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Exclusive Interview: John Krasinski

September 17th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

We all know him as Jim, the affable, shaggy-haired salesman from the Dunder Mifflin paper company. But actor John Krasinski (who also appeared in this summer’s Away We Go) has set out to prove he’s no one-trick pony. With his latest project, a film adaptation of the late David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Krasinski proves he can hold his own behind the camera, as well, directing such stars as Will Arnett, Will Forte, Christopher Meloni, Bobby Cannavale and Timothy Hutton. Today Hulu premieres an exclusive “making of” featurette (featuring an intro from Krasinski himself) for this pet project. We also had the opportunity to speak to the 29-year-old actor about the film, which hits theaters September 25. (You can watch the trailer here.) And for all of you Pam and Jim fans — is that “Jam” or “Pim?” — we asked for a little scoop about the Season 6 premiere of The Office, which airs on NBC tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT. We’ll have it on Hulu first thing tomorrow morning. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

There’s a bit of an announcement we’re hoping you can make about Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Can you tell us about that?
John Krasinski:
Hulu’s premiering the movie first on the Internet [after it finishes its run in theaters], so we’re a part of that, and that’s fantastic. I think anybody in this business would be incredibly fortunate to be a part of anything having to do with Hulu, to be honest. Hulu is one of those ideas that is so cutting edge, that you just know it’s going to be a huge, huge part of people’s lives from now on. Not only for what it is doing and is capable of doing now as an interactive site, but also for what it has potential to grow into, which I think is nothing short of world domination. [Laughs] So we have that to look forward to, that our president will be Hulu.

To have Hulu support you in any way and display the ads for the movie and things like that is incredibly exciting, but then to have the movie be premiered on Hulu after its first run in the theaters is incredible. I think that Hulu’s done an incredible amount for The Office, and we are indebted to [Hulu] in a huge way. I think that it’s a massive part of our popularity, and why people have continued to watch us. We’re really, really lucky to be part of it — I have had experience with being part of a project [The Office] that benefits from being on site like Hulu, so to have our movie on Hulu and accessible to anyone at anytime, it’s really an honor, to be honest.

Well, thanks! And of course, I would say we wouldn’t be Hulu without The Office.
Awww, that’s nice.

Now you lined up some really incredible people for this project. Did you have some of the actors in mind from the start?
Absolutely. When I got the pilot to The Office, I used that money to buy the rights [to the book], but I had actually started writing the script a little bit before I got the rights, which was incredibly — in a negative way — ambitious. I’m sure it’s what more people would call stupid. In doing so, I started writing the script and knew exactly who I was going to cast. At the time, I was waiting tables in New York, and though I was having a great time, I wasn’t necessarily creatively stimulated, so I was constantly looking for inspiration anywhere I could find it. I definitely found it all the time in the theaters, by going to the theater, and by going to independent movies. I just consistently did that as often as I could. The people who I saw have these awe-inspiring performances were the people that I knew I wanted to be in this movie. And all these incredible New York actors who were just so brilliant on stage and in these small, independent movies, where a lot of them were coming out in New York, I just knew that those were the people I wanted in it, and I was just lucky enough to get them.

This being tied to David Foster Wallace, did that make it easier to get these actors?
Yeah, I’m sure it did. I think that being part of a project that is not only based on but also very much his actual writing … The movie’s not at all based on the book. It is completely the material itself. In doing this movie, my only intention was to bring his material to a wider audience in a different medium, but in no way to take the movie and change it in some drastic way. My being involved in the movie and so connected to the book was because of his writing, so I just wanted to do him justice and sort of show more people how incredible this author is and show what an impact he could have on you. I think that, truly, without him knowing it, I think David Foster Wallace wrote near-perfect acting material in these characters. So I didn’t have to pitch the movie very hard to these actors who I said had to come in a day, maybe two for some of them, and have these interviews that they could basically act in one day and really sink their teeth into. They very much appreciated it.

As a writer, how do you approach such a revered author’s work? I would have been intimidated!
Yeah, it’s funny, because to be really honest, Brief Interviews is the anomaly, I think. I can totally see why he hasn’t been adapted before, because his work is incredibly intimidating in that respect. It’s intimidating because you’re so admiring of it as a reader. When you’re a reader of his books, it’s a unique experience that you’ll never have with anyone else. I think he’s bar none one of the best writers ever to have lived, and he’s right up there on the pedestal with all the greats, in my opinion. And the real truth is, there’ll ever be anyone who writes like him again. For me, this book is the anomaly because he actually wrote these characters speaking dialogue, so there are actual words being said that were actually written as characters representing themselves. To me, it was almost near-perfect dialogue and the biggest challenge was editing it down to a piece that could actually fit into a watchable movie rather than an epic miniseries or something. And then also, he was also an incredibly literary guy, and so there were moments where I chose to leave some of the literary vibe into the dialogue, and some where I had to tone it down in order to allow the guys to be a little more accessible. But other than that, really, the script in the movie is all David’s work. I can’t take much credit for it, because the work he did as a writer in this story is what brings such incredible life to these characters.

I understand that he actually called you to give you his blessing. How did that call go?
It was thrilling, for lack of a better word, it was just fantastic. He was incredibly kind, and incredibly generous. I remember him being so soft-spoken and so nice. He put me at ease right away. I remember him being flattered that someone had taken up this book and tried to run it up the hill. He told me that his intention for Brief Interviews was to write a story about a character that you never see or hear from, but by using all the characters around that person, you find out all you need to know about them. And that’s exactly what I’d done. I’d already written the script when I talked to him, and I’d done just that in the script, because all the signs were there. It was just incredible to have that connection with him; that I was not only on the right path, but charging down the right way. It was so inspiring and such a pick-me-up that it was a great way to go into the actual shooting of the movie, knowing that we were on the right path and that we were representing him in the correct way.

You know, the big cinematic move that I did and probably the biggest part of the adaptation that I did is that [the female lead, played by Julianne Nicholson] connected to one of the characters, and I remember he was incredibly excited about that. He said that he had seen Brief Interviews as sort of an incomplete project because it hadn’t fully tied into itself, and there was nothing that could tie them all together. So when I sort of brought one of the characters in the book and connected it to her personally, all of a sudden there was a linear aspect to the movie. I had written one draft that was extremely linear and had all these incredible arcs that were fitting in pretty well, but at the end, when you re-read it, you realized that it just didn’t feel right, that it was feeling forced and fake. And so I realized that the best way to adapt the book was to go back and allow it to be what it wanted to be, which was spontaneous and slightly erratic and something that basically presented itself when it wanted to present itself.

You end up appearing in the film, but that wasn’t always your intention.
It wasn’t at all. My intention was solely to direct. I was pretty sure that these actors could do any of these characters way better than I could, but then we had an actor pull out at the last minute. There was this scheduling conflict, just one of those things that happens. We only had two weeks until we shot the scene. Normally that would be fine, but unfortunately that is such a big monologue and, as such, a huge part of the movie. I had shot all of the other interviews, so it was the last one and it needed to fit in just right. It would be a very stressful situation for any actor to just come in and sort of take on that much dialogue and that much intricate storytelling without knowing any of the other pieces, and I was the only one who knew the pieces. So the producers and I sat down and we decided that I’d be the best person to do it, solely because I’d read it 100 times, for no other reason than I knew what I was talking about when I was sort of relating the story to her and how it would connect to everything else.

Because this was a passion project for you, was the acting easier for you?
It was by far the scariest performance I have ever given; rather, it was the most scared performance I’ve ever given. It has solely to do with the fact that I was the director, and not because it hard to direct myself or anything like that — that’s not at all what happened. The reason why it was so scary was that I had sat behind the monitor and watched all these incredible actors turn in performances that were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The day before, we had shot the bathroom scene, which is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and so to literally be the last person to go and to be the last piece of the puzzle, and to know that if this didn’t work, the movie wouldn’t work, was probably the worst position I could have put myself in. But I really didn’t want to fail everybody else. Hopefully it works out.

I can imagine how challenging this must have been for you, but I think it worked, I really do. But I have to ask — on behalf of all of the fans of The Office — can you tell us what we’re going to see in the new season? A little teaser, perhaps?
It’s funny, the season premiere is just sort of an old-time structure of The Office — it’s just a really funny episode of The Office. There aren’t necessarily any incredible spoilers; it’s sort of getting back to the season in a way that I think is a really smart way to do it, which is just getting everyone back in the office. But then definitely the wedding episode is coming up and it is fantastic. I think that — and I think I can speak on behalf of the entire cast when I say this — we’re all just huge fans of the show and we love it so much. To get those scripts, we’re as excited as any fan would be to see what’s going to happen next, the way they deal with the wedding and how [Pam and Jim] get together. It’s a scary thing to get married on a show, because it’s always a tough conundrum of whether it’s good for the show or bad for the show. Of course the writers are so fantastic that they did it perfectly.

Last season was such a great season that I really can’t wait to see what’s in store now. Well, thanks, John for your time – we really appreciate it.
Absolutely. Thank you.

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  • [...] but also creating a story, a link, through them. I don’t know if you’re going to talk to John, but he told me he had spoken — I think once — to David Foster Wallace, who I hear was [...]

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  • Rene says:

    So…when is the movie coming to Hulu? It seems to have played out in theaters and there’s been no word, so far, on a date to actually be able to watch this film on Hulu.

  • DN says:

    Yes! I’m so glad that this book has been made into a movie! I LOVE this book and I hope this movie turns out great. At first, I was surprised to find out that John Krasinski was directing it, but after watching that video, I have full confidence in him. Can’t wait for the movie and for The Office Season premiere too!

  • Scotty says:

    Yes! I’m so glad that this book has been made into a movie! I LOVE this book and I hope this movie turns out great. At first, I was surprised to find out that John Krasinski was directing it, but after watching that video, I have full confidence in him. Can’t wait for the movie and for The Office Season premiere too!

  • [...] Wall Street Journal Lauching Live News Show; The News Hub will discuss the business news twice a day and appear across the company’s digital sites. (MediaWeek) John Krasinski’s New Movie to Hit Hulu; The Office star’s directorial debut, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, will go to the premium content site first after its theatrical run. (Hulu Blog) [...]

  • Justin says:

    Wait… you got a scoop on The Office that premieres tonight…. but you’re not going to release it until tomorrow morning… like… after the thing you got a scoop on is over?

  • ann says:

    well said. Looking forward to the movie. Can’t decide whether to go to the theatre or wait. Loved Away we Go. Really good balance of seriousness and humor and touching relevant dilemmas of modern day couples.

    I love HULU. Originally started using to keep up with favorite series, The OFFICE, (what else?) and then, because of HULU’s wonderful accessibility, was introduced to new and old interests.

    Thank YOU HULU for giving out so much, and finding a way to pay for yourself so that we have access. I have come to enjoy Stargate, Farscape, Defying Gravity, Warehouse 13 and old scary reruns of Outer Limits, Twilight Zone that used to terrify me as a kid, but are humorous as an adult….thanks to the desensitization that comes from frequent special effects exposure!

    I agree with Jim:

    I think anybody in this business would be incredibly fortunate to be a part of anything having to do with Hulu, to be honest. Hulu is one of those ideas that is so cutting edge, that you just know it’s going to be a huge, huge part of people’s lives from now on. Not only for what it is doing and is capable of doing now as an interactive site, but also for what it has potential to grow into, which I think is nothing short of world domination.

    And I agree with Hulu:
    And of course, I would say we wouldn’t be Hulu without The Office.

    Thank you for your steady cut up and humor that causes us to cringe, in a funny way, on the Office.

    Bests!

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