Anyone who has seen John Krasinki’s directorial debut Brief Interviews with Hideous Men know he’s more than a sitcom star. Since breaking out in the 2000s as Jim, The Office’s beleaguered and beloved straight man, Krasinski has done film projects both big (13 Hours) and small (Away We Go). He’s heading back to the small screen for Amazon’s upcoming series Jack Ryan, but before tackling Tom Clancy’s often-adapted character, Krasinski plays a New York artist with complicated family issues in his new movie The Hollars. Krasinski also directs the film, and he was in town in mid-August to talk about family, telling emotional stories, theaters vs. VOD, and what book should never be adapted as a movie.
BYT: The Hollars is an adult family dramedy, which seems like the kind of movie that is getting squeezed out a little bit as we get more and more IMAX 3D Blockbusters.
JK: I totally agree! It’s why I made it. I think there’s a simplicity that’s missing in storytelling, and by that I don’t mean better or worse. I mean simple in that there’s thing that you can relate to. And I think that things like family, and the importance of family, is definitely getting left by the wayside for a lot more edgy or bigger blockbuster-y things. This is not bad or good; I think you can understand the need for that. As our audiences get smarter and get more used to crazy technology, they’re probably going to want to see virtual reality, 3D, and all that stuff more than they’re going to want to see certain kinds of stories, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not important to tell.
For me, the reason I made this film is that it really harkened back to the days of Terms of Endearment. Movies like that that had the ability to be really wonderful stories and had made an impact on me. I remember seeing Dead Poets Society when I was years old and thinking “why am I crying?”
I think these are the kinds of movies that bond us as people because we can all relate. We can’t all relate to giant robotic insects or whatever, but I think we can all relate to this. Whether you have a complicated family or not, whether you like your family or not, they’re still your family and it’s still where you’re from. There’s something really universal about that. I come from a very tight-knit, loving family, so when I got to the end of this script, I remember thinking, “Oh my god, that’s my family.” This is a very dysfunctional family, so I think there’s something really interesting about how I related to this story when it has nothing to do with what my family looks like.
So, at this point, does the medium matter? Does it matter that The Hollars is coming out on a movie screen in a theater as opposed to on Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu?
It’s probably one of the more important questions in our business. So, I have my own personal opinion and my personal opinion is, for me, as a viewer, it doesn’t matter. For me, right now, I find I am impacted similarly if I watch a television show. I find certain television shows equally if not more entertaining than some of the movies I’m watching. You get to see this new talent that’s coming out from all these smaller avenues. I just find it really fascinating – it’s like the Wild West.
I just actually had a very interesting thing just happen personally. 13 Hours, which did whatever it did at the box office, just had a huge explosive release on SVOD (streaming video on demand). I’m very proud of that movie and felt really connected to it. It’s one of the most important things I ever did because of my connection with the military, and how people are responding to it now that it’s in their home – the proof is right there on the page. There are explosive numbers. I think they’re talking about 80 percent more people than they ever expected would see it outside the theater are now seeing it, which means people are willing to watch things in a new medium. I’m the type of guy that just wants the story out there. I don’t care if you watch it on your cell phone. I’m sure Michael Bay would be not psyched that you’re not seeing the full value of what he was shooting (laughs). But from a storytelling standpoint,and as long as you care enough and that’s how you want to view it, it doesn’t really bother me.
When you’re directing, do you think at all about your audience? Do you think you have a responsibility to the audience? Or do you just put together the best film that you can and then hope it will connect with whomever?
I think that they’re kind of one and the same. Do I have direct understanding of the audience in reading material? No. I think if I connect with the movie or story and feel that it’s universal, then yeah, you move forward in the choice of it. So, in choosing the project, I remember thinking “this feels very special, this feels different than a lot of other movies about families that I’ve seen” and I tried to figure out why that is. I think Jim Strauss, the writer, has an unbelievable ability to do hairpin turns between emotion and comedy that feels real. So you never feel manipulated – it’s not like “and here comes the swelling music and the sad scene.” This is how life happens. You don’t really get to prepare for the hard moments, nor do you get to prepare for the fun moments. They just happen and that’s being connected.
I trust that I still have some sense of audience, that I am a decent barometer, and there may be a day where I’m very wrong about that. But we knew that this was obviously going to be a smaller budget movie than a huge blockbuster, but nonetheless important.
I think where you really start thinking about audience is in post-production and the edit. When I showed the movie to my wife, the question wasn’t you “Do you like this and what would you change?” It was really about “Are you connecting? Are you feeling this part?” And that’s why I love showing movies to her: she watches movies the way she acts in movies, which is “I’m connecting to this moment, I feel something” or “Oh, were you trying to make this feel that way? I didn’t feel that just yet” and then you go back and tweak it. So I try to direct, choose, and edit my movies based on what I feel I would want to see. And hopefully, people are still like me (laughs).
This film has a geniality to it, in both the screenplay and the directorial choices. You certainly recognize the flaws of the characters, but there are small moments of redemption for just about everyone. Thinking about the audience again, was that an intentional choice? Or just the way the story ended up going?
It’s definitely is the way the story is. I think I’m an inherent sucker for uplifting stories. I love emotional, uplifting movies. Redeeming is a good word because it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything gets fixed or everything gets put into a perfect place. Redeeming means that you at least get your day in court and I think that’s what’s really important – that everyone is understood and heard in this movie. That doesn’t get to happen in every family.
I think a lot of families’ complications are due to that fact that they don’t understand each other or don’t want to understand each other. And I think that the beauty in family is those huge moments, whether it’s something enormous like a huge conversation someone never thought they’d have with their parents, or parents seeing how they are as parents themselves and having this whole new understanding of their kids. So to me, I think it’s not necessarily bad to have an uplifting movie every now and again that’s sweet and that people can connect to. I know that a lot of movies that are coming out are a lot harsher or bigger, and I think that it’s ok to step back from cynicism and just tell a really heartwarming story.
So, having adapted Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, you seem like you are probably a bookish person to some extent –
Book-ish, I will say, yeah–
So is there another book that you would adapt?
Wow, that’s a really good question.
It’s ok if the answer is no.
No, I mean, I think adapting a book is a really big undertaking, and the reason why I say that is, especially if it’s a book that a lot of people love – and listen, books get adapted all the time, so maybe I’m overthinking it – but for me, there’s this pact that you’re making with the reader as well as the viewer. That’s a lot of responsibility and for me, doing David Foster Wallace, who’s a cult hero for many people, I was terrified the whole time, and yet I just thought people needed to hear his voice.
I’d be very choosy in what I did next because it’s almost like you have double the weight on you when you’re adapting something to be a movie. So I don’t have an answer yet, no. Catcher in the Rye! Just kidding. That’s the one book that will never get adapted.