As 2018 comes to a close with 'Mary Poppins Returns,' the married actors give a rare joint interview and reveal why they've kept their careers separate, the reason they made an exception for 'A Quiet Place,' and how they navigate marriage, parenthood, famous friends and the globe-trotting demands of modern stardom.
One of the defining moments in Emily Blunt and John Krasinski's marriage happened unexpectedly during a cross-country flight in early 2017. Krasinski was on his way to meet with executives at Paramount about a script he had co-written and hoped to direct and star in — the high-concept thriller A Quiet Place. Blunt was immersed in preparations for a daunting new acting project, as the magical nanny in Disney's sequel to one of its most beloved films, Mary Poppins. The couple had two healthy young daughters, a new home in Brooklyn and careers that were thriving — separately.
It seemed like a good idea to leave it that way. So Krasinski, after secretly writing a part for his wife, abandoned his plan to ask her to play it. "I decided the safest thing to do was just have this experience on my own," says Krasinski of making A Quiet Place. He was afraid Blunt would say no — or, in a possibility that seemed even more mortifying, that she would say yes out of a sense of wifely duty rather than genuine enthusiasm. "I didn't want this to be the one job that she was like, 'Listen, I don't know if I love this, but I love you, so I'll do it.' "
Months earlier, Blunt had recommended a friend to play the part before Krasinski could even ask. "I was about to go into this enormous project," Blunt says of Mary Poppins Returns. "I was like, 'I can't even.' " So when she finally read her husband's script on the plane that day, Blunt's reaction stunned them both. "I went sort of gray," she says. "I couldn't imagine the thought of letting someone else play the part." Tentatively, she asked Krasinski if she could take the role, that of a pregnant mother raising her family in total silence through the apocalypse. "It was like she was proposing to me," he says. "It was one of the greatest moments in my career. I screamed out, 'Yes!' I'm surprised we didn't emergency land in San Antonio."
It's a Sunday afternoon in November as Blunt, 35, and Krasinski, 39, are recounting this story, a rare day of calm for a couple in the midst of a breakthrough year for both of them professionally. Besides A Quiet Place, which brought him newfound critical and commercial stature as a filmmaker, Krasinski also became an action hero on Amazon's Jack Ryan series; and Blunt is now playing the title role in what is shaping up to be the biggest movie of the holiday season. Over eight years of marriage, the two have purposely avoided doing interviews together in order to keep their careers distinct. But today, Blunt and Krasinski have ducked out of the house to the office of his production company, an airy old building in lower Manhattan, curled up together on a velvet sofa, and begin to open up. Back home, a brisket Blunt made is roasting in the oven and their daughters, Hazel, 4, and Violet, 2, are napping, watched over by family visiting from out of town.
Blunt and Krasinski are matched in warmth and wit, and they unspool stories about their lives together at a screwball comedy pace, like the one about the discordant phase of their marriage when Krasinski was writing his horror script and Blunt was rehearsing for her Disney movie. "I'd come home and be like, 'I just danced with 30 lamplighters,' " Blunt begins, in a sing-song voice. " 'It was beautiful!' " Adds Krasinski, "And I'd be like, 'I just killed a child on page 10!' " Krasinski, who is from an upper-middle-class Boston family, clearly believes he has married up and enjoys sharing the detail that London-born Blunt had never seen his signature role in the American version of The Office when they met — but was a fan of the British version. Blunt responds to her husband's self-deprecation by being a tender cheerleader for him and his career. She has called his agent to offer advice — unbeknownst to Krasinski — and pulled her husband out of an eight-hour writing haze to remind him to eat.
In A Quiet Place, they play a couple trying to teach their children to thrive in a world inhabited by blind monsters with an acute sense of hearing — an idea that so resonated with them as terrified, exhilarated new parents, they deemed it worth the risk of sharing a project. "I didn't want it to be like, 'Oh, how adorable. They're working together,' " Blunt says. "It was the only idea that had come our way that seemed bigger than our marriage. The narrative of our marriage was not going to overwhelm this movie and this amazing opportunity for him as a director, as a filmmaker, as a writer. I knew this was a big swing for him."
Their creative partnership helped deliver a winning movie: A Quiet Place collected $341 million at the worldwide box office and is in serious conversation for Oscar recognition. Krasinski's rise as a filmmaker comes as Blunt's star as an actress is ascending, too. When Mary Poppins Returns opens Dec. 18 on the steam of her charismatic lead performance and Disney's marketing muscle, she'll enter a new realm of fame, the kind where strolling their Brooklyn neighborhood, occasionally recognized but rarely disturbed, will likely get harder. In December, she collected Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for A Quiet Place (supporting) and Mary Poppins (lead) as well as a Golden Globe nom and two Critics' Choice noms for Poppins.
Professionally, Blunt and Krasinski have risen on roughly similar timelines from their breakout roles, he as deadpan everyman Jim Halpert on The Office, she as Meryl Streep's wicked, scene-stealing assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. They agree on only some details of their origin story as a couple, like that they were introduced by a mutual friend at a restaurant in 2008 while Krasinski was dining with Justin Theroux. As for who asked whom out, "Probably me, I think," Blunt says. At this, Krasinski pivots from his wife to me, affecting the look of Jim deadpanning to the camera in the offices of Dunder Mifflin after someone has said something stupid. "Yeah, right," he counters. She insists: "I think it was me." "No," he fires back. "It was me asking for a while and you took some time, and then we finally had a date." Their first evening together involved pizza and his apartment in West Hollywood, and, based on the amount of time Krasinski is taking to answer this question, something else that he isn't sure if he's allowed to share. During his long pause, Blunt pulls a strand of her blond hair off Krasinski's sweater, calls him "Kras," and declares, "It's so precious, I don't want to talk about it. Is that all right?"
As working parents, they rely on a magical nanny of their own (theirs is Irish) and various strategies for maintaining sanity, including some that they readily acknowledge are the good fortune of being extremely well-paid people in a gig-based business. "I have a minimum of a five-month rule between projects, other than A Quiet Place," she says. "I broke the rule for him and him alone." Working in the same industry brings other perks, like a shared understanding of how all-consuming Hollywood careers can be, particularly during production. "There's a large fraction of stress that is taken out by someone who's so supportive," Krasinski says. "Meaning, 'You are directing this movie, so when you reach for your phone, I know you're not trying to isolate me as your wife. You actually have something to do.' I don't have any of that pressure of, 15 percent of my day is explaining to my wife that I have a job to do." Blunt is nodding. "We've always allowed and rejoiced in each other having a very full life outside of the other one," she says.
As Blunt's Mary Poppins director Rob Marshall explains it, "Neither of them has a jealous bone in their body. People think marriage is looking deep into each other's eyes. No, it's looking out and seeing the same life. Emily and John see the same life." Marshall calls them "old souls," and other stars, like Matt Damon, Jimmy Kimmel and Chris Pratt, who befriended them when he made The Five-Year Engagement with Blunt, have invited them into their inner circles (they've vacationed with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Aniston and Kimmel). "They are a down-to-earth couple, both really fun and funny," Pratt says. "They're caring and kind. They're always doing bits and making themselves and other people laugh."
As an actor, Blunt relies on instinct, which is how she settled on how to portray Mary Poppins. While heavily pregnant with Violet, "I was waddling around the house trying to figure out how she moved and spoke," says Blunt, who settled on a version of the character closer to the imperious, slightly vain woman first created by author P. L. Travers. "What's the point of playing Mary Poppins if you're just going to try and do an impersonation of Julie Andrews?" It was only after she began to tell people that she had the role that Blunt felt the immenseness of it. "Friends of mine, they almost started to well up talking about her and what the film had meant to them, and that's when I was like, 'Oh, fuck. What have I done?' I had no option but to Zen it out, because I'd taken this on." Blunt has steadily worked toward this high-stakes role, in parts as disparate as a futuristic military mascot nicknamed "Full Metal Bitch" in Edge of Tomorrow, the warm-hearted, Stephen Sondheim-singing Baker's Wife in Into the Woods and the broken-hearted alcoholic hot mess in The Girl on the Train. "She's ready for it," Marshall says, of Blunt's Poppins pressure. "It's happening at age 35, not age 25. This is her time. She knows how to protect herself and when to step away."
Krasinski's acting career since The Office has attempted to leverage his mix of smarts and relatability in roles like the hipster dad in Away We Go, or aimed at action heroics, as when playing a former Navy SEAL in Michael Bay's largely overlooked Benghazi movie, 13 Hours. He's never broken out as a leading man on the level of his buddies Damon and Pratt and — as with many actors who emerge playing hit TV characters — never had a role that eclipsed the one that made him famous. Still, he recently learned to put his own spin on another memorable character, in his case, Tom Clancy's CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who has been played by Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin and Chris Pine in films and whom Krasinski portrays in an Amazon series that just finished shooting its second season. The couple try to trade off who is working when, so the family can be together, but it doesn't always happen.
During the first season of Jack Ryan, which shot in Montreal, Krasinski flew weekly to London, where Blunt was shooting Mary Poppins and staying with their children. "When I got there, I was so destroyed from time zones and not sleeping and all that and was so excited to see my kids, it didn't matter I had no sleep," Krasinski says. "On top of it, there was nothing from Emily but love and support." She adds, "I just felt so bad for him that he was the one having to be away. Because I'm usually the one being like, 'You need to be with me.' "
On A Quiet Place, which cost $17 million to make, Krasinski was working in new terrain in both scale and genre. His previous films as a director have been the much smaller 2016 family drama The Hollars and the 2009 David Foster Wallace adaptation Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, neither of which grossed more than a hair over $1 million nor established him with film critics. Smart but "straight out of the old-school Sundance manual," as THR critic David Rooney wrote of The Hollars. A Quiet Place producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller had sent Krasinski a spec script with the original idea by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck in hopes that he would play the father role, nothing more. It was on a Skype call with the producers that Krasinski expressed his grander ambitions. "I'm sure that he could see the fear in our eyes when he came back and said, 'I'll play the dad, but I also want to write and direct,' " says Fuller. "When someone says that, you think, 'Oh boy, this is going to be a problem, because he doesn't do all of that stuff.' "
Krasinski won them over with the detail and energy of his pitch, and ultimately with an unorthodox, nearly dialogue-free, 67-page script. In an industry that runs on pre-existing intellectual properties, it was a wholly original idea and a family drama Trojan-Horsed into a horror movie. It's notable that in a film with blind, shrieking monsters, most of the memorable scenes involve plain old human beings. In one, Blunt and Krasinski, as husband and wife Evelyn and Lee, dance to Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" with a shared pair of earbuds, wordlessly communicating a wistfulness for a time before their trauma. In another, shot in one take, Blunt portrays Evelyn giving birth alone in a bathtub, trying not to make a sound before unleashing an unholy howl. "It was the most intense and intimate we were on the shoot," Blunt says. "Truly the air changed in the room," Krasinski adds. "What do you say after someone gives a performance like that? I said, 'That's lunch.' She goes from the depths of that hell to, 'Yeah, what is for lunch? Is it fajitas?' "
The couple discovered some professional differences in style on set, as in a moment when Krasinski pitched Blunt a new idea for the ending that (spoiler alert) called for her to cock a gun at a monster, rather than leave her daughter, a deaf girl played by Millicent Simmonds, to vanquish it alone. "I discovered I have a very impassive face when somebody is pitching me an idea," Blunt says. "I basically just stare and nod as I take it in, and he's like, 'She hates it.' " In the moment, she sort of did hate it, but Krasinski won her over, and that's the crowd-pleasing ending in the film.
When making career decisions, Krasinski is ruminative — so much so that Blunt called her husband's agent to warn him about that trait as Krasinski was weighing his post-A Quiet Place options. He has signed on to write A Quiet Place 2, but not yet to direct it. Of the sequel, due in 2020, Krasinski hints that the family he built the story around in the original will be less central this time. (Neither Blunt nor Krasinski will reveal whether her character returns.) "A lot of times a sequel is either a hero returning or a villain returning," he says. "In our circumstance, the thing that the audience loved most was the world. That's the cool thing that you could explore on and on." As a filmmaker, Krasinski clearly values Blunt as a sounding board. "I could hear from every single studio head that that is the best idea they've ever heard, and until I hear it from her, I won't do it," he says. As an actress, Blunt admits, "I don't care what anyone thinks."
On the weekend A Quiet Place opened to an astounding $50 million domestic box office in April, setting a record for an original horror film, Krasinski says he was glad he no longer lives in Los Angeles, where theatrical grosses are regular dinner party conversation. Instead, he got feedback from a garbage collector who drove by as the couple were walking Hazel to school Monday morning. "The guy was riding on the truck, jumped off the truck, grabbed a bag, and as the truck was pulling away threw the bag on and he was like, 'Saw it on Sunday. Scared the shit out of me,' and drove away," Krasinski says.
In the immediate aftermath, as Krasinski was feeling pressure to pick his next job, he traveled to Hawaii, where Blunt was shooting her next film, Disney's Jungle Cruise, with Dwayne Johnson, their daughters in tow. She encouraged him to wait. "The business is like, 'You have this moment, so capitalize,' And you're like, 'Right. That makes sense,' " he says. "What she reminded me of is that the only reason why A Quiet Place is any good is because it came from every fiber of your being. So don't let them convince you to go do the next movie."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.