d better have gotten something done because that was 10 hours. Don’t tell us that you were away from the kids and you didn’t get anything done.”
Were you scared about sending the script to Aaron Sorkin, for his feedback?
KRASINSKI: I was terrified! Truly, one of the greatest compliments I have had on the script was from Aaron, who basically just said, “I love it! Shoot it!” Matt had that same response from Steven Soderbergh. Aaron was actually the first volunteer to come forward and host a screening for the movie. The first public screening of the movie was hosted by Aaron Sorkin, which will be one of the highlights of my career.
How difficult was it to get that phone call from Matt Damon, that he wasn’t going to be able to direct the film anymore?
KRASINSKI: That’s a rough phone call, to be like, “I’m really sorry. As a friend, as a big huge actor, as a director and as your funding source, I’m out.” I was like, “So, what am I left with?!” It was a tough call to get, for sure. But, I totally understood what he was doing. At the time, I’m not going to lie, it was really hard. I went downstairs to my wife (Emily Blunt) and was like, “What do I do now? How do I pick up the pieces?” But, it was incredible that it was less than 12 hours later that Gus Van Sant had signed on. Matt sent me an email saying, “I’m sending it to Gus,” and I was like, “How dare you throw your connections at me! You can’t make this better!” When he sent an email saying, “Gus is on,” and I didn’t believe him. I thought it was him saying that Gus was interested, so he had to forward me the email.
How much of The Office do you have left?
What are you feeling, in that regard?
KRASINSKI: Sad is a softball version of what it is. It’s the most emotional moment in my career, for sure. The truth is, this show has given me everything. I was a waiter before I got the show. No one would know my name, if it wasn’t for the show. I would never have been able to have the opportunities to do anything that I’ve done in this business, let alone get to the place where I could actually write a script. So, when I say that I owe the show everything, I owe it everything. But, more than even the job, the crew, the cast and the family aspect, it’s an era of my life. It’s a part of my life that has defined me, in the best way. I would never give any moment of it back.
So, the last day will be really hard for you then, won’t it?
KRASINSKI: Yes, and I am very bad at that. I do this stupid thing where I think I have it together, until the very last moment when I get blindsided by a bus. I remember when Steve [Carell] left. In the weeks leading up to it, people were getting really sad. And then, the day of, I walked on set and it seemed like everybody was crying. My outlook was like, “Guys, it’s just a contract. He’s moving on. It’s going to be fine. We’ll see him again.” And then, the last shot of the day, of his last scene, was my character saying goodbye to his character. They called, “Action!,” and I started wailing from a place that I’ve never been to, emotionally. I walked up and just gave him a hug, which was not in the script. It’s just these two full-grown men, holding each other during an emotional breakdown, that had nothing to do with the scene at hand. So, Emily keeps saying to me, “You should probably start planning now.” I keep doing that thing of, “I’ll be fine!,” and I’m pretty sure I won’t be.
KRASINSKI: The thing I’ve always loved about the show is how real the writers have kept it. I’ll go anywhere they will lead me because they’re the same people who put me on top of a boat, where I was supposed to say, “I love you,” to a girl, for the first time. I think it was 27 seconds on national television where nothing was said. I thought that was really cool, that they were willing to let us explore that moment in that reality, rather than doing this big moment that would manipulate the audience into realizing how dramatic it was. They just let the real moments be as dramatic as you would want them to be. They’ve taken such good care of my character that I’m willing to go wherever they want me to.
Are you hoping that Steve Carell will return before the show is done?
KRASINSKI: I hope Steve comes back because there really is that family aspect. We owe him a ton, but also the show was very important in his career and his rise. I hope that, just from a family aspect, that he comes back and visits his hometown, as it were. That would be great!
Will you ever consider doing TV again, or are you just going to focus on films?
KRASINSKI: To me, television is one of the most exciting things going on right now, as far as content goes. Some of these shows that are on television are better than any of the movies out there. I’ve fallen in love with shows like Homeland and The Wire. And I think The Office is in a category like that. It’s such a special opportunity, and I’m so lucky to have had it. So, to say that I’m walking away from television altogether would just be stupid. There’s so much fun to be had. I think that I might take a small respite, only to let this actual experience out of my system. I don’t want to let television out of my system, but I’ll have to deal with the experience of leaving a show and a group of people that I was so strongly committed to.
KRASINSKI: Yes, absolutely! There are actually a couple that I’m developing right now, that I had the ideas for, so we’ll see how far they go. I think there’s so much more commitment to it, and so much more responsibility because you have to develop these characters over time and you can’t have anybody just like the characters. People have to fall in love with the characters, otherwise they’re not going to go one or two episodes, let alone one or two seasons. So, I think it’s a medium that is incredibly exciting and that you have to respect. I would love to play around in it, for awhile.
Would those shows be for network or cable?
KRASINSKI: It depends on the show. We have a couple of ideas that are probably a little darker than network television, as far as just the idea and where we’re asking you to go. Like Breaking Bad or Homeland, it’s not that they’re dark shows, but there’s a taste of reality that sometimes you’re not wanting on network television. FX is phenomenal, AMC has done incredible shows, as have Showtime and HBO, and even Starz and Cinemax are getting into the game. That’s just exciting. To me, it shows that people are catching on that you can do really exciting stuff, so why not get involved. I’m a sucker where I love shifting tides. When everything gets turned upside down, it only leads to better quality stuff.
Would you like to work with your wife?
KRASINSKI: We don’t have plans, but we’d love to do it. It’s one of those things where we just want to work on something where the story of us doing it together isn’t bigger than the movie, and that’s a hard thing to find. I think that there may be movies that, in a weird way, could benefit from the weird special nature or the novelty of having two people who are married be in it. Honestly, I think a play would be something really cool to do together because you’re working and evolving with each other, every single night, rather than putting this huge pressure on one movie. I would love to work with her, but the truth is that I would be totally intimidated. She’s my favorite actress.