A STAR IS BORN
John Krasinski Lost Out on Captain America. So He Became a Great Director Instead.
The ‘Office’ star opens up about his wild journey to directing the alien-thriller ‘A Quiet Place,’ one of the most exciting genre films of the year.
The man formerly known as Jim Halpert was in the final running for the role of Steve Rogers, making it all the way to the costumed audition. After catching a glimpse of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in all his Norse god glory, however, he got cold feet.
Seeing Krasinski today, with his thick beard and buff Benghazi bod, it’s not hard to imagine him in the blue spandex, trading flirty glances with Bucky. But in lieu of a long-term Marvel marriage, the 38-year-old has developed into a formidable creative force on the other side of the camera, executive producing the Oscar winner Manchester by the Sea and directing the excellent new thriller A Quiet Place, in theaters April 6.
In a dystopian near-future where sound-sensitive alien-monsters roam the fields in search of human flesh, the Abbott family has transformed their upstate New York farm into a survivalist bunker of sorts. Lee (Krasinski), pregnant mom Evelyn (his wife, Emily Blunt), deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds, who is deaf), and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) are still haunted by the death of their young boy Beau several years earlier. They spend their days harvesting crops and playing board games—hushed, of course, to avoid the blind demons in their midst. When the monsters sense the Abbotts’ presence, all hell breaks loose.
Krasinski’s third feature as director—after Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and The Hollars—is far and away his finest work yet; a gripping, expertly crafted thriller complete with genuine shocks and knockout performances. And the nice-guy actor (who’s just as charming in real life) seems genuinely humbled by its reception thus far, speaking fast and not-so-furiously about what he calls his ode to parenthood.
“This was directing, co-writing, producing, and acting in something… and it’s a studio film, and it’s visual effects, and it’s a bigger budget, and my wife’s in it,” he says, before gasping for air. “At a certain point, maybe I should have looked at it and gone, man, maybe I shouldn’t do this!”
It’s a damn good thing he did. I sat down with Krasinski in New York to discuss A Quiet Place, how he got into directing by accident on The Office, and why he doesn’t feel so bad about losing out on Cap.
I read that you graduated with a degree in playwriting from Brown. Had you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
No! Directing is really something that fell in my lap—or, I should say, I fell into—because I directed Brief Interviews with Hideous Men before I directed a few episodes of The Office.
Although the intro to The Office is really the first thing you directed, right?
That’s right! It’s true, without even knowing it! But I was eating lunch with Rainn Wilson, and I had adapted that David Foster Wallace book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which I loved, and we were looking for a director, and he said, “Why don’t you just direct it?” and I said, “Ah, I can’t do that,” and he said, “Why?” and I didn’t really have a good answer. So I jumped in because of that. I directed out of sheer ignorance, and the ignorance was bliss in that instance because I remember at the end of it my DP said, “That went really well. It shouldn’t have gone that well.” I was like, “What do you mean?” And he walked me through all the things that should have gone wrong and could have gone wrong, and he said, “If you’re going to direct again, which you should, you’ve gotta look out for this stuff and be ahead of it.” That was huge. Then with The Hollars, I was ahead of it.
Casting Emily [Blunt] too, it’s great that the film turned out well, because there’s a pretty bad history of significant others working together onscreen—Shanghai Surprise and Gigli being the classic examples. Was that a fear of yours, this strange Hollywood history?
Without a doubt. But it was something that I very much wanted. After I did my rewrite, there was only one person I was thinking about, and that was her. But I gotta be honest: I was too scared to ask her. First, I was scared that she would say no, but more than that, I was scared that she’d say, “Fine, I’ll do it for you.” That would have broken my heart, because I’ve witnessed firsthand the insane level of taste, the commitment level, and the intelligence that goes behind every decision that she makes, and I didn’t want to let her down. I didn’t want this movie to be her first huge stinker. So I didn’t ask her, and she started recommending other actresses based on the ideas I was pitching her, and then one day she said, “You know, if you’re cool with it, I’d love to read the script.” And she did. And totally on her own she said, “I have to do this.” It was the greatest compliment of my career.
When you look back on not getting Captain America, are you almost grateful now? Because your directorial career would not have progressed to this point if you had.
You would have been married to this huge superhero franchise for years.
Certainly I wouldn’t have been directing as much. I mean, I know that. Also, a lot of these roles I’ve done I wouldn’t have been able to take on—like 13 Hours, which was such an amazing experience not just as a movie, but for me personally, the relationship I have now with the military means everything to me. I got to do my first play, I got to do all these exciting things. I’m sure Captain America would have had its own really exciting things, and I know Chris [Evans] enjoys it. But it’s an interesting thing to think about.
You definitely wouldn’t be on your third movie as a director, and you’ve gotten demonstrably better with each outing.
No, that’s true—and if I directed at all. The Hollars, I wouldn’t have been able to do. It’s funny to think about. But you know, I’m happy with the way things turned out.
I wanted to go back to your first directorial stint: The Office intro. How did that come about? Because it is such an iconic TV intro now.
It was really hilarious. I remember I got the part, I was so thrilled, and [creator] Greg Daniels called and I said, “Hey, I want to go to Scranton and see what it’s all about and do some backstory work.” He said, “Cool,” and I said, “Oh, and I’ll shoot some stuff for ya,” and he was like, “Sure, that’ll be great.” So I shot all this stuff just for me, and it was all on camera, and like an overexcited puppy I brought all the stuff in to him and was like, “Hey! If you need any of this stuff, this is what Scranton looks like and I got this footage.” And then he called me in just before the show went on air and was like, “I want to ask you something: Can I use this stuff as the intro?” and I was like, “What?!” We did this contract to make sure I could sign it off or whatever, and that’s it. It’s one of the cooler things I’ve been able to do because it was so organic, and I think Greg was smart to use my footage as opposed to having a professional camera crew go out there and shoot it, because there was something about our show that embraced this wobbly, poorly shot aesthetic.
So with A Quiet Place, how did this come about? You and Michael Bay must have gotten along while doing 13 Hours since it’s produced by his company, Platinum Dunes.
Totally. Michael’s been incredibly supportive of my career.
You’ve still got the Benghazi bod, so to speak.
[Laughs] You know, once you work that hard for it, it’s hard to give it up.
Speaking of Michael Bay, me and my friends growing up were—and really still are—obsessed with The Rock.
Oh, it’s amazing.
Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino did uncredited rewrites on it.
What?! I did not know that at all! Is that real?!
Yeah. Sorkin did some work on the military dialogue and Tarantino did some stuff between Connery and Cage. You’ve gotta cop the Criterion of it. It has Nicolas Cage narrating over it and explaining his crazy decisions. It’s glorious.
Dude, that’s amazing! I have to buy that! That sounds like the best experience ever. Wow. OK, so basically I had gotten Jack Ryan from 13 Hours—Paramount saw me in 13 Hours and put me in Jack Ryan, which was awesome—and then some of the producers on Jack Ryan were Platinum Dunes, which was Bay’s company, so some of the producers called me and said, “Hey, man, would you ever do a genre movie as an actor?” and I was like, “I dunno man, I just don’t dig horror movies so much. I’m a scaredy-cat. So they said, “What if the idea was cool?” and added, “It’s about a family that can’t make noise, and you have to figure out why.” I went, holy crap, that’s as good of a one-liner as you can get. I read it and was blown away, because three weeks earlier we had had our second daughter, so I was already experiencing New Dad syndrome—already being terrified, already having those big existential questions about whether I was a good enough man to be this girl’s father, keep her safe, and keep her alive. I was living through all these questions, and here’s a script that had the beginnings of that idea.
So did you write in a lot of the father-daughter stuff? Because that relationship is very central to the film.
Those guys [Bryan Woods and Scott Beck] came up with a great idea, and the thing I think I did is pushed the family aspect a bit farther. I saw that it could be a perfect metaphor for parenthood: In the most extreme circumstances, what would you really do for your kids? What kind of parent are you? It was so much fun to play in that world. I just was all in. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this all in on a project. Ever. On a personal level, this is a love letter to my kids. Period. Which sounds insane. People are going to see the poster and go, “This dude’s psycho if he thinks this is a love letter to his kids!” but then when they see the movie, they’ll see what I mean.
It’s a unique experience, seeing A Quiet Place in the theater, because it forces the audience not to make a sound. When anyone makes a sound, the rest of the theater shoots daggers.
No, it’s true. I gotta say, one of the coolest things people say coming out of it is that it’s not just a film, it’s an experience. If I say that it’s super pretentious, but to have people coming out and actually say that to me was really nice, because we knew it would be a different type of film, but we didn’t know that it would be this thing where watching it in the theater would have a huge benefit, because you’re with a bunch of people experiencing this quiet and feeling what the family’s feeling.
You really lucked out with the kid actors here. With Noah Jupe, did Matt Damon and George Clooney recommend him from Suburbicon?
Oh, yeah. I wrote an email to George and I remember very specifically what he wrote back. He wrote, “You’ll never meet a better child actor. He’s the best child actor I’ve ever worked with,” and then in parentheses he said, “And when you’ve played Dr. Ross on E.R., you’ve worked with them all.” And then he said, “P.S.—However much time you’ve allotted to shoot, knock some time off, because he’s a one-take wonder.” And he was absolutely right.
Millicent Simmonds was fantastic too, as your daughter. It must have been important to cast a deaf actress in the role. I imagine it would have been a bit odd to have a child actress playing deaf.
Super weird. And it’s funny, a lot of people have said, “Why did you make that choice?” and for me it was non-negotiable—not only from the obvious reason that her performance would be more layered and textured because that is what she lives through every day, but for selfish reasons, I needed a guide through this experience; I needed someone to walk me through what it was like to be deaf in a family of hearing people. She was so great and so honest, and really elevated the film in a profound way. Also, I think there’s something very special about her. I remember saying to her, “When people see this performance, you’re going to change people—and it’s not because you’re a deaf actress, it’s because you’re a great actress.”
The aliens look cool, too. That’s a pretty important thing. There have been so many movies that have been ruined by silly-looking aliens.
That was one of the biggest stresses of the movie. Not only do you not want to create a bad creature, but I really had no experience in the area. I talked to Drew Goddard about it and was like, “How the hell did you do this on Cabin in the Woods?” and he said, “The advice I would give you is, from the very beginning start thinking about the creature. Draw things. Write things. Look things up on the internet. Because you’d be lucky if the third draft of what you think the creature is works. Usually it’s the ninth, tenth, twentieth, so give yourself time to find it.” It was really great advice, and we worked on it and worked on it, and I’m so happy how they turned out. One of the best pieces of advice my father gave me is, “One of the most confident things you can say as a person is, I don’t know.” When ILM signed on, they came to visit the set and I said, “Look, I don’t know.” So I handed them all my writings and drawings, and I’d even taped myself crawling on the floor like I thought the creature would. But I said, “Please come into this process with me. Please be my dance partner.” And they’ve said it was a great experience, because it wasn’t just me demanding something—it was their guy, too.
It did seem like the film has a social message, too: Don’t be apathetic. It’s easy to succumb to your circumstances in a dire situation like this, but this family does everything in their power to survive. They fight like hell.
That’s certainly something we wanted to get across: that when you’ve gone through a horrible trauma, if you get through it is one of the most perfect definitions of strength. Anyone who can get through what this family’s gone through is really something. One of my favorite scenes is the prayer scene at dinner, because you think that if a family’s gone through something like this, it would be so easy to give up on faith. So the fact that they still cling to it is very interesting. For me, the film is an allegory for parenthood. And the other thing is the idea of creatures and darkness. I’m sure other parents feel the same way, but the darkness and creatures represent the world that you’re going to have to let your kids into at some point. There are pitfalls and threats, and you hope that they get to navigate it, but at some point you’re going to have to let them go.