Brown University graduate John Krasinski is probably best known for his role on the hit television series “The Office,” which won the Screen Actors Guild Award twice for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. His first film was “Jarhead,” followed by an assortment of films including “Away We Go,” “Dreamgirls,” “Leatherheads,” and “It’s Complicated.”
Krasinski sat down recently with a select group of journalists to discuss, among other personal topics, his latest film “Promised Land” which he co-wrote and co-stars in with Matt Damon. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film also features Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and Rosemarie DeWitt, and explores the controversial subject of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” a process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.
What attracted you to want to write a story about fracking?
John: I hadn’t written an original screenplay before so I’ve been thinking about things that mean a lot to me and one of the things that means the world is my dad. He grew up outside of Pittsburgh in a small steel town called Natrona Heights. His dad worked three jobs and the family didn’t have a whole lot. When he talked about his childhood, it was always was bright and positive. I remember as an ignorant eight-year-old saying your childhood must have been awful. He said that it was fantastic and that he had an incredible community of people – friends and family – and there was this belief that tomorrow is going to be a better day. That sort of pure ideal has stuck with me my entire life and as I got older, I realized that as a country, and as a people, we’ve moved away from that ideal of community and the strength that we have together. So, I wanted to tell the story of a community like my dad’s which is going through some tough times. The idea of natural gas came on a later.
Where did the idea come from?
John: We were reading this drilling down series in the New York Times and “60 Minutes” had done a piece about people who were literally turning into millionaires over night. We thought this is the backdrop for the idea we already have. It’s a high-stakes poker kind of issue in which is there so much potentially to gain and so much potentially to lose no matter which side of the issue you fall on. The beauty of it was that it was a human story about these people who have so much at stake.
How did the locals greet you?
John: When we rolled into town in Pennsylvania, there were great, amazing people who were very generous and kind to us. But they weren’t inhibited about telling you how they felt. A lot of people said don’t do this. This is really important to us and we really believe in this and it saved us. People would come up to us and say we had farms in our family for 150 years and we don’t have the money to pay the mortgage, but I don’t want to be the person whose name is on the list who gave this property up. So when you see what an emotional conflict this is for people, you realize what an incredible opportunity we had to tell the story without coming down on one side or the other on the issue.
Was presenting a balanced voice on both sides of the issue difficult considering your personal politics?
John: It was where we were headed right from the beginning. We wanted to come down on faith in these groups and in these communities. When we started to write the Town Hall scene where the community stands up, Matt said for everyone who doesn’t spend the time researching it or watch the movie, this just became a political, anti-fracking movie, and we never spoke about it again. Our whole thing was we always knew it was about community and whatever people were going to say about it, we couldn’t change that so if you’re going to tell a story, the one-sided version is always boring so we never wanted to tell a one-sided story because no story is one-sided.
What would you like the audience to take home with them?
John: We’re hoping that people will realize that we are all part of a community and that the days of electing people who are going to take care of us is just not going to happen because this is a much more complicated time and much more complicated landscape.
How did your collaboration with Matt work?
John: He was shooting “We Bought A Zoo” and I was shooting the show (“The Office”). We were kind of moonlighting and I would show up at his house Saturday mornings for breakfast and we would write all the way through until dinner. I don’t know how we got all the work done that we did because we popped in “The Little Mermaid” 17 times (Matt has young daughters) (laughter). You mean you guys didn’t see that correlation? That’s what the whole movie is about (laughter). We worked really well together and clicked. We have a similar voice and have a similar outlook in life in that we are eternal optimists. We also knew things that we really loved about movies which is multi-dimensional characters and the need for humor every step of the way; otherwise, this becomes heavy handed and no one wants to watch it. We acted out each character and Matt said it was kind of a let down to finally get to set and realize that he was only playing one character. For a while, he was playing 17.
How did it feel to have your words come to life and did that distract you as the actor?
John: Luckily my scenes were pretty much just with Matt so I didn’t have as many opportunities as Matt did which is that moment when you say your line and then you’re waiting to hear the other lines that you wrote. For me, not only hearing people say the lines we wrote, but I’ll be honest, this whole experience has been totally surreal. This is a big transitional moment for me with the show ending (“The Office”) so there’s so much more to this experience than just the fact that it was my first screenplay and getting to be part of something special at a time when I’m losing something that’s been a vital part of my life, if not the defining moment of my life. Having this special opportunity to transition through has been a gift, which is an understatement.
Have you processed your feelings about “The Office” coming to an end?
John: No. I joke around with Matt about its a Boston thing that we do – that emotional moment where we say no, no, everything is fine and then at the last minute you just get blind sided. My wife (Emily Blunt) has been saying you should start thinking about it and I keep saying I’m fine. I remember when Steve (Carell) left, leading up to the last episode he was on, people were getting really emotional. I’ll never forget the last day. Everybody was crying around me and in my head I was thinking guys, his contract is up, this is real life – everybody just calm down. And, the last shot at the end of the day was my character saying goodbye to him. They said ‘action’ and I broke down to a pathetic level and just walked over to him and hugged him, which was not in the script. So there’s footage somewhere of two grown men having an existential melt down.
You studied at Brown University. Did you always want to be an actor?
John: I got to Brown and had a weird thought that I might potentially play basketball. That ended in 30 seconds when I walked into the gym and saw the team – too big, too good, I’m out. I walked across campus and pulled out a flyer for a sketch comedy group and auditioned and got in. The only reason I acted in school was because of the community. I was in the chorus of every play and was never the lead other than one time, but to me it was about the community. I was an English major and my whole goal was to be an English teacher and was lucky enough to get into the playwriting group. The whole experience I had at Brown was eye-opening and the most mind-bending experience.
Did your parents have career expectations for you?
John: My parents are the greatest people ever. We grew up in a house that no matter what they thought, it was always about our choice – every issue, every interest, everything was up to you and how you wanted to deal with it. So they were incredibly supportive. I actually went to the National Theatre Institute in Connecticut and knew I wanted to give acting a shot. When I told my parents that I wanted to go to New York and be an actor, my mom’s first response was “great,” but the only thing she asked was that in two-and-and-half to three years if you don’t have a bite, you’ve got to pull yourself out because as your mother, I could never ask you to give up on your dreams, so don’t make me do that. That was incredibly wise and incredibly fair. Sure enough, after two-and-half-years, I called my mom and said, ‘I’m out, you were right. I don’t think I’m going to get there.’ My mom said there’s a few more months to the year, so just stick it out and three weeks later I got “The Office.” So my mind kept me in the game and I owe her 10 percent of everything (laughter).
Do you and Emily split the holidays between your two countries?
John: We do what a lot of people do. Every other year it’s London or Boston. This year, it was Boston. I remember asking Emily the first time we were in London for the holidays, where do we go for the Christmas stuff. She said I don’t know what you’re talking about (laughter). Where are the people dressed up like Dickens characters? She said, “You can never say that out loud.” (laughter)
You both have really busy careers. Do you try to avoid long separations?
John: Absolutely, we try with all our might. We’ve been really lucky that until recently at least, it’s been pretty great until this movie that she’s on now. The hardest thing is when she shoots in a place like London, especially since I’ve been grounded with the show here in L.A. I’ll travel anywhere on the weekend to see her, but London is tough. It becomes that thing where you try as hard as you can but then the universe is going to deal you whatever you’re going to be dealt and this one is really tough. If you don’t see someone for four or five weeks, you start feeling something totally different other than missing someone. You’re like wow, this is absolutely difficult to get through, so we try not to do it.
Do language differences coming up?
John: She’ll say things a lot of the time that I don’t understand. My favorite thing is when she goes home. Her parents are always like what happened to you? You sound very American. Then when she comes home from London, she sounds like a chimney sweep from “Mary Poppins” (laughter). I think Matt and I sort of have the same thing. I’ll always have a little bit of a Boston accent if I spend too much time in Boston. It’s really funny. Both of us feel like we’ve been wronged when she comes back. Her parents say, “What happened to you?” And then I’m like when did you become Dick Van Dyke? (laughter).