In a suite in Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria, Matt Damon and John Krasinski are lounging with their feet up on the coffee table, cracking each other up. “Please don’t write that we’re just lounging about,” Damon laughs. “’I entered the room to see these sloths!’” Kransinski adds.
That the two actors have such easy banter and are clearly so comfortable with each other is a credit to the close personal and professional relationship they’ve forged. The Oscar-winner and the The Office star met when Damon played opposite Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, in last year’s The Adjustment Bureau. The couple became fast friends with Damon and his wife, Luciana Barroso, and soon Damon and Krasinski became a sort of couple in their own right.
The two produced, co-wrote, and costar in Promised Land, the new drama out Friday. Damon plays Steve Butler, a corporate pitchman sent to rural Pennsylvania to convince residents of a small town to allow his company to drill on their land. Krasinski is an environmental activist sent to warn the residents that the method Damon’s company plans to use to extract the gas—fracking—could ruin the town forever. The polarizing of fracking sets the backdrop for the story, and the fracking industry is already prepping damage control against the film. But at its heart, Promised Land is about American identity, and the ethical dilemmas we face in preserving it.
They talk with The Daily Beast about getting the film made, always being the nice guys, and why John Krasinski may just be Matt Damon’s mistress.
So you guy were writing this at Matt’s house on his weekend breaks from shooting We Bought a Zoo, with his three kids running around while you tried to work. That sounds pretty chaotic.
Krasinski: He was working on the movie. I was working on the show every week, and I would just show up at breakfast time every Saturday and Sunday and just work through dinner. I think if you walked in, you would not have believed we got anything done. He had children all over him, and in between putting The Little Mermaid on 17 times, doing lunch and bath time, we somehow got a lot of work done.
Were you helping out with lunch and bath time, John?
Krasinski: Nope! Just watching. My job was to feed them brownies and get them really excited about something right before they had to go to bed.
Given how much fracking is in the news, the timing of this release is pretty great.
Damon: The timing is really great. But we were looking for the thing—where are the stakes the highest? It’s really about Big Money colliding with real people, and their decision-making process. And all that pressure that’s on them because the stakes are just so incredibly high. This issue does this perfectly.
What did your agents think when you told them you were going to write a movie about, of all things, fracking?
Krasinski: First of all, we have the same agent. He’s a pretty incredible person, so he knows a) that he’s not going to change our minds, and b) he knows that if you take a stab at something like that, it has to be done really well. But I think that before it was about fracking, it was about Matt and I wanting to tell a story about the state of the country right now, and these communities that, in my opinion, are overlooked with all the noise over who’s being elected instead of who’s going to be affected by all that stuff.
So then he was on board?
Krasinski: He, weirdly, our agent, grew up on a farm, actually in Iowa, which is bizarre. He said he saw this exact same thing happen when the corporate farming came through, and sort of totally eradicated his dad’s farm and work and everything. So weirdly, I think he was a good agent to have when you’re selling that story, because he was willing to jump on board on that right away.
And you have a similar connection, right, John? Your dad was from a small town in Pennsylvania?
Krasinski: Yeah, he grew up right outside Pittsburgh, this little town called Natrona Heights. When he came to visit the set, actually, we were 10 miles away from where he grew up, which was crazy because he knew the land. He was like, “Oh, we went apple picking over there.” So I think that particular day, I looked a little weird because I was having an existential moment with my dad, and the crew was like, “What’s going on with Krasinski?”
So it was an emotional day?
Krasinski: Exactly, like, “So ready to cry today!” So it was really awesome, especially since I think, subconsciously, that I wrote it for him. Or consciously.
The amount of research it must take to explain fracking simply and relatably must have been daunting.
Damon: We read the whole Ian Erbina series in The New York Times, the whole drilling gas series—we read that. There have been books that have come out. There are a ton of debates, or a few at least, that you can find online where they have heavyweights from each side kind of laying out the arguments.
Krasinski: Before we wrote it—this was two years ago. This was pre-Gasland. Or, at least, we hadn’t seen it. So it was interesting to read this stuff and actually hear the ideas and the stories and how it was affecting people, rather than “ooh here comes this political hot-button issue,” which we really didn’t see coming until a couple of months ago.
When you write a movie, which you’ve both done before, do you find it easier to act the parts that you’ve written for yourself? Or does it put extra pressure on you because those are your own words?
Damon: Well, you kind of act out all the parts.
Krasinski: I love that thing you said, where it’s like getting on set and realizing you only have one part ...
Damon: Yeah. Like, this is all I’m doing? But I think you have to treat it like you’re playing all the parts, because then you make sure that the parts are as good as they can be.
It was also incredibly bold, John, that you, as the screenwriter, actually wrote for yourself to sing karaoke to a Bruce Springsteen song.
Damon: And you didn’t see the stage directions.
Krasinski: The stage direction was, “He is horrible at singing.”
Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I was pretty impressed by it.
Krasinski: Thank you. I wish I could say that I had to learn how to be worse, but that’s about as good a performance as you’re ever going to get out of me.
No, it was good! You might have a musical future.
Krasinski: Thank you. I was this close to getting Les Miz.
It was between you and Hugh Jackman, then?
Krasinski: No, me and Annie.
So scanning through the Internet for stories about you two, the term “bromance” is used, quite often. How do you feel about that label for your relationship?
Damon: Bromance? What’s a bromance?
Krasinski: I feel like whatever “bromance” is, we had a head start because they [Damon and Blunt] worked together, so we double-dated a lot. But our “bromance” has taken a back seat to “double-datemance.”
So no crazy nights of tequila shots and dancing on the bar?
Krasinski: Yeah, but it’s usually the wives who are leading the charge on that one.
Damon: We are the caboose. It’s one of those things—we just match up really well with John and Emily. It’s hard to find couples to hang out with, and my wife and I love those guys. So that certainly planted the seed for our “epic bromance.”
Speaking of bromances, it was 15 years ago since you, Matt, and Ben were at the Oscars for Good Will Hunting.
Damon: Now that’s an epic bromance.
Yes … are you cheating on that bromance with John?
Krasinski: I’m an epic mistress.
What do you remember from that Oscar night?
Damon: It was just so surreal. It was so surreal. We didn’t have a year where we got to go and just sit and watch the Oscars. We’d never been there. So we literally went from the year before we were shooting the movie when the Oscars happened, and we were, you know, sitting around at our apartment with those sheets that we all get to fill out, “Guess who’s going to win each category.” And we went from that to being not just at the Oscars, but in the front row with Billy Crystal singing a song about us. It was just unbelievably surreal.
So now you’re back with a movie during awards season with Promised Land, and Ben is a frontrunner with Argo. What is it like, 15 years later, for both of you to still, quite often, be part of the awards conversation?
Damon: From your lips to God’s ears. I’m just so happy for Ben, though. I’m just not at all surprised, because I know him and I know how great he is. I’m just happy that this is happening for him because he deserves it. And that move is great. It’s great because he directed it. It’s great because he starred in it. And he produced it, so it deserves everything that it gets.
And John, The Office is winding down now. How much longer do you have on set?
Krasinski: March. We end shooting in March. It will end airing, I think, in May. It’s weird. It’s a pretty terrifying experience. It does feel like that precipice that you’re jumping into the darkness. To have your lifeline and your family be your quote unquote day job—you can do a movie and then hop right back. That’s a pretty secure place to be. But to me, for much more than that, it changed my life.
This last season of The Office has been very strong, especially after a rough transition after Steve Carell’s departure. What was it like for you guys to have to scramble to find your footing again with Steve in the lead?
Krasinski: I think the dynamic of the show changed, just from a nerdy comedy standpoint. It’s like his being kind of a jackass of a character, the comedy comes from him and all the comedy that we deployed was the internalization and whatever we did with whatever stupid thing he was doing. When you take away the top of the pyramid, it literally looks like a different shape. So we just had to figure out what that was.
Are you happy with what the show’s become?
Krasinski: I’m really proud of the show, and also NBC to give us the chance to end. It’s super exciting to have plotlines to aim for. I think being a show that you get to say good-bye instead of being asked to leave is a real honor. We also get this really interesting thing that no other show in history has had, which is that our characters are aware that they’ve been on camera the whole time.
We’re so used to both of you being good, incredibly likable guys—both on and off screen—and in this movie we get to see hints of you both playing characters that aren’t 100 percent easy to root for. Do you have aspirations to do more roles in that vein, something darker or more villainous?
Damon: Both these roles were different from anything we’ve ever been allowed to do, which is probably why we were attracted to playing and writing them. We love that protagonist with the streak of self-loathing that you get in those Kazan movies. I haven’t done that, a story like this. Because I look like that boy next door, I’ve had a really fun career playing from Tom Ripley to Jason Bourne. It’s always playing on that idea.
There’s a twist in the end, John, that’s a big departure from what we’re used to seeing from you. And it was great. After being adorable Jim for so long, are darker roles appealing to you?
Krasinski: Always trying new things is always more fun, and it can be scary, but it’s always more fun in the end. For me, there are worse things than being pigeonholed as the nice guy. But to be able to play on that a little bit, but also to play more complex roles, I think—in romantic comedies, I played “the friend” or “the nice guy,” or whatever, and this has been way more exciting than that. I’m not looking to do Half Nelson next, but to play anything that’s a little more complex is really fun.