John Krasinski is distinctly known as Jim from The Office, but now we’re getting to see another side of this popular actor. He took some time recently to sit down with Buzzine to discuss his leading role in Away We Go and where he hopes to find himself in the future.
Molly Sullivan: This seems to be different from other things you’ve done — at least more serious and emotional. Can you talk about the challenges that came along with that?
John Krasinski: It’s funny — I’m lucky enough to have the greatest gift in the world with The Office because you’re on a show like that, but on top of it, the role, in particular for me, to be allowed to do funny things but also have some real moments too is the greatest gift an actor can have, so I’ve been very fortunate. On top of that, The Office isn’t something you break away from. It’s not like, “When are you going to break away from The Office and start doing movies?” It’s like, oh no — I’ll beg for my job every year on The Office. Maya [Rudolph] said it best one day, because I think she’s in a similar position that I am, and she said, “I hate it when people say, ‘Can you play comedy or drama?’ I always see acting as real life, so in my real life, there are moments when I’m funny and there are moments when I’m not so funny, and it’s pretty hard, so I hope I can play myself.” That’s a really cool way of looking at it, because I feel the exact same way. I think that, especially with Sam [Mendes] being scrutinized under the microscope of, “Oh my god — he’s doing a comedy. How’s this going to work?” He’s Sam Mendes. He’s so good that if he can tell the story right, you’re either going to laugh with the characters or cry with the characters, but it’s all because he wants you to. That’s how I felt about this movie. Doing this was an amazing opportunity — borderline like winning the lottery. It’s a one-in-a-million shot that someone calls you and says, “I want you in the movie,” but the script was so good that I hoped… I was definitely totally nervous to do the part because it was so good. Dave [Eggers] and Vendela [Vida] write and create characters in a way that very few people do. I remember people were asking me, “How are you going to get into character?” I just said, “Well, I obviously haven’t had a kid and I’ve never been pregnant with someone…” so it all came from the script. They wrote such amazing stuff that a lot of the information was already in their script, and I’ve got to say that’s a really rare occasion. A lot of times, the first couple of weeks are like, “Okay, I have one million questions,” and this one I had very few.
MS: Having said all that, did the comedic stuff come easier and more naturally to you than the dramatic stuff?
JK: I don’t think so, and that’s not because I’m some outstanding actor — it’s because of Sam. In the midst of these incredibly hilarious scenes, he was saying, “Just keep playing it real. Keep playing the heart of it.” It’s the reason why the movie ends up where it does. He saw that in every scene, so he was like, “Yes, this is funny, but the jokes are either going to work or they’re not, and that job is done. So I need to make sure we maintain what I need in six scenes from now or 12 scenes from now.” I think, for me, this is something I hope to go through someday. I think I’m a very sentimental guy, so just reading this relationship and seeing how perfect it was — and it wasn’t about flowers and diamonds, but it was about secret languages and being able to look at each other and tell a whole story. Those are relationships that I not only admire but pray to be in one day. Being on the trampoline and doing the trampoline scene. I was emotional because it was just such a special relationship to forge with Maya, and it was a pretty real moment. It’s not the most dramatic scene you’ve ever seen in a movie, so I’m sure that’ll be more difficult if I’m ever asked to do some huge tragedy scene or something, but little real moments like that are so much fun to play because I hope I can play them right in real life.
MS: Maya said a lot of the chemistry between these two characters was evident when she read the script. Can you talk about seeing this in the script — seeing how these characters interact, and then translating that and developing that chemistry with Maya?
JK: I think this is one of the best romances I’ve ever read in a script — maybe the best — and that has nothing to do with me. It was all what was there, because this was a relationship you want to be in; this is a relationship you hope you’re in. It’s slightly odd, it’s slightly secret, it’s all these different things, but what it is first and foremost is true and real and honest, and these people are totally and fully in love with each other and know that these are the only two people they are supposed to be with. I find that’s a hard thing to do in movies, because you ride that fine line of those people being boring because you want boy to meet girl, boy to lose girl, boy to get girl back. One of my favorite scenes is when Maya is crying because she’s like, “No one’s in love like us.” So then developing it with Maya, we were able to collaborate a lot on the movie with Sam and Dave and Vendela, and we figured all this out together. I think Dave and Vendela were incredible at admitting that this was a blueprint and figuring things out. I think this is one of those things you read about sometimes, where the magic happens — where Maya and I got along really well. She instantly became one of my best friends because she’s just that type of person. She’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met in my life, so before we started shooting, I was completely blown away by her. I think the second day of shooting we did the first scene when we’re in bed together. That was a nice icebreaker, so you combo the two and all of a sudden you’ve got some chemistry there. The other secret was -– I hope they’ll tell you the same thing –- Maya and I were literally crying laughing before every take about random stupid things, like bits that we were doing. Even before the sad scenes, we were making each other laugh. We’ll make each other laugh in the hallway right now. That energy is so amazing to start every scene doing. I’m really glad people are saying the chemistry was good because we hoped our onscreen chemistry was good too.
MS: Would you say, then, that the chemistry is just natural, or did you have to bring a lot of acting into it?
JK: I have no talent. It is all completely a ruse. [Laughs] There is truth to that, though. We did fall into that. I can only imagine doing this movie with someone I didn’t feel any chemistry with and had to pretend. It’s probably harder to do the acting job than to actually just fall and do it like we did. I think it was all about taking the energy and the relationship we had in real life and making minor adjustments to make it fit to the movie, which was fun because Maya is a way different person than she is in the movie, and I hope I am also a very different person than I am in the movie, but at the same time, the hearts were exactly the same. I personally think Maya turns in one of the best female performances I’ve seen in years, and I really mean that because it’s understated, it’s so honest, it’s so earnest… It’s just very real, and that’s sort of a woman’s journey under those circumstances, and you believe every single moment of it. Then to check in with yourself and realize she’s Maya Rudolph from SNL, you just start crying regardless. Bravo Maya.
MS: How did it help, if at all, having worked with Sam Mendes before?
JK: My experience on Jarhead was vast and extensive. I was in it for about 7.8 seconds, not that I timed it. [Laughs] The thing that I found about Sam doing Jarhead too was that he’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met in my life, and in the best way. He never borders on arrogance. He’s so confident being right and he’s so confident being wrong, and so he’s incredibly collaborative. There’s no situation he can’t get through, because he knows if it doesn’t come organically to him, it’ll come organically to someone and we’ll get through it. So there were moments where we moved an entire set to another room because it didn’t work, or Maya and I had an idea that he was like, “Yep, that’s now in the scene,” and you go along with him for the ride, because you need that in a director. You need someone to have an idea, and if it’s wrong, he’ll go somewhere else but he’ll always move forward. He won’t stall out and wonder how to do it. I think he’s the best storytelling director we have. He tells a story about relationships in the most intimate and specific ways that other people I haven’t seen do it. So to be a part of that was astounding. He’s incredibly smart. This is one of those experiences that you hope to have before you die, and I had it at 28 when I did it. That’s either exciting or a big uh-oh.
MS: How odd is it that he’s British and yet all of his movies are such American stories?
JK: It’s amazing. There’s some weird existential thing you get out of this American dream that’s built into the fabric of the country, and he admits that you don’t have that in England. There isn’t that sort of “everything’s going to be sunny on the other side” in England, and here there is. But the best part about believing that every day is, a lot of days, that’s not true, but on those days that it is true, anything can happen. I think that’s what’s so great about this movie right now, is at the end of the movie, we don’t say that everything is going to be okay. We just say that if you’re in the fight with the right person and you’ve got the right perspective, you can get through things.
MS: One other thing he mentioned about your characters was that it’s almost as if they are one person going down this road. As an actor, you were you thinking along those lines?
JK: Absolutely. I think neither my character nor Maya’s character make any sense without the other person. I think that is a beautiful idea — it’s almost like music, in the way that you can’t have one thing without the other, otherwise it just sounds boring. The thing that was so amazing with what Sam said is that neither of us could live without the other person. You look at Maya in the movie and she’s a lot more logical and centered, but she wouldn’t have that uplifting sense of positivity that I think my character brings, and yet, at the same time, I would be floating somewhere in space if I didn’t have her to bring me back down to Earth. I think making us more muted was not only a good idea but vital to the movie, because you have to side with them on their journey rather than being like, “I like Burt and he’s funny, and there were a couple of good jokes in that movie,” because the movie isn’t about the two of us. The movie is about belonging. The movie is about where you belong at the end of the day geographically, mentally, emotionally, because I think that’s what we live in. Personally, right now, I’m 29 years old and all my friends from 25 to 40 are going through the same things, which [are] these huge existential questions that come up all the time -– whether you’re happy or unhappy. People are still thinking about “Have I made all the right choices?” “Am I in the right spot?” “Am I a good enough friend?” “Am I good enough husband, wife…” all these different things. I think there is this mentality nowadays that didn’t exist 20 years ago, because 20 years ago, you got married by 20, you had a kid by 21, then you had a job and a wife, and that was it. The story was sort of written for you and you tried to make money enough to support your kids. Nowadays, there is that freedom to question yourself and try again or try something new, or be an artist or any of these things. With that freedom, it’s incredibly exciting, but it’s also incredibly terrifying at times, and sort of puts you in an existential crisis.
MS: You can end up in the situation when you ask “Am I a fuckup?”
JK: Right, exactly. I hope people aren’t wording it like that, but I think there are a lot of people out there right now who are questioning a lot of stuff and how they’re going to get back on top. My favorite thing is when you hear stories about people saying this is the first time in a long time they’ve reconnected with their family or with their friends. You find yourself gravitating toward things that make you special, not the things that make you feel special, and I think that’s a really amazing idea and I think that’s what this movie is all about. At the end of the day, the movie ends right where it begins, which is it’s just the two of us, and the cool thing about the movie is the baby still hasn’t arrived, so you’re still focused on these two people rather than these potential parents. You’re never more of a potential than you are right now. Maya said this amazing thing. I was like, “When you had Pearl, how did you change?” And she’s like, “The worst part is you don’t change. You don’t turn into that superhero you thought you were going to be. You don’t turn into that dad who hopes he can teach his daughter to cobble or carve or whatever it is. You’re still the person who has bad days, you’re still the person who has good days, and you’re still the person who’s happy with their life, and you’re still the person who’s unhappy with their life, and you need to learn how to adjust it so it doesn’t come out for the child.” I was like, “Wow, that’s incredible,” because I think everybody sort of has that idea of, “I’ll be the best dad. I’m just going to be the best dad.” She has the best line in the movie which is, “We can only be good for this one child and that’s it. We can’t change the world.” That’s honest.
MS: On what level would you say you identified with this character personally, and do you feel like you have to relate to a character on some personal level?
JK: I think you definitely have to relate in some way. You’ve got to find something to do, otherwise people wouldn’t be able to play such horrific characters so well, which I’m not saying this is at all — I’m just saying that extremes exists. I loved everything about this character, and I definitely think I related to it. I think I’m a positive person, but you can relate to something that you wish was more in your life as much as something that is in your life, and I wish very much that that sort of character, who’s almost childlike and… someone’s word for Burt is that he’s earnest, and I think, my god, if everyone can be earnest, that’s honesty and positivity all in one thing, and that’s a pretty cool place to be. When you’re playing a character like that, that’s pretty awesome, and then on top of it, when Dave and Sam tell you that you’re just off — you’re not weird, you’re just off. That’s an amazing note because I totally know people who leave their glasses on whether they’re sleeping or not, and those little quirks make you odd enough to be intriguing but not so weird that we disconnect from you and see you as a crazy character.
MS: What are you working on next?
JK: I’m working on the Untitled Nancy Meyers project.
MS: With Meryl Streep?
JK: Yeah, exactly — with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. When they tell you you’re working with them, you say “yes.”
Focus Features' 'Away We Go' was released on June 26, 2009 and is now on DVD and Blu-ray via Universal Home Entertainment.