Recently, Lauren Veneziani (DCFilmGirl.com) and I had the opportunity to interview John Krasinski about his fantastic new film, THE HOLLARS. I first saw the dramedy at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year and really enjoyed it. The film, which Krasinski directed and stars in, is an emotional, heartwarming story of John Hollar (Krasinski) who returns home to visit his family after his mother (Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor. During this time of familial reconnection, John also is dealing with fear surrounding the impending birth of his first child with girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick).
I have been a huge fan of John’s since THE OFFICE. And he was so nice, open, and friendly in our interview, it made me an even bigger fan! John has shown his dynamic range, moving from comedies to dramas to now action movies. He has also written movies (like PROMISED LAND co-written with Matt Damon) and has now directed episodes of THE OFFICE and two films, BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN and THE HOLLARS. It’s always refreshing to speak to filmmakers that have an obvious love for film and are excited to talk about their passion projects, giving insights into why it is so important to them. I transcribed our interview in its entirety below so you would be able to see for yourself how awesome John is to talk to, and to give you more insight into the filmmaking process behind THE HOLLARS! Lauren and I also got some insight into John’s new Amazon TV project, JACK RYAN, his ideal Lip Sync Battle opponent, and his thoughts on wife, and incredibly actress in her own right, Emily Blunt’s upcoming film THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. THE HOLLARS is opening in theaters around DC on September 2.
LB: I saw your movie at Sundance and really enjoyed it. Can you talk about the process of going to Sundance and how that differs from the normal movie premiere experience?
JK: Thank you! Sure! Sundance is very special to me for many reasons. The first movie I ever directed got into Sundance, so there is something very special and I am connected to it. And I’m a sap, so I find connectivity in that stuff. Really, I think Sundance is the last frontiers of this wide-open lens to discover new talent, exciting talent and exciting movies. Even if it’s not new storytellers, it’s still new stories. I always feel like you’re among not only good company, but it’s an honor to be there because the people that are there are at the forefront of what’s going on in the movie industry. We just felt so proud to be there. Then to get picked up by Sony Pictures Classics is massive for us. Some of my favorite movies from the last 10-15 years have come from them. They, to me, are such a high-class operation we felt so honored to be there. Sundance is a blast for me. I always love going back.
It’s different. It’s different to be around… [to us] you two are examples of this… to be around people who love film and really love it not because it’s there job. It’s just a different conversation to be having then when you’re at a junket sometimes and you’re talking to people who don’t necessarily love film, it’s just what they do, which is totally cool too. But the people who are there because they really want to be there is a special group of people.
LB: Good atmosphere. It had a great reception there, too!
JK: It did! It was the first standing ovation of my life and not a bad place to have the first one! It was like 1,400 people or whatever and I was so moved! Again, I’m a sap and I almost broke into tears on the stage but I was like, “Hold it together. Hold it together!”
LV: Lauren and I both love Margo Martindale. I think she is one of the best actresses working today.
JK: Yes! The thing about Margo is she is truly one of our best actors. I know it’s on our poster – Peter Travers, thanks for saying that. She really is one of the best actors on the planet. Honestly, one of the biggest things that could happen to me for this movie, and I know people talk about box office and all that, but is if she can get the accolades for showing how dynamic she is. I think this movie in particular shows her off. She can do the parts any other actress is doing and I think she does it really well. I hope they throw parades for her, not just awards.
LV: I particularly love the scene where she is getting surgery and you all sing to her. As an actor and director, how difficult is it for you to remain the director while also portraying a very emotional scene as an actor?
JK: What’s really interesting, which I hadn’t thought of until you asked me that, is I think especially in a scene like that, what I relied on was that my barometer as an actor would be that of a director too. That sounds like a weird riddle, but what I mean by that is, I felt it in the room and knew we had the cameras in the right place. So for me, if I feel it in the room as the actor working with her, we have it on camera. I didn’t worry about, “Oh my God this is amazing! Are we getting it? Should we punch in?” The only thing I tried to do for everyone on the set, and what I always try to do.. and I think it’s a benefit of being an actor/director because you know what actors sometimes need or what you wanted in the past that you wish you had.
So for a scene like that, which was hugely powerful, I went to Margo in the morning and basically before she came in I set up the room with several different shots. What I said was, “We’ve lit the whole place to go wide, medium, and close. So if you need a little time and want to work up to it, I can start wide and work on some other stuff and I set up a camera on some of the other actors. Or, we can go right now.” She goes, “I want to go right now.” I said, “Great!” The take you see in the movie, which is another reason she is so incredible, is the first take of the movie. It’s the only take of that really because the next time we did that was to cover the other actors. Another thing about Margo is then when we went to shoot the actors coverage and she’s not in it, I told her to take a break. All of the other actors told her they had it in her mind what she did. But every single time she went all the way. For every single take for four or five hours, she just went full tilt emotional. She said she would never let down Richard [Jenkins], Sharlto [Copley], and me; I’m just going to be there. That’s the old-school pro of acting and it’s beautiful. That’s why she should get all of the recognition for this.
LB: I know you directed some episodes of THE OFFICE, now you directed THE HOLLARS which is a dramedy. Have you ever wanted to direct an action film, especially now that you are breaking into the genre with 13 HOURS and the upcoming JACK RYAN Amazon TV series?
JK: I am so excited for [JACK RYAN]! I’m thrilled. I love the different genres. It sounds like a canned line, but it’s true… I think when you’re coming from a place of having a lottery ticket life when it comes to being on THE OFFICE… I mean there’s no way I deserve any of this. So you just have to make do with what you have. Honestly, the way I approach my career is all of my friends who are acting and writing and directing, all we talk about is what we love and what inspires us. I’m just trying to do things that are interesting and different.
13 HOURS is very different from THE OFFICE. That’s what made it thrilling and terrifying and that worthwhile for me. I just want to keep doing those different things. Now I definitely have an action bug after doing 13 HOURS. JACK RYAN is sort of a ‘tweener, because it’s definitely action but it’s also this great intelligent thriller, so I’m really looking forward to that. Then doing this dramedy. I don’t know what I will direct next, but I can pretty much guarantee it will be very different than this. I just like being challenged and trying to go different roads.
LB: Speaking of your friends, when you’re going through post-production, do you screen the film for friends before the final cut?
JK: 100%. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from the directors I admire and that I have worked with, certainly George Clooney, Sam Mendes, Gus Van Sant, those people in particular, is collaboration is everything. The best idea has to end up on-screen, whether it’s the cab driver who drove by and gave you an idea or the DP, whatever the best idea is. That’s the responsibility you have to the story, to make it the best it can be. In the same way, when we’re editing, I don’t think anything is done until, if I can, all the way up to the premiere. I am very lucky to have a stable of friends that are so highly intelligent and talent and creative… and very different. I had people like Rian Johnson, Drew Goddard, Stephen Merchant, Charlie McDowell… you have all of these people from different storytelling visions. That is what is so exciting is to have all these ideas from different visions of storytelling. At the end of the day, the only thing I was trying to go through was, like I was telling you earlier, a pure emotion.
Even as I was showing this to my wife [Emily Blunt], my question wasn’t, “Do you think this could be better or this could be better?” My question was, “Are you feeling it? Do you feel something?” The adjustments we would make after talking to her was, “I think when I was reading the script, this was more emotional than it is now.” Then you make tiny tweaks like taking a 10 second pause before it happens. Then she’s like, “Oh my God!” and starts crying immediately. It’s more about, like, can you feel it? So yes absolutely screen it, screen it, screen it.
I think testing audiences is a very specific thing. There’s a lot of information you get from that, some good and some bad. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to a mall and someone gives you a ticket to something you weren’t ready to see, you might say you didn’t like the movie and would change x, but for someone else it’s a really good movie. You don’t want to play the numbers too much, which is why I rely on my friends more than testing.
LB: So when you’re screening it for your wife or someone close to you are you more nervous than screening it for a peer?
JK: Oh God, yeah! There’s something so exposing about any version of storytelling. I’m sure it’s the same for you guys. When you write stuff, it’s weird that people are going to read it and be like, “That wasn’t as good of a review as someone else’s.” [to Lauren V] How about you and your soon-to-be husband? The fact that you are both covering movies… it’s very exposing to put yourself forward in any way. But, of course, my wife is my hero in every single way. And one of those ways is she always knows exactly what to say and how to say it. She’s so careful about understanding how vulnerable I am in that position. The same goes for her. I’ve seen GIRL ON THE TRAIN.
LB: You have?! We were going to ask you if you had and what you thought!
JK: It’s phenomenal! In my opinion – and it’s weird because normally I would say I am always biased – but this is the first time I have ever seen a movie where I didn’t know it was my wife.
LB: That’s one of our favorite books.
JK: Oh really? She’s so unbelievable in this movie and the movie is really great. You guys are going to love it. If you liked the book. you are going to love the movie.
LV: I really love in the movie that your character can’t lie to his girlfriend. Do you put your personal traits into your characters?
JK: Oh yeah. I think, in a way, every actor puts their mark on something. There’s a part of their personality. I don’t think even the best actors in the world can hide themselves completely. Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep… at the end of the day, they’re still those people. I think what really good actors do is put only the parts of them forward that work for the character, but it’s still part of the you. For my thing, and I’m certainly not putting myself on the level of Daniel Day Lewis and Meryl Streep, so in another version of this, what I’m saying is I think my personality is all over this. Certainly Jim has a lot of similarities there. I don’t think I am playing myself in any of these things, but certainly for me this movie is insanely personal because had I directed this five months earlier, it would’ve been a completely different movie. My daughter was born four months before we shot.
I signed on to be an actor on this movie like six years ago. Then as a director only just before we shot it. [My daughter] changed everything. To say it changes is an understatement; it was an about-face, 180 degrees. For me, this idea of a guy on the doorstep of his life changing dramatically… now, I’ve always wanted to be a dad. I don’t have the same fears that he does, which is he won’t have as much fun in his life. It wasn’t that. It was more like the responsibility of bringing someone into the word. It just hit me in a huge way. So when I went to direct the film, I was really emotional.
The scene where Anna says, “I’m just waiting for you to come back.” That is a very personal scene, not at all specifically, but there’s definitely those things where I am lucky enough to have a wife that we have open conversations about this big stuff all the time. There were moments when after the baby came, I would be like, “Wow, we have a child and it’s scary.” She’s the type of person that would be like, “It’s totally okay that it’s scary and we’re all going to make it through.” That’s the beauty of relationships like this. So yeah, there are pieces of me all over this movie.
LB: That’s beautiful. And being a writer yourself, did you do any editing or rewriting of the script at all?
JK: I did. I did a little bit of re-writing. That scene with Anna I wrote, the scene where she’s talking about the chandelier I wrote. It was, again, to put a little more personal touch on it. To me, I think Jim is one of the better writers out there; because let’s be honest, you’ve seen a lot of movies about family. I think what he does is these hairpin turns between emotion and comedy. By doing that so well it feels real and not like you’re being manipulated. By that I mean there aren’t any huge musical cues when the sad things happen and aren’t big openings for laughter when the funny things happen because that’s not life. That’s what Jim understands better than anyone – bad things are going to happen in your life without you preparing just as much as good things are going to happen without you preparing. Your job is to just take it as it comes as best you can.
LB: Okay, one question about Lip Sync Battle. Who would be your ultimate opponent?
JK: Wow, who would I lip sync battle? The person I would most want to battle, because I would have the most fun, is Maya Rudolph. Maya and I became in a weird brother/sister relationship after AWAY WE GO because I just adore her. There are few people that can make me laugh as much as she can. She is so good at making you laugh just by doing things that are natural. Sadly I say that just so I can see her lip sync. She would dominate me, so it would just be good to have fun.
LB: One last question, can you give us any more information about JACK RYAN?
JK: Yeah, I’m so excited about it. We were just ordered for 10 episodes. So basically the pitch to me was that Jack Ryan the character is an analyst. We are going back to the very beginning of the story. His superpower is intelligence and doing the work to decode the problem and find the solution, unlike strictly action heroes. Weirdly, the pitch to me was maybe the 2 hour format isn’t enough to do JACK RYAN. What if we did a 10 hour format and really took a 10 hour mini-series and made that every season? Every season is not going to be like a running TV show. The next season will almost be like a whole new movie. They’re kind of like long-form movies.