John Krasinski: ‘I’m Better at Everything Than Matt Damon’
It only took seven years, but John Krasinski’s sophomore directorial effort The Hollars is finally making its way to the big screen. The Newton native and former Office star’s latest project is a funny but heart-wrenching comedy drama about a dysfunctional family that comes together when the matriarch (played by Margo Martindale) is diagnosed with a brain tumor. We caught up with Krasinski to chat about the challenges of directing and starring in The Hollars, branching out beyond acting, and why he’s “better at everything” than his pal Matt Damon.
What compelled you to take on The Hollars, not only as an actor, but also as a director and a producer?
I read the script and it was so fresh, so new. It was the most honest and real take on family I had seen or read in a long time. I didn’t intend to be a director at the beginning. I just signed on as an actor and then, as happens with these smaller films, the financier came to me and said, “I can’t get this movie made. Do you want to buy it outright?” I’ve never had that opportunity nor did I ever think I’d be investing in a film like that. I was happy to do it. To be really honest, when you do press for a movie, usually you’re telling people, “Go see this movie because I’m in it and we worked really hard,” which is great. This is the first time in my life that I’ve actually said, “I hope everybody goes and sees this, not at all to do with me being a director or actor, but me as a fan of these movies.” Because I love these movies so much, that if this movie does well, then that means another person gets to make it, another director, another cast, another writer. I grew up on movies like this, so I hope to get to make more of them.
It took seven years to make this movie. What made this process worth it for you?
It makes it worth it for me, honestly and I’m not over-exaggerating, when I go to these Q&A’s and people are viscerally reacting to it. To be honest, at some point, this family on screen stops being a family on screen and starts becoming a projection of your own family and your own life. You may not have gone through something like this so specifically, but there are reasons why. I remember last week a guy came up to me and said, “I love this movie so much, if I had a better relationship with my mom I would call her.” And I said, “You can call her. That’s the beauty of it.” I love what I do and I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing in every single way, shape, or form. But when you get to be a part of a movie that is talking about themes and values that I hold very, very dear to myself, I think these are the movies that are not only coming out as entertainment, but coming out as conversations starters and thought provokers to just think about your own life. That’s really, at the heart of it, what I’ve always loved about movies myself.
Is the key to longevity in Hollywood branching out and adding directing and writing skills to your arsenal? Have you gotten any advice or inspiration from other multitalented artists, like your friend Matt Damon?
Matt’s a perfect example of someone who just lives it. He doesn’t choose to be a writer, he’s just a very good writer. When he gets inspired, he writes stuff, and that’s what happened with Promised Land. For me, I try to feel as organic and genuine to that myself. I have an amazing company run by Allyson Seeger and Alexi Ginsberg, and I think the idea of it that we go behind is, not to just make stuff. Our job is to make stuff that resonates with us so that you can stand behind it and you can believe in it. When you’re talking about it like I’m talking to you, you actually do believe it and there’s not some studio head with a gun to your head saying, “Please promote this movie.” I think there’s a freedom, and I think that’s why, in today’s age, there are more multi-hyphenates or whatever that gross term means. I think the reason why people are doing other things is because, hopefully it means that we’re in an age where actor’s excitement, writer’s excitement, director’s excitement, can translate into them doing other things. Rather than, “Oh the business is shifting, I can’t be successful or make a lot of money unless I do branch out.” That’s certainly not what it means to me.
I probably just have an overactive brain because, when I was at Brown University, I hadn’t heard of anything that wasn’t on the radio. I hadn’t seen any movie that wasn’t in the megaplex. I had never done indie film, indie music, any of those things. My four year experience, not only was I getting a good education, but my friends, I said, “Please give me a CD and movie that I can watch every week.” I was getting five movies, five CDs, whatever it was, to listen to every week. That was my real education. I’m just overly excited and really inspired by a lot of stuff. That’s why I only get involved in something if I love it. I don’t do it just to branch out or diversify my business.
Speaking of Damon, chef Ming Tsai said that you’re a better cook than him after you and your wife Emily Blunt helped out with a charity cooking event last year.
I should be. I mean I’m better at everything than Matt. Let’s be honest. Let’s just get that in print. I’m better at everything than Matt Damon. I’m totally kidding and if you put that in print it’s going to blow up in my face, but guess what, it’s worth it. I love Ming and I love supporting Boston and coming back to Boston, but there’s nothing more important than supporting families going through what they’re going through, the families that Family Reach work with. That was a no-brainer event for me. I love the added bonus of teaming up with people from Boston like Ming. I think Ming’s an amazing dude. Whatever success level I get to, I don’t know that I’ll ever have the lion heart type personality that Ming does. I’ve never seen a guy go so headlong into the things he loves and believes and do it for so many good people. He does it for such good causes. He’s such a wonderfully kind guy, and I just try to be a fraction of it.
Going back to The Hollars, the film walks the line between comedy and tragedy. Is it important to find the humor in dark moments?
The reason why movie tones like this, to me, are so exciting is because I think it’s real life. Jim [Strouse] writes with hairpin turns between comedy and drama. There’s a reason why you respond to it, because that’s where real life happens. I think a lot of time in movies you feel manipulated because it’s a movie moment. Everybody goes, “Well that’s a movie moment,” and you feel things because you were told to feel that way. I was a kid who went to church every Sunday and couldn’t help but laugh in church. When I did laugh at church, I couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t know what that is, but that energy is what Jim captured. That’s real life. You don’t get to plan for the good times in your life and you don’t get to plan for the bad times.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I don’t want it to sound too stupid or esoteric or heady, but the truth is, I think that this movie captured for me the idea, which is true, which is whether you love your family or don’t love your family, get along with your family or don’t get along with your family, it’s still where you’re from and they’re your family. There’s such strength that you can take from that. Yes family is complicated, yes it’s messy, but at the end of the day, it’s where you’re from. Those lines of communication and love are always there. It’s just whether or not you tap into them. I think you’re witnessing on screen a family taking the opportunity to tap into those lines of communication and love that have been dormant for a long time. I hope that it reaches people who see this movie to, either be happy that you have those lines of communication open or think about what it might be to try and open those lines of communication that have long been dormant. I think it’s so important to take stock in family.
‘The Hollars’ opens at the Kendall Square Cinema on Friday, September 2.
This interview has been edited and condensed.