You could probably surmise it from his work, but John Krasinski is indeed one of the nicest folks I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing over the years. While he got his start as an actor on The Office, he’s gone on to work with a tremendous roster of filmmakers, from Sam Mendes (Away We Go) to Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated) to Gus Van Sant (Promised Land), and most recently is coming off a dramatic action turn in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours. So it’s maybe also unsurprising that Krasinski has blossomed into a fine filmmaker in his own right.
He made his directorial debut with the 2009 feature Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and shortly thereafter caught the directing bug, going on to helm a trio of episodes of The Office. It’s been four years since he was last behind the camera, but for his second directorial feature, Krasinski chose a curious piece of material: a family drama scripted by Jim Strouse called The Hollars. Krasinski is the first to admit that this particular genre is well-worn territory, and is littered with subpar films. But he also holds the genre dear to his heart, citing films like Ordinary People and Terms of Endearment as some of his favorites, so with The Hollars Krasinski takes a crack at this familiar story, and wouldn’t you know it, crafts one hell of a charming film.
The story revolves around a man (Krasinski) who returns to his hometown when his mother (Margo Martindale) falls ill. A mix of tears, heart, and humor ensue as he must juggle his underachieving brother, pregnant girlfriend, former flame and more, and you can probably see where the story is going from here. However, thanks to a tremendous ensemble and thoughtful directing, The Hollars overcomes the familiar and manages to win the audience over with its attention to specificity, which, in turn, results in something far more empathetic than your run-of-the-mill Lifetime Movie of the Week.
In anticipation of the film’s limited release this Friday, August 26th, I had the pleasure of speaking with Krasinski about the movie. We discussed why he wanted to tackle this particular script as his second feature, getting to give the great Margo Martindale a worthy lead role, how 70s films influenced his visual approach, and much more. Given that Krasinski was a finalist for the role of Captain America in Captain America: The First Avenger, we also discussed why he’s glad Chris Evans landed the role, why he’s a fan of the Marvel movies in general, and his thoughts on directing something of a much larger scale (and yes, a Marvel movie). And with Krasinski next set to lead a Jack Ryan TV series on Amazon, we talked about how the TV landscape has changed since The Office and approaching this new series like one long movie.
Check out the interview below, and if you at all have a predilection for family dramedies, The Hollars is worth your time when it opens in a theater near you.
First off, I saw the movie at Sundance and I wanna say thank you for giving Margo Martindale a lead role with such a great character.
JOHN KRASINSKI: Oh thank you, I totally agree. It was a pleasure.
She’s so good and she’s been so great in so many different things, but to see her shine in a lead role like this was great. Was she always towards the top of your wishlist?
KRASINSKI: She was the only list. I mean truly, when I decided to direct the movie my first call was to her. And if she had said that she wouldn’t do it I honestly don’t know if I would’ve directed the movie.
And you surround her with such a great ensemble cast. Once you had her, did everyone else just fall into place? Was it easy to get Richard Jenkins and Anna Kendrick and all these people?
KRASINSKI: Funny story about Richard Jenkins is that he wrote me an email and said, “Really like the script. If you get Margo Martindale I’ll do it.” And I wrote back “Hahaha” and he wrote, “Oh I’m not kidding.” So as soon as Margo signed on I got Richard, which was great. And everybody else, this was a very blessed experience for sure because everybody I had in mind I called personally. We didn’t even have a casting director on this so I called everybody personally and we got everybody. I think it really is the power of Jim’s script. Usually when you cast a movie people say, “Yeah I’ll do it but I don’t like this scene” or “I don’t really get the direction of the character, this part, I don’t like the ending” whatever, and in this one everybody read it and said, “I know what this movie is, I’ll do it. I get it.” And I thought that that was such a huge boost of confidence to me going into the shoot that all these actors were A. Signing on, which was amazing and B. They were signing on and knowing exactly what movie we were all making.
I know you had been involved with this script for a long time, but what was it that made you want to make it your second directorial effort?
KRASINSKI: Well I think it was exactly that, I was involved for so long and I loved this script. I had no intention of doing a family movie, let’s be honest there’s plenty of family movies out there and they’re not all great, and I had no intention of doing anything derivative. And then I read Jim’s script and I just thought, “This isn’t derivative, this is incredibly specific and maybe the most honest take of a family I had read.” So I love these movies, I was a huge fan of things like Terms of Endearment, so I just wanted to be a part of something this good, and then when they offered me to direct it I jumped at the chance because again, I knew how special this movie could be if I could get the right cast. So again it was one of those things where the alternative was it had a potential of never getting made and I couldn’t let it happen to this script.
I think that’s one of the reasons why it works is because there is this specificity to it, and that specificity makes it more empathetic and more relatable, kind of like the best James L. Brooks films.
KRASINSKI: Oh thanks for saying that, I agree so thank you.
How difficult was it to maintain that balance on set when you know you’ve got something that could work, but also knowing how easily it go off the rails and become this saccharine thing that everyone’s seen before?
KRASINSKI: Totally. I think again a huge part of that is having a script that’s that specific, but like you said I think capturing the tone of it as a director I just didn’t want to ruin it. I had to execute it as well as Jim wrote his script, and so for me I think the most important thing was casting, getting actors who knew how to do this tone. We shot for 22 days; we would have had to shoot for 22 years if I had to give a seminar on tone. And then the other thing was really making sure that everything felt organic and real, so that means the location we chose, where we were, even something like that diner. I remember walking in with seven members of my crew on a location scout, we went to all these places that I thought could be used for the diner, and my job as a director is to try to make it work in my head. Immediately the crew is like, “No this isn’t it, this isn’t it,” and then we walked into that diner that’s in the movie and every single person turned to me and said “This is it.” Those are seven people who are from seven completely different places in this country and they all felt like that was the place that their parents took them to that they haven’t been to in a while, and I thought that’s my job of keeping the tone, is it’s gotta feel like this is your hometown, your family, your experience.
I mean it definitely comes across. How did you go about trying to capture that within the frame in terms of your visual approach and the aesthetic of the film?
KRASINSKI: Well to me, as billions of directors say I always love watching 70s movies. And I think the thing about Ordinary People—I guess that was the 80s—things like Ordinary People, Carnal Knowledge, the longer shots are more of an observational sense of a family, and I didn’t want to be very cutty or cut to close-ups to manipulate people. I find that some family movies can often feel very manipulative, and so I didn’t want that, I wanted it to feel like you were watching this family. Margo said she almost felt like we were making a documentary about a family, and I thought that was a great compliment for me because that’s exactly what I was trying to achieve. Slow, classic framing in shots is the way to make it feel like you’re observing them, or that you’re even a part of them.
Just looking at your resume you’ve worked with so many great directors with so many different styles, from Sam Mendes to Nancy Meyers to Michael Bay. As you’re working with these people are you kind of cataloguing in your brain things you want to take for something you’re gonna direct? Is there anything specific you learned from one of these filmmakers?
KRASINSKI: Absolutely. The name of the game is steal everything from people that are really good that you work with (laughs). One of the best parts about being an actor is that you get to work with all these great directors and watch them work, and for me I definitely take a little bit of every director with me, I try to learn as much as I can from each and every director. So for instance, I remember George Clooney saying, “You can make a bad movie out of a good script but you can never make a good movie out of a bad script,” so material is king, so I knew that going in I had a great script. I remember he also said, “The best idea has to end up on screen,” no matter whether it’s the guy shutting down the studio at night saying he has an idea of what you can do better, you take everybody’s idea and you push them up; it’s a collaboration and a team sport. So little things like that along the way I definitely used from everybody.
Was directing always an ambition of yours or was it something you became more interested in as time went on?
KRASINSKI: Exactly, I became more interested in it and after I got The Office it was something that I was really fascinated with. I love trying new things but I never want to try something just to try something, I wanted to do it because I love it. The first time I directed Brief Interviews with Hideous Men I really fell in love with it, and then doing it on The Office was a whole different experience, and then this one being my first linear story was also really exciting. I’d like to keep doing it for sure.
The Office was such a unique experience because you had filmmakers like J.J. Abrams coming in to direct this half-hour sitcom.
KRASINSKI: Oh man, it was crazy. We had like Joss Whedon, Marc Webb, all these amazing directors.
So when you’re working with them are they bringing something really different to each episode or are you watching how they’re trying to fit into this established aesthetic?
KRASINSKI: I think it’s a little bit of both, that’s a good question. Most of them had come from great television shows of their own, so I think coming into a show and understanding what’s working about the show and fitting into that dynamic is really key, but I think the idea and the experience that they’ve had is when you have a show that works really well, it’s fun to push the limits and try to make it bigger and stronger, so I think they really were the ones that came and had the most fun with the format of the show.
You mentioned Whedon, and you think of Whedon and Abrams getting their start with Buffy and Felicity and now they’re making the biggest movies ever made. Is that something that interests you as a director, working on something of a much bigger scale?
KRASINSKI: I don’t know if I wanna direct one of the biggest movies ever made (laughs). There’s so much pressure on that. But I’d definitely direct a studio film next. I’m glad I have a couple of movies down, but someone said yesterday they’re hiring people who do these indie movies to do the bigger movies now, and to me it’s all about story. I don’t care how much the budget is, I care about how well-written and well thought out the characters are and the story. So I would love to take on a bigger budget movie and try to apply the specificity that I did on this to a bigger movie, that’s the challenge.
You were in contention for Captain America a while back. Are the Marvel movies something that specifically interests you? That superhero realm?
KRASINSKI: Absolutely. My whole thing is I’m such a huge fan of the Marvel movies, so if there are any characters left for sure, bang the drum (laughs). Just to be in that world, they’re really well-made and they seem like they’re having a lot of fun and I happen to be friends with a whole bunch of those guys and girls, so to me it would be a great time, I’d love it.
In comparison to something like The Hollars, you look at some of those Marvel movies and they do kind of feel like they’re honoring story in a way that a lot of other blockbusters aren’t.
KRASINSKI: I totally agree. They seem to have figured it out that your audience is only gonna keep coming back if you deliver them quality. I think Guardians of the Galaxy was the best example of that because, to me at least, that was the one that everybody felt like “Oh how could they make this work? How could it be good?” and then it ended up being one of the best ones, I think. That’s what’s interesting to me is their batting average is enormous. They’re doing very, very well. I think that’s the reason why I love the Marvel movies, is they’re great movies. I just happened to watch Captain America: Civil War, and first of all I’m so glad I didn’t get Captain America when you see Chris do it because he’s fantastic at it. I’ve been friends with Chris forever and I remember when I got the call and they said Chris Evans is gonna be Captain America I said, “Yeah, I bet he is! He is Captain America!” But that one in particular, Civil War, was so well-written. They take the time to make good movies, which I think that’s the problem, people aren’t taking the time to write a good story.
Well you’re about to embark on something else that’s very different which is Jack Ryan for Amazon. The Office hasn’t been off the air too long, but it feels like the television landscape has changed so much in such a short period of time. What can you tease people about this new series? You’re doing, what, 10 episodes?
KRASINSKI: Yeah we’re doing 10 episodes and I think the interesting part of it is exactly what you said, everything’s changed so much; the line between film and TV has blurred so much over the years, I think Jack Ryan is a product of that blurring so much that I think that they’re not even really considering it a TV show, they’re calling it a movie that’s being told in 10 parts; and that’s not just an argument of semantics, it’s actually true. Carlton Cuse’s whole plan is we’re gonna shoot it on a movie budget, we’re gonna have the same stunts as movies, it’s gonna feel like a movie but you’re gonna watch it every week. His whole idea was he just felt that two hours wasn’t enough time to tell a Jack Ryan story because Tom Clancy’s books are so detailed and rich, and the character of Jack Ryan if he has a superpower is his intelligence, so there’s a lot of problem solving and things that take time, and that’s the beauty of the spy genre. That’s what I found was the best pitch to me is it’s really just what’s the best format to tell this story?
For this first season are you guys pulling from any specific Clancy story?
KRASINSKI: No they’re gonna be, every year they’re gonna be different. They’re sort of more ripped-from-the-headlines type stuff, so the first year the villain or I don’t know what you want to call it is it’s taking on ISIS for sure.
Oh wow, that’s exciting. So we’re gonna see Jack Ryan back out in the field quite a bit?
KRASINSKI: Exactly, yeah.
When do you start filming?
KRASINSKI: I think we start shooting in January. Yeah, I’m psyched.
Speaking of directing, do you have any desire or plans to direct on Jack Ryan?
KRASINSKI: I mean at some point I would. I don’t know if I’ll do it the first season, I think I’m gonna let them—all of us need to sort of figure out what show we’re telling, and we’re gonna have such great people involved and I’m so lucky that they made me one of the producers of the show, so I’m gonna be busy doing that.
Do you have a personal favorite Jack Ryan?
KRASINSKI: You know what’s funny is I think they’re all so different, but the old adage you always remember your first, there’s something about that Alec Baldwin one in Hunt for Red October that I always loved.
Well congrats again on the film, I feel like these kinds of movies don’t get made too often so it’s nice to see you throwing your weight behind a film like that.
KRASINSKI: (laughs) That’s what I tried to do, and I totally agree. It’s funny, somebody asked me what I hope for the movie and I said you know when you do these press tours you always say “Go see the movie” because yeah, you’re an actor in it. And this time, for the first time ever I’m saying, “I hope everybody goes and sees this movie not because I’m an actor or a director but because these movies don’t get made anymore and I wanna see the next one. So if this one does well then another director and another writer and another cast can do another great one.
Are there any scripts of yours that are lying around that you’re waiting to direct, or do you have anything lined up that you want to direct in the near future?
KRASINSKI: I’m writing stuff now, so I’ll let you know if they’re good enough to be made. (laughs)