Narrated by John Krasinski, the latest Disneynature documentary film Born in China takes audiences on an epic, exciting and, at times, heartbreaking journey into the wilds of China where few people ever get the opportunity to venture. Whether it’s a doting panda bear mother teaching her growing baby, a golden snub-nosed monkey who’s feeling displaced by his new baby sister, or a mother snow leopard trying to raise her two cubs in a harsh and unforgiving environment, you will witness intimate moments in the lives of animals that are just trying to get by, day to day.
To discuss why he was so excited to take on this project, actor and self-professed Disneynature fan John Krasinski spoke to Collider for this 1-on-1 interview. He talked about his surprise at being asked to narrate Born in China, overcoming the nerves that come with wanting to get it right, what he learned about China and the animals who live there, and which of the animal species he found himself most emotionally connected to. He also talked about his upcoming Jack Ryan TV series for Amazon, getting comfortable in the role of action guy, and what has most surprised him about the process of shooting, as well as acting with and directing his wife Emily Blunt for A Quiet Place, and why he wants to keep the plot under wraps for as long as possible.
Collider: How did you come to narrate Born in China? Had you put the word out that you’d be game to narrate a Disneynature film, or did this come as a surprise for you?
JOHN KRASINSKI: No, it was a complete and total surprise. For me, they just reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested. I am a bizarrely huge fan of these movies. I think I’ve seen them all. It was so exciting because I was such a huge fan, and then I got nervous because all the people who have done it are huge stars, like Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman and John C. Reilly. The fact that you’re going up after people like that, you get nervous.
Is the biggest challenge with something like this overcoming those nerves?
KRASINSKI: Well, there’s no one like Morgan Freeman. I think he’s the only person on Earth who can do this in his sleep, so you just rule out that you’re ever going to be as good as him. For me, it was about trying to find the tone of what this movie is, with the producers and the director. The genius of these Disneynature films is that you’re almost personifying these animals as real people with real emotions, actions and decisions. You’re emotionally hooked, right away. And there’s nothing better than baby pandas, so there’s an initial instinct to make it super adorable and talk in squeaky voices. The beauty of these movies is that they take the elements and landscape so beautifully. It was really exciting for me that they said to play it real and to play it very respectful to these animals. By the end, you’re so emotionally entwined with them that it’s heartbreaking, what they go through.
Had you ever been to China, before doing this? Did you have any idea that there were landscapes like this there?
KRASINSKI: No, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this. I would have done this for any reason. If they did Disneynature: A New Jersey Pond, which will probably be there next one, I would have done it, but this was particularly appealing. I watch nature shows, all the time. That’s why this is so exciting to see in the theater, with this spectacle and these shots. China is one of those places that you relate to with the city lights, the industry life, and all of the people and things going on. To be transported to this completely separate world within the same country, it’s pretty staggering and mind-blowing to see. I was totally aware that there were animals in China. I’m not that dumb. But, I wasn’t aware that these landscapes were there and that these situations that these animals go through was happening. The experience was so beautiful.
Obviously, one of the hardest things about films like this is seeing how nature takes its course and knowing that the filmmakers didn’t and couldn’t intervene. Are you someone who is totally cool with the animal circle of life, or does it tear you up while you’re narrating it, as much as it does for viewers when they’re watching it?
KRASINSKI: I am not one to not cry. It’s pretty easy to make me cry because I get invested quick. What I would tell you is that Disneynature is right in the vein for me. I find it so incredibly emotional that by the end, not only am I wanting to cry, I’m in full-blown tears. Especially in this one, there are things that these animals go through that are just devastating.
There are few things more ridiculously cute than pandas. Why do you think they’re so special and magical, and that we can’t get enough of watching them, even on zoo cams?
KRASINSKI: I think that’s what it is. I could go into some crazy, heady theory, but aesthetically, I don’t know if there’s anything cuter. But, I also think there’s the idea of the rarity. Ever since I was a kid, they were always celebrating baby pandas being born at the zoo, which really instilled something special. You stand up and pay attention when you get to see how animals like that live.
Which of the animal species in this film do you find yourself most closely identifying with, on a personal level?
KRASINSKI: I’d probably say that I’m most like the monkeys. That storyline is hysterical. But the one I found myself really bonding with, and there’s no reason why because it’s a single mom, but after having kids, watching the snow leopard story is pretty unbelievable. You put incredibly human emotions on these animals. So, when you see a leopard going down a hill trying to hunt, that’s one thing, but then when you hear the narration and the information that this is one of the last shots she’ll have at getting this animal, it has to happen. It was all of these crazy emotions that I wasn’t expecting to have.
You’re currently shooting the Jack Ryan TV series, which seems like it will be totally bad-ass.
KRASINSKI: It’s pretty bad-ass.
How has that been going? Are you feeling comfortable in the role of action guy now?
KRASINSKI: I am, yeah. I think if you’re going to be baptized by fire, it’s more like being baptized by Bay. When I did a Michael Bay movie, I was ready and willing to take on the action world, no matter where it takes you. For me, this is really exciting because it’s an action role, for sure, but it’s also this really intricate brainy guy, too. It’s been really interesting to me. The most important part of it for me was when they told me we would be going back to the early days of Jack Ryan. The character starts as an analyst, literally at a desk. That’s where you find Jack Ryan in this. He’s just a numbers guy. He’s crunching numbers for the CIA, and he stumbles upon something. And so, you get to see this incredibly wild arc of a guy who thought he was basically pencil-pushing for the CIA, and then he’s brought on this incredible adventure because one of the things he was researching turns out to be real. You get the whole spectrum of everything, and I think that that’s really cool. It feels very gritty and very real, and yet, at the same time, there are huge military vehicle scenes and elaborate fight scenes. All the good stuff is in there, too.
What’s most surprised you about the process of making the series?
KRASINSKI: It’s certainly shooting eight episodes at once. We’re cross-boarding everything. I know that’s how they do it on Game of Thrones, but that’s a pretty wild experience, for the directors, the actors and the crew. To leave a scene that’s at the end of Episode 4, and then go to the next stage and shoot the first scene of the whole series, and then, at the end of the day, shoot the last scene of the whole series is pretty wild.