Can you imagine a more charming, pleasant boss than John Krasinski? While the 37-year-old actor has made a bid for movie stardom in his years since leaving The Office, he's also quietly established himself behind the camera: He made his directorial debut with 2009's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, in addition to helming several episodes of the NBC sitcom.
This year marked the release of his latest effort, The Hollars, a goofy but heartfelt indie about a man (played by Krasinski) who returns to his hometown when his mom falls ill, forced to deal with his dysfunctional family even as he and his pregnant girlfriend start one of their own. The film premiered at Sundance earlier this year and is now available on DVD. Krasinski got on the phone with ET to talk directing nerves, knowing right away that he would marry Emily Blunt, how fatherhood has changed him, and exactly how "jacked" he'll get for his return to TV on Jack Ryan.
ET: I imagine that the first day directing your first set must have been terrifying. But you've had a decent amount of experience now. How were you feeling going into the first day of The Hollars?
Krasinski: I think that going into the first day of anything is terrifying. A lot of people have said it probably more eloquently than me, but if you go into that first day and you're not terrified, something's wrong. [Laughs] Because usually that means you're overconfident and usually that means the movie's going to be bad. For me, there's this set of nerves that makes me feel oddly safe. The more nervous I am -- and I stay a good dose of nervous -- allows me to maintain that movie can always get better, from the day you start shooting it to the day you premiere your movie. You can always get better.
What did you learn from that first film and from directing episodes of The Office that you took with you into this movie?
Oh, man! A whole bunch! Brief Interviews was a movie that I adapted from an incredibly, incredibly amazing book and a very personal book for me. David Foster Wallace is such a huge voice for me to follow. I think he's phenomenal. So, there was this idea of doing him justice, doing the words justice. And I gotta say I directed that one out of complete and total ignorance, because I'd never done it before. We went through the process and only when I was done did I learn what a blessed process it was, because one day my D.P. and I were having drinks and he looked back and said, "Wow, man. That was a great experience, but it could have gone wrong here, here, here and here." showed me the minefield that was there and how I somehow meandered my way through without hitting one. Going into this one, I think that ability of foresight and looking down the road and planning on things going wrong in advance really helped me. I don't know how "expertly" [I handled those landmines]. It was more, like, in a cold flop sweat as I maneuvered through it.
When you release a movie and the reviews start coming in, how is it different as a director than as an actor?
I don't know. I sound like I'm 92 years old, but being in the business for a decent amount of time, you really do learn -- or you hope to learn -- that you don't allow the reviews to impact you. I've learned from several very astute, very smart people that the day before the movie comes out, you need to feel about your movie as you're always going to feel. That's when you should solidify how you feel. Then how other people feel about your movie is completely up to them. And I think that is very healthy and really helpful. It's difficult sometimes, but for me, I knew what I wanted to get out of the movie and I knew what I thought was special in this movie. I knew that there would be people who, if they liked it, they were really going to like it. And I like that there are people that, if this isn't your type of movie, then you're not going to like it. But we did a lot of Q&As, and I think that having people be so emotionally overwhelmed even throughout asking their questions was so incredibly meaningful for me and I really appreciated when people connected to the movie the way I did.
You went off to shoot this shortly after having your first daughter [Hazel in 2014], which was timely since your character is expecting his first child in the movie. How did being a new dad change your approach to playing a soon-to-be dad?
In every single way. It's funny, when I signed on as an actor about seven years ago, I had a complete and total different idea of what this script was and what the movie was; I connected as a member of a family. To be the head of a family is a completely and totally different thing. My daughter was four-and-a-half months old when we went to go shoot this movie and to say that my understanding of the movie changed from seven years ago to the day that we started shooting would be the biggest understatement of the year. I came in with an incredibly open nerve. I was thinking about things in a totally different way, how having a baby changed how I looked at my parents, how I looked at my brothers, how I looked at the idea of what I thought I was going to be as a dad to what I ended up feeling as a dad. All those things were playing into every single day that I was directing. It was all pretty intense stuff, so hopefully that helped the actors and they didn't think I was having a nervous breakdown.
Your character also grapples with whether he wants to marry Anna Kendrick's character and his fears about becoming a dad. Did you have that one moment in your own life where you knew that you wanted Emily to be your wife, or that you'd be great parents together?
Oh, yeah! 100 percent. I mean, I don't know who meets Emily Blunt and doesn't hope that you get to become her husband. So, that was pretty immediate for me. But also, my parents have been happily married for many, many years and truly feel like they're more in love today than they were the day they met. Marriage has always been an incredibly sacred thing that you're hoping gets to come your way and something where you get to share happiness with someone else, so I've always respected the idea of marriage and wanted to get married. I will say it's tough. It's a big commitment and it's hard to look at these different people through that lens, because it's an intense lens to put anybody under. But Emily, through any lens, is someone that you just pinch yourself that you even get to be around her, let alone married to her.
And now as a father of two, did you have any of those same fears about becoming a dad?
Yeah. Absolutely. One of the things I found so interesting is it felt like there was this idea before we had kids, every time you'd talk to your friends, you ask them what it's like and the sort of standard answer, 99 percent of the time is, "It's amazing! You're going to love it! It's really special!" Which it is! All those things are true. But no one says that it's tough and no one says that it's hard and no one says that they're scared. I had one friend who actually had a baby while we were shooting a movie together and I remember saying to him, like, "Oh, man! How is it being a dad?" And he said, "It's the best thing that's ever happened to me and it's so unbelievably hard."
The only thing I want is to be a quarter of as good a person as my parents, so I was going into this parenting thing thinking if I could just follow half of their lead, I would be fine. And you realize the moment your child arrives, it's extremely personal. There is no manual. Not your parents, not a book, not your friends can help you. It's got to be very individual and that is a very terrifying thing to have thrown at you, that you thought, If I just do these things it's going to work out perfectly. And then you realize the incredible power in it being personal, that your journey is unlike any other journey that people are having. Certainly there are general similarities, but the specific journey you're going through with your kid is just with you and that person.
You came to direct The Hollars in a more roundabout way. [Krasinski signed on as an actor and agreed to direct it himself after financing fell out.] But as you move forward in your career, is directing something you're wanting to pursue more and more?
Absolutely. I'm a little crazy. I'm one of those people that loves being busy and I love trying new things. Certainly [in] my acting career since The Office, I've wanted to try new things, so getting to do things like 13 Hours was awesome. And directing for me, I'm always learning and I know that. In fact, my favorite directors say that they're constantly learning. That the moment you think you've nailed it is the moment you usually leave the business. But I know what you're saying. This one I was cast as an actor and really came into directing. I think the truth is I respect directing so much. I'm not one of those actors who just said, "And now I'm going to be a director!" Like it's a forgone conclusion. I respect it so much that I have to be the right guy for the job. I hope another one comes along, because I would like to do it, but I won't direct just to direct. I will do something that I feel is incredibly personal and something that I can't not do.
You and Emily haven't worked too extensively together on many projects, but would you ever want to direct her in something?
That would be great. We've always wanted to work together, but it's just about finding the right story and also finding a story that's unique and specific enough that the story itself will be a better story than just the idea of us working together. And that's somewhat difficult to find, if that makes any sense. We want the narrative to be the movie itself, not overwhelmingly just that we're married and we worked together.
I want to switch gears from directing to producing. You were an executive producer on Manchester by the Sea, which has been getting loads of Oscar buzz. What has that been like?
It's just been incredible to watch, because it's a true testament to how things in this business can work out perfectly. It was my original idea, it was the first idea that I ever had for a screenplay, and yet, I know very, very well, clearer than anything else, that if I had been the one to write it, it would not be the movie that you guys have seen and everyone is celebrating. It is so from [Kenneth Lonergan]'s brain. It's just the perfect equation of how things can work out: I had the idea, I gave it to Kenny, Kenny did exactly what only Kenny can do with a script like this, and then handed it to someone like Casey [Affleck] who does something that only Casey can do with a performance.
It's kind of reminding me of when I was back in college. No one was being in plays because it was going to make them famous. No one was going to see these plays. You did it because you loved it. You wanted to tell a story. You sat around with your friends and you had a couple beers and you each gave each other a part and you all did something fun. That's exactly what this is. You give it to the people you respect and you love what they do, and they do exactly what you love about them and out comes this incredibly unique, incredibly special movie. So, I will say it is so much fun to be in the stadium. Even being on the team bench here, close to this project, has been amazing and I'm cheering them on all the way. I'm so proud of it.
We also just found out that your buddy Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting the Oscars. Could we see a Handsome Men's Club reunion at the Academy Awards?
[Laughs] Maybe! I'm an executive producer. You know they don't invite executive producers to the Oscars. It's producers or bust, that's what I hear. So, I'll be watching it at home, I'm sure. Not that Manchester needs it, but I'm happy to pull some strings and maybe have Jimmy read a different name out. Though I think Manchester has a great shot at being read off the paper anyway.
And next up for you is the Jack Ryan TV series on Amazon. What made you want to get back into television?
It's not that I didn't want to be back in television, but I'm sure you understand, it had to be something special. Because certainly there will be no more special experience for me in my career than The Office. No matter what I do, it's the thing that started out my career, it's the thing I owe every opportunity to, so there's nothing that's going to be as special as The Office. But it has to come close. The idea of doing the Jack Ryan show was a very interesting idea, but Carlton Cuse, who's the showrunner and one of the creators of Lost, explained [that], as much as we all love these movies, I think jamming all that Tom Clancy in this character into a two hour movie is a very difficult task. This character is a brain, he's an analyst, his superpower, if you will, is his problem solving. The way to get to the real richness and the deep idea of who Jack Ryan is is to do it in long form television. And that just hooked me. Because then, perhaps we're doing the books -- or the character. It's not based on the books -- but [doing] the character himself better justice by doling it out and almost making it feel like a book.
Relying on the character's brains, then, does that make you less pressure that you have to get 13 Hours jacked for this?
[Laughs] I'm working out right now for it, so it feels as difficult as 13 Hours. I do like the idea that he has to look a little more normal. Though, listen -- he's a Marine and after doing 13 Hours, I know the Marines well. I think they're going to tell you, "You better get 13 Hours jacked for it and do us proud." So, I'm doing it for them!