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Long before John Krasinski shot the Benghazi film 13 Hours or signed on for Amazon’s Jack Ryan series or produced Spike TV’s Lip Sync Battle or starred in the play Dry Powder, he took a role in The Hollars, an indie film about a dysfunctional clan brought together by the life-threatening illness of its beloved matriarch. The Office alum-turned-multihyphenate was to play John Hollar, an aspiring artist on the verge of fatherhood who is estranged from his Middle America hometown.
The Sony Pictures Classics dramedy — which arrives in theaters today and which stars Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick and Josh Groban — ended up being shaped heavily by the six years it took to get the film made, a time period that saw the actor (who also would become the film’s director) marry Emily Blunt and have two children.
Krasinski, 36, tells The Hollywood Reporter what advice he’d give new Hollywood producers, why he won’t stop dabbling in different corners of the entertainment business and how he interprets the “Trump bump” of 13 Hours’ home viewing.
What about The Hollars initially interested you?
We can all be honest — we’ve seen a lot of these family movies out there. But it’s a genre that needs to be told, certainly today, a lot more often. People need uplifting movies about family, and stuff that’s simple and strong, because there’s a lot of drama out there. And there was something about this one that was so specific. Jim Strouse, the writer, navigates these hairpin turns between emotion and comedy in a way that’s very real.
You first signed on as the film’s star and, years later, its director. How did you try to make it feel different than other family movies?
There are moments in there that are very much like life: You can’t prepare for the good times and you can’t prepare for the bad times, they just sort of happen to you. My job was trying to make this family feel organic, because one of the hardest things about doing a family movie is if they don’t seem like a real family, you check out early. These other family movies I’m talking about, I sometimes feel manipulated by them, like, “This is why you should cry, and this is why you should laugh,” whereas this just felt like my family. And I’m from a loving, sweet family; we see each other all the time. And yet, this dysfunctional family, I was like, “Oh my God, I can relate.” I didn’t want to manipulate people; what I wanted was, if you cried, it’s because you felt something for your own family or you felt sad in the moment. It’s kind of like The Office. I think the reason why The Office was successful was not because it was a funny show that was on every week, but because you were like, “Oh my God, I work next to a Dwight” or “My boss is insane [too].”
Did your perspective of the film change as your life has evolved over the years?
To say that my understanding of the movie when I signed on as an actor and when I shot the movie were different would be the understatement of the year. Had I shot this five months before, it would have been a completely different movie. My daughter was 4 and a half months old when we shot it, and everything changed. All the cliches are true about parenting. In this movie, [I played] a guy who’s about to have a baby, which I understood a lot better because I just had a baby. But also, when you have a kid, there’s this huge existential magnet that’s activated: You understand your brothers more, you appreciate your parents more, you appreciate where you’re from. You have this bigger idea of being a part of a family name. Going into directing it, I was way more emotional about the movie, and was probably working a lot of stuff out onscreen.
John Krasinski and Anna Kendrick in ‘The Hollars.’ Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
What moment did you end up reworking with this new perspective?
I was never scared to have a kid; I was actually always looking forward to it. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was be a dad. But in this existential way, there’s a giant mirror held up to you, whether you like it or not, and you start questioning yourself: “Are you ready to be a dad? Are you a good enough man to be a dad? This is a giant responsibility.” I wanted Anna [Kendrick] and me to have that conversation onscreen — that I was scared to be a failure. That to me was one of the most real scenes in the movie, and I rewrote it because I had just experienced it.
How was directing your second feature?
My first film [Brief Interviews With Hideous Men], which I loved, was more of like a cinematic experiment, a very art house film — it’s nonlinear, it’s broken up, and it’s very esoteric and highly cerebral. This one was linear, so there’s this bigger challenge: You need people to connect the whole time. It was way more nerve-racking. Also, when you bring a whole bunch of people down to Jackson, Mississippi, from wherever they are for a low-budget movie, it’s a huge responsibility, and I didn’t want to let anybody down.
Has this changed the types of films you’d want to direct in the future?
A hundred percent. As different as Brief Interviews was to this, my next movie will be that different from The Hollars. And 13 Hours was huge for me; that was a whole different vibe. The thing about The Office is it’s a lottery ticket: It gave me absolutely everything. I’m so lucky to have been a part of that, and I just want to make sure I don’t just do the same thing over and over, but always challenge myself and try to do as much as I can. It’s similar to how we were in college — we’d do different plays and rehearse till midnight and put on a show for 24 hours. I’m trying to live that life now.
What was the toughest part about making this movie?
Producing. The hospital scenes are a good portion of the movie, and 24 hours or 48 hours before we shot in that hospital, they decided they wouldn’t let us shoot there. I just got in a car, drove to eight different hospitals in the area, and was like, “Can I shoot here?” and used any Jim-from-The Office power I had. It ended up being a blessing because we shot in to this amazing hospital in Brookhaven, Mississippi, where the people could not have been nicer. I swear that energy ended up onscreen.
Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale in ‘The Hollars.’ Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics.
You just did the play Dry Powder in New York, and will next star in the Jack Ryan series. Is there another type of project you’d still like to do?
That I haven’t done yet? Oh yeah, I’m sure. But man, please keep me away from music. That would be a total disaster for everybody. I’m scientifically the worst singer in the world. It’s been tested. I love doing what I’m doing and just pushing the boundaries, but I also know my limits. There’s some fun stuff I can do in this business, and there’s a lot of things that I would be terrible at.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Three of my top 20 are The Verdict, Jaws — it’s one of my favorite movies to watch with Emily, and the one we watched the most when we first started dating, it’s perfect — and On the Waterfront.
13 Hours has shown unexpected strength in its home box office release.
It’s astounding to me. Listen, I want to see movies in the theater, that’s how I’ve always wanted to do it, but if that’s not your thing and you watch them at home, then great. I’m just so blown away that it’s had the response it did because it proved to me something I always knew. I remember the reviews, and I was like, “I’m proud of it because I think we achieved something.” It’s so great when you get that gratification from other people who are saying, “We agree.”
Do you see the political landscape differently after making it?
I decided to do the movie not for any political reason, but for one reason only — I come from a huge military family. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Benghazi, and then reading the script, and more importantly the book, I had never known any of this stuff. That’s what I thought was the biggest injustice. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have a political discussion about Benghazi, but what I never heard about in the political discussion was an acknowledgement of what these guys did. There was a huge disconnect about what people were talking about. And I’m fine that everybody wants to talk about politics, but it should always start with, “These guys are heroes, and let’s acknowledge what the military goes through every single day.”
What’s behind the home viewership boost? Is it a “Trump bump?”
I think it’s more than just a Trump thing. It’s politically the way that the word Benghazi has been used so much that I think it’s raised awareness for what happened. Yes, it’s raised awareness politically, so people are always going to take anything however they want to. But in this case, I hope the awareness of Benghazi is raised high enough that the people who watch this movie say, “These men and women who ship off to defend us every single day, we really need to pay attention to that, and we don’t really give them the gratitude that they deserve.”
Any advice for those entering this industry today?
I personally think it’s one of the most exciting times to be in this industry because it’s the Wild West. Yes, there’s this argument that we’re oversaturated with content, but it also makes us all have to do better work; we gotta fight for people’s attention. But 10 years ago, if you didn’t have an idea that they could put on network television, you didn’t have a job. Now, there’s a hundred different outlets for you. So if you have an idea, be specific, be vigilant and never give up on what that idea is, because that’s what’s actually going to get people to watch it, rather than changing every little thing as people give you notes because you want it to be on TV. Look at True Detective — that never would have been on television 10 years ago. Now, you can have it be exactly how you want it to be, and get credit for it. So basically, don’t change for anybody.
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