"At the end of my career, I'm pretty sure that the thing I'll be most known for is Jim [the character he played on the NBC comedy series The Office from 2005 through 2013], and that's an honor," says John Krasinski as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. But, even so, Krasinski worried if he would be able to emerge from the shadow of that beloved character and get to experience other creatively satisfying opportunities. "The truth of the matter," he says, "is for a year and a half [after the show ended], the phone didn't ring, and that was weird, that was jarring," adding, "I wouldn't even be seen for auditions." He notes, "They were like, 'He'll only be known as Jim from The Office.'"
Those concerns were decidedly put to rest in 2018, during which Krasinski emerged as one of the hottest members of Hollywood's A-list. The gregarious 39-year-old starred as the title character on Amazon Prime’s Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, earning a best actor in a drama series SAG Award nomination, and he co-wrote, directed and starred in A Quiet Place, an "elevated horror" flick that became one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed films of the year.
* * *
* * *
Krasinski was born in Newton, Mass., to a doctor and a nurse. One of his "first real committed acting experiences" was appearing in a high school production organized by his classmate — and future Office co-star — B.J. Novak, but, even so, he went off to Brown University thinking he would become an English teacher after graduation. On a single day early in his time at Brown, his dreams of playing on the school's basketball team ended and his association with the school's sketch comedy squad began. "My brain was expanded, no drugs necessary," he reflects. After a while, at the urging of classmate — and future MSNBC host — Chris Hayes, he ventured into theater, as well, participating in a staged reading of David Foster Wallace's Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. "That," he says, "was the moment I realized that acting was so much more than just performing."
Before graduating, Krasinski began landing some small professional gigs — a Marshall's commercial with Margo Martindale (who would later appear in his film The Hollars); featured extra parts on East Coast-shot productions; and even a job as a script intern for Conan O'Brien's late night show ("To this day, I don't think that there's someone who's influenced my level of comedy or my brand or gotten me excited about comedy like Conan," he says). But it was his training at the National Theater Institute in Waterford, Conn., during his final semester of college, that proved "a game-changer for me," he says — indeed, no less than "the moment I decided I wanted to be an actor."
After that, with his parents' blessing, he embarked upon a three-year trial period as an actor in New York. For two and a half of those years, he waitered; landed small parts on TV (e.g. Without a Trace) and in movies (e.g. Kinsey); and did whatever he could to make ends meet. "I could barely pay my rent or my cellphone," he says. And, as his self-imposed deadline neared, he prepared to throw in the towel. "I was ready to get on a train [to head back to the Boston area]," he confesses, but his mother urged him to finish out the year — and, just three weeks later, he landed his role on The Office.
Krasinski was initially approached about playing the part of Dwight on The Office, but, despite his weak negotiating position, held out until he was given the chance to read for the part of Jim Halpert, a sales associate at a Scranton paper company who is in love with a receptionist named Pam. When that opportunity arrived, he expressed his hope that the American version of the show would not screw up the legacy of the British version of the show — only to realize he was talking to the American version's executive producer, Greg Daniels. He overcame that mortification to advance in the casting process, eventually reading opposite several Pams, including the eventual winner of the part, Jenna Fischer. "As soon as she walked through the door," he recalls, "I said, 'That's her.' That's how I envisioned it." He adds, "When I got the call that I got the part, I did jump on the couch — I mean, I full-on jumped on the couch and freaked out — and then my first question was, 'Did Jenna Fischer get the part?' Because if she got the part, I thought, this show could have a real shot." She did.
The quirky docu-style single-camera show, which was filmed without a live audience or a laugh track, and every episode of which opened with footage that Krasinski shot on his camcorder during a road trip to Scranton with friends, overcame early dismal ratings to prove a classic. Krasinski, meanwhile, took his first paycheck from it and bought the screen rights to the aforementioned Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, which he hoped to one day direct. (It ultimately premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.) His first directing opportunities, however, came on The Office, several episodes of which he wound up helming at the invitation of Daniels. In the meantime, his star as an actor continued to rise. He was given his first leading role in a film by the frequent Office director Ken Kwapis with 2007's License to Wed, in which he starred opposite Robin Williams. He played George Clooney's nemesis in 2008's Leatherheads, which Clooney also directed, providing Krasinski with his first example of the actor/director that he himself would eventually become. He won raves for his work opposite Maya Rudolph in 2009's Away We Go. And he co-wrote, with Matt Damon, 2012's Promised Land, in which they both also starred.
Superstardom was initially elusive for Krasinski — he auditioned for Captain America: The First Avenger, but lost the part to Chris Evans. But after The Office came to an end in 2013, and he experienced that brief period of uncertainty, he "took control" of his career by directing and starring in The Hollars, which, like Brief Interviews, had its world premiere at Sundance. And he got himself ripped and won the lead in Michael Bay's Benghazi action-drama 13 Hours (2016). Paramount, the studio that made 13 Hours, then approached him about playing Jack Ryan on a TV series of the same name. And, just before work started on season one of the show, its producers sent him a spec script for a film they hoped he would consider acting in, A Quiet Place. After initially resisting the idea of appearing in a horror film, he was given its logline — a family that can't talk, and the audience has to figure out why — and began to reconsider.
"I was reading a script — while holding a three-week-old baby — about a family that would do anything for their kids," says Krasinski, who has been married to the actress Emily Blunt since 2008. "It was much more of a horror movie and there were things that I wanted to change. Then I realized, 'Wait a minute,' holding this kid, 'This is it. If I could rewrite and direct this script to make it the greatest metaphor for parenthood....'" The producers were agreeable. "I rewrote the whole script to be about family," he says. "It's a love letter to my kids." At a certain point, Blunt urged him to direct it, and then, in what he considers the greatest compliment he has ever received, asked to play the principal female part opposite him in it.
A Quiet Place wound up being a film about a man (Krasinski) who tries to protect his family from threatening creatures who are blind (also played by Krasinski, in a mo-cap suit), but therefore have heightened hearing and react violently to any sound. The film is not silent, but is dialogue-free, something that required Krasinski's faith in the intelligence and attention-capacity of 2018 audiences. ("Our sound team is the best," he gushes. "I don't call them sound designers, I call them sound magicians.")
The film opened in April 2018 and grossed $50 million its first weekend — double most projections — to top the box office; a week later it was number two before roaring back a week after that to reach number one again. It ultimately grossed $188 million domestically and an additional $153 million abroad, or $341 million cumulatively — just massive, at a time when Paramount really needed a hit — while maintaining a 95% favorable rating on RottenTomatoes.com. It has been chosen as one of 2018’s top 10 films by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review; it was recognized with the Hollywood Sound Award at the Hollywood Film Awards; and Marco Beltrami’s original score has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award. Krasinski, meanwhile, was chosen as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world for 2018.
"This wasn't supposed to be a movie with a sequel," Krasinski admits, but he says he was lured into writing one by the film's producers and realizes there is no shame in revisiting something he loved doing. In fact, he will be doing the same with season two of Jack Ryan, and would be open to doing the same with The Office, should a reboot ever come together: "You're asking if I would go back and be a part of that family again and that experience? The answer is an overwhelming yes, because, to me, it's not just about doing a show; it's about getting together with a group of people who have changed my life."