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In 2018, John Krasinski turned the industry on its head when his original genre movie A Quiet Place premiered to rapturous reviews from critics and audiences. $335 million later, Paramount Pictures didn’t waste any time approaching Krasinski about a sequel, something he initially turned down. Of course, he eventually changed his mind about making A Quiet Place Part II, which chronicles the Abbott family’s first steps into the unknown, but his reasons for saying no were understandable.
“I had no intention of doing a sequel because I didn’t think that I could come up with anything as organic as the first one was to me and certainly nothing as personal as the first one was to me,” Krasinski told The Hollywood Reporter in March 2020 before the film’s release date was ultimately delayed 14 months by the coronavirus pandemic. “And so when the studio came to me and asked if I’d do a second one, I said no. As an audience member, I’m wary of sequels. I just didn’t want it to feel like a cash grab from the studio and all those things, so I just opted out. But I had one tiny idea in my head, and when I realized that I could do this, it was because it was organic.”
Once he started working on Part II, Krasinski wisely wrote down more of those tiny ideas.
“Any time I had ideas like [I had on Part I], I wrote them down in case there ever is a Part III or a third one,” Krasinski shares. “And we even went so far as to put in a couple Easter eggs, so that if I did do a third one, they would connect back to the second one.”
[Writer’s Note: The following interview — which was conducted in March 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the release date 14 months — still reflects the conversation that was had at the time.]
Well, John, did you reprise your most celebrated role as Alien Creature #1?
(Laughs.) I did once or twice, but not nearly as dramatically and/or as visually stunning as I did the first time.
On a serious note, I know how near and dear South by Southwest is to you since that’s where A Quiet Place premiered. While the reasons to cancel the festival are more than justifiable, does it break your heart to know that another filmmaker won’t get their own Quiet Place moment in 2020?
A thousand percent and for the exact reason that you said. South by Southwest is absolutely near and dear to my heart, and opening at that festival was probably the greatest moment of my career. So you’re exactly right. I am heartbroken not only for the folks at South By who have put in all the time, but all the people arriving at South By who are hoping to play that big gig, show that great new movie, meet up at whatever conference and hear some cool stuff. So it’s tough that none of that gets to happen. But I’m definitely thinking of them and my heart goes out to them.
Out of curiosity, instead of shaking hands, have you done your first elbow bump on this press tour?
I did. I did my first elbow bump, and I still don’t like it. It doesn’t feel right, but I did an elbow bump.
You did a deep dive into genre films as you developed the first movie. Did you take a similar approach with Part II and watch as many genre sequels as you possibly could?
I actually didn’t. I had no intention of doing a sequel because I didn’t think that I could come up with anything as organic as the first one was to me and certainly nothing as personal as the first one was to me. I mean, A Quiet Place truly was a love letter to my kids, as crazy as that sounds looking at the poster. (Laughs.) But it really was. And so when the studio came to me and asked if I’d do a second one, I said, “No.” And the reason why is because, in that moment, I actually realized that I’m an audience member before I’m a director, a writer and an actor. And as an audience member, I’m wary of sequels. I totally understood why the audience would be like, “Why a sequel?” Or, “Don’t blow it!” Or, “Don’t make it worse than the first one.” So I totally understood that. I just didn’t want it to feel like a cash grab from the studio and all those things, so I just opted out. But I had one tiny idea in my head, and when I realized that I could do this, it was because it was organic. So the point of my long-winded answer is: I didn’t see it as a sequel; I saw it as a continuation story. And once I realized I could organically bring back these themes and these storylines from the first one, it didn’t feel like a sequel to me. So I purposefully avoided any sequels because I thought, “I’m just going to treat this like a continuation of the first.”
Since many sequels lose their way by going bigger with more money, did part of you not want a significantly bigger budget in case it removed some of the creative necessity of the first film?
It’s funny. I had sort of forgone that in my writing of the script because I knew I was writing bigger stuff. And it’s funny because I wasn’t writing bigger stuff because I wanted a bigger, better, faster, sleeker sequel. I wrote it because I was in the unique position that my characters could no longer live on the farm they lived in. So I couldn’t keep it as small as the first one because the barn burns down as you see in the trailer. So once the world expanded, my budget expanded, and it was an organic expansion of story, which then necessitated an expansion of budget. That said, weirdly, I totally now understand why every director says, “I could’ve used more money and more time.” So we definitely had a bigger budget; I’m not saying we didn’t, but we weirdly felt like we were still under an enormous amount of stress to make our days. But at the end of the day, we were doing much bigger stuff. The opening of the movie is bigger as you’ve seen in the trailer, and the majority of it was one-takes. And in order to do one-takes, it costs a lot because there’s a lot of rehearsal. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance, and a lot of departments have to be perfect on the day. So it was really, really exciting, but we were burning through the money very, very fast, so it still has the indie vibe in my opinion. But I had shot myself in the foot by already writing a bigger movie in the script.
Did you try to avoid thinking in analogues such as “What’s going to be our bathtub moment in Part II?” or “What’s the exposed nail of this film?”
I thought about that immediately. I thought about all those terrifying ideas that one has for a sequel, and I realized the only way I could do it was to not look at them as problems and actually not look to match them at all. If I tell the story organically, hopefully one of those moments will show itself because it’s newly terrifying, because it’s the new nail moment, rather than me trying to build in a nail moment. I looked back at my script and thought, “Oh, I wonder if that’ll be the new nail moment or whether this will be the new bathtub moment.” So I tried to completely erase from my brain the thought process of, “How do I beat it? How do I match it?” And I just thought, “Why don’t I just tell the story and see what comes out of it?”
When you came up with the first film’s intertitles such as Day 89, Day 472 and Day 473, could you sense that this device would come in quite handy if there ever was a desire to tell more stories in this world?
I didn’t realize that they were easily flashbackable, if that’s a term. (Laughs.) But to your point, when I decided how I would write the sequel, the first thing I thought of was day one. And I was confident enough doing day one because I knew the device would work. So it actually allowed me to do the flashback very easily. And I knew that it was the connective tissue that I wanted to bridge the two movies because then you pick up right where we left off. So I didn’t think of it in the first movie. There were a lot of things I didn’t realize would be great for the sequel. I also remember thinking to myself when we were shooting, “Oh man, I wonder what’s going on at the other side of those fires. I wonder who’s living on the other side of those fires, and how are they living?” So I just thought it was a cool hypothetical question. And then all of a sudden, I realized, “The other side is the way in on Part II, and that’s where they would go if their barn burned down.” So a lot of the things I had thought were interesting to think about on Part I ended up being in Part II. And then on Part II, I learned my lesson very quickly. Any time I had ideas like that, I wrote them down in case there ever is a Part III or a third one. (Laughs.) So I would be able to reference some of these things if there is a Part III. And we even went so far as to put in a couple easter eggs, so that if I did do a third one, they would connect back to the second one.
Emily probably doesn’t require too much direction, but I’m curious about your shorthand and how specific it tends to get. Did you ever reference her previous work or experiences the two of you have shared?
No because I respect her too much to get that specific. I think she would immediately slap me in the face. (Laughs.) Our working relationship became its own organism that sort of lived and breathed with both of us. We made a promise to each other to never pull the director card or pull the actor card. There was never a moment where I would say, “Well, just do it because I want one like that.” And she would never say, “Well, I want to do a take like this even though you don’t want me to.” It was always a team effort and we were always on the same page, which was a very rare experience for me. The shorthand comes from me knowing certain little tics and little signs. So I’ll know when she’s in the middle of a really good idea, or when she’s a little bit anxious, or when she’s cold. Things like that really made it helpful to be married, and also the fact that it was always symbiotic. (Laughs.) So I would know when to make it the last take, or when to go again, or when she wasn’t happy with the previous take and to tell her to go again. I often knew before she even had to ask, and that was really, really fun because it allows a much freer and open space to work for any actor, certainly my wife.
In December 2018, you and Emily gushed about Peaky Blinders during a THR cover shoot. Did that show ultimately inspire you to offer Cillian Murphy the role of Emmett?
One thousand percent, yeah, and you’re very astute to realize that. I’ve been a fan of Cillian’s forever, but I had just finished the script probably not even a week before we were delving back into Peaky Blinders. I forget what season we were on, but I remember saying to Emily that casting that role would be a really big deal for me because I had written a part that was morally ambiguous. I had written a character that you hoped would be heroic, but has a lot of weight and a lot of pain. And very few people can play all those things confidently, and also execute it perfectly. So I knew that I needed a very particular type of actor, and to be honest, at that point, I hadn’t thought of who I wanted. And then we were watching Peaky Blinders, and there was a close-up on Cillian. And I remember the most surprising reaction to something, whether it was shooting his horse or one of those crazy things. And I just went, “Oh my God, I’ve got to call Cillian Murphy. I’ve got to ask if he’ll do this.” And I remember Emily being on the couch, like, “Oh my God, of course! He’s literally been right under our nose for the last four months. How have we not thought of this before?”
Despite having an Oscar-nominated formula already, did you encourage your sound department to push the boundaries even more?
Yeah, exactly. I really got lucky with the sound department. I not only got the most talented guys in the business, in my opinion, but I also got guys who are as emotionally connected to this movie as I am. And I genuinely mean that. This experience is as personal for them as it is to me. They realized what a huge, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it is to do a movie that is this dedicated to sound. So they were really excited, and they were the greatest collaborators because they understand the importance of keeping the door open. So on the first one, we hadn’t even thought of the idea of Millie’s [Millicent Simmonds who plays Regan] envelope. [Writer’s Note: The “envelope” is a term that Krasinski uses when referencing Regan’s sonic perspective.] We had just cut sound in the movie, and it wasn’t until we had talked to Millie’s mom about whether or not she could hear. And her mom said, “Yes, she actually can. There’s a low-level, muffled sort of envelope that she has. She can hear a car door behind her. She can hear a little bit of your voice when you’re speaking, but not enough.” And that’s when I went back to the sound guys and told them, “Oh my God, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could achieve that in our sound design?” And they of course said yes. So it was an always evolving thing. And so going into it on Part II, they were the first group to say, “We can’t just do what we did on the first one. But at the same time, we shouldn’t try to beat the first one. We just need to keep the sound as organic as your story is, and we can’t do anything just to do it. We’ve got to look for our magic moments.” So that was kind of the thrust.
And in the second one, when I pull Millie out of her envelope and all of a sudden sound comes back, we hadn’t done that in the first movie. I was going to keep her envelope the whole time in that shot, and it was somebody’s idea, not mine, which was, “Oh my God, what if we bring sound back as soon as someone touches her? That can bring sound back into the movie.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s so genius.” So we kept looking for those little magic moments as we did on the first. So what I’m saying is, yeah, we wanted to do something new and something fresh with the sound, but we needed it to feel organic. So we were constantly looking for moments as we watched through the film.
Since you worked with a new DP on Part II, Polly Morgan, how did your camerawork change?
It changed a lot in some ways. I always thought of this movie as a Western, so there’s big, weighty landscapes or big shots that I wanted to encapsulate the world whenever I could. My biggest influence in Part II‘s opening was Children of Men, and I had a very can-do crew. I know that everybody thanks their crew and dedicates their movies to their crew, and I’m sure all those crews are deserving. But in my opinion, I’ve personally never worked with a more deserving crew, which was perfectly represented in Emily’s car shot. That’s a very difficult shot to pull off, and I never once heard no. As difficult as those one-takes are, I always heard solutions. Polly came up with great ideas, and she utilized her crew and their ideas. Matt Moriarty, who was our first camera, was an absolute master at work through all these things. So what changed was I had bigger ideas like the one-shots. So they brought those to me and made them feel like they were non-negotiable and easily attainable when I knew they were anything but easy for them. They still made it feel so easy.
There’s going to come a point where Paramount wants to continue on in this world, and you’re going to want to move on to something else. Have you made peace with that day already? [Writer’s Note: eight months after this interview, a Jeff Nichols-led spinoff was reported.]
Yeah, definitely. Even though I’m the guy who did the first two, I won’t be the guy or girl who does the last one or the last two. I know that. At the end of the day, this world is really fun to explore. This is an amazing sandbox to play in, and whether or not I’m the guy to do any more of them or how many more of them, I don’t know. But I know that we’re really proud of the world we created. And the fact that it’s even strong enough to have this conversation about doing more is something we’re all really proud of.
A Quiet Place Part II opens in theaters nationwide on May 28. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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