John Krasinski has a new movie out this month, the sweet family indie comedy-drama The Hollars, and he's not just the star — he also directed the film. Though he didn't pen the script, Krasinski was still able to add a little of his own family's stories to make the drama more personal, not to mention the fact that he himself was feeling the pull of family while making the movie; wife Emily Blunt had recently had their first child, Hazel. When I sat down with Krasinski to chat about the movie, he talked about how his own family, including the one he's created with Blunt, influenced him while making The Hollars. Beyond that, we also talked about the nitty-gritty of his epic Lip Sync Battle with costar Anna Kendrick and got the scoop on how he really feels about Blunt's acting (spoiler: he's obsessed, in a very healthy way).
On Directing His New Film, The Hollars
POPSUGAR: We've seen the theme of homecoming in a lot of memorable movies — what do you want people to see in The Hollars that sets it apart?
John Krasinski: I hope what people take away from it and what connects to people is what connected to me as I read the script. So before I even had gotten involved, the script was so good, because it was so specific and it was so different. Let's be honest, there are a lot of family movies; I like some of them, I don't like other ones. This one, I had no intention of doing a family movie, or something derivative, and then I read Jim Strouse's script and I was like, well, this isn't derivative, this is very exciting and it's very specific, and honest, and true. He writes these hairpin turns between comedy and drama in a way that I think is real life. There's not swelling music and emotional scenes in life, and there's not long pauses when you tell a joke for everybody to laugh. That's not how it goes. Life just sort of happens to you.
PS: As director, were you able to tweak anything to make it more personal?
JK: For the most part, I loved the script so much that we shot, pretty much, the script. I rewrote a couple things, exactly like you said, to make it more personal to me, and to put my proverbial fingerprints on it. The writer, Jim Strouse, was really nice to allow me to do that. One of the scenes that I wrote was the chandelier speech that [Margo Martindale] makes, talking about how she used to look up at the chandelier at the Fox Theater. That was actually based on a story that my dad told me about when he was in college. He used to, after basketball practice, go to the Library of Congress and look up for about 20 minutes before he started studying, and that was in response to me saying, "I can't believe that I'm spending my whole life being an actor." It was before I had any success, and I think I was feeling nervous about the fact that I had made the wrong decision. With such a good education, I had chosen to go down a path that was really difficult. And I think what he was saying in that story that was so beautiful is he's had it in him too. He's had this draw toward the arts in some way, and he's really proud of me for following through on my love of the arts. So it was a really moving moment for me, and I think it's a really similar situation with what's happening between John and Sally Hollar.
PS: John Hollar seems so unsure about his life, but at this point, it's almost hard to buy you as that, because you seem like such a confident, together guy. Were there aspects of John's struggle you could relate to?
JK: The past I totally related to, the sort of struggling-artist idea. But certainly, my personal experiences are all over this movie, because when I signed on as an actor six or seven years ago, long before I was directing, I connected to the story of this family. My family is very tight-knit, loving, communicative, very different than this family, and yet at the end of the script, I was weeping because I said, "that's my family." There was something in there that felt like my family. But by the time I directed it, my daughter was 4 and a half months old and all the clichés are true — it was life-altering in the best way — so yes, I understood this character being a guy on the doorstep of having kids, but more importantly, it was this idea of a big, existential pull of what family really means. I understood my parents better, I understood my brothers better, I understood what it was like to come from a family name. The idea of lineage started to percolate in my head. All that stuff was in this movie. It was a much more personal movie after I had my daughter.
"By the time I directed it, my daughter was 4 and a half months old and all the clichés are true — it was life-altering in the best way — so yes, I understood this character being a guy on the doorstep of having kids."
PS: I feel like a lot of people will be able to relate to the through line of a family death to a family birth.
JK: That actually happened to us in real life. Emily's grandmother, who she was very, very close to and who I bizarrely think our first daughter is very much like, she looks like her — there's sensibility and personality traits of her that are so much of Emily's amazing grandmother. Her grandmother passed I think two or three weeks before we found out we were pregnant. We definitely feel like there was an energy change. There was something exchanged there, from one person to the next. That happens in life all the time.
PS: Let's talk about that incredible screen kiss between Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins. How do you direct that?
JK: You don't direct it. You just watch as people are making your movie better. They're so much better at everything. Margo and Richard are such unbelievable actors that we're all just watching this clinic taking place. As a guy who's been the romantic interest in movies, at least I thought I could movie kiss pretty good, or TV kiss, I guess for that matter with The Office — and then I watched them kiss and I was like, "that's a screen kiss right there, that's a movie kiss." It looks like they've been married for 35 years. It's so beautiful.
PS: I heard that Margo's love of HGTV inspired her character's.
JK: I think it did! It certainly inspired the choices of what we're talking about when they're watching reality television [in a hospital scene]. The Property Brothers — that was her idea! She was like, "we gotta mention The Property Brothers because I always watch them." It was so smart and so good. I think that's one of those beautiful things that are in this movie that are so small and so specific. You watch these three people watching reality television, and you immediately know their dynamic. You know how they all feel about each other.
PS: It's hard not to think of Jim Halpert when we see you in an office setting in a movie. Do you ever cringe seeing office scenes in scripts because you know people will make that association?
JK: I don't cringe, but I know exactly what you're saying. When I see the film, I realize that that office looks pretty similar to a throwback to The Office, so I totally get what you're saying.
PS: There seemed to be a lot of Jim Halpert in John Hollar, but could that be because there's just a lot of John Krasinski in those two characters?
JK: I'm sure there's pieces of me in all the characters I play. I forget who said it, but someone said, your job as an actor is to communicate the most honest version of this character, and so the parts of you that you can use are obviously the easiest to access, because you live through them every day. So I think some of the stuff in there, if there's anything familiar, I'll take it that it's me in there, and that I brought that to Jim and to John.
On His Lip Sync Battle Throwdown With Anna Kendrick
PS: If I'm not mistaken, you shot your Lip Sync Battle against Anna around the time you shot this movie.
JK: Right after we wrapped! I think they asked me who I wanted to challenge, and I said she'd be really fun.
PS: How familiar did you have to be with the song "Proud Mary" to perform it like that?
JK: I'm extremely familiar. It's one of my mom's favorite songs, and I knew every word since the time I was probably 6. The good news is, at least it's a good song. I loved that. I probably could have done without getting in all that fringe and getting into that dress, but it was worth it.
PS: So I guess the dress was not your idea.
JK: It was my idea! I just have stupid ideas too sometimes.
On Admiring the Work of His Wife, Emily Blunt
PS: Have you seen The Girl on The Train?
JK: I have.
PS: And what do you think of her performance?
JK: It's the best she's ever done. And I don't say that — I mean, yes, of course I have every reason to be biased, but in this particular instance — I never overstate how I feel about her. She always blows me away, but in this particular role, I can say genuinely for the first time, it's the only time since, as long as I've known her, that I ever forgot that it was her on screen. That's how good she is in this movie, which is very rare and very hard to do. She goes so full into the transformation of someone who's going through obviously a struggle in her life and a struggle with addiction, and it's just incredible. She's so good. She's always so good, but this is like a tour de force performance for me.
PS: Did you have a favorite movie role of hers before this?
JK: I did. I had many. Most recently I thought Sicario was a damn near perfect film.
PS: I thought she was going to get an Oscar nomination.
JK: I thought so too!
PS: What's your impression of the way that she can switch between comedy and drama?
JK: My impression is, she's just one of the best actors working. My wife, I've been a fan of hers long before we even knew each other. I was watching her in movies like My Summer of Love and The Devil Wears Prada I've probably seen way too many times. And this is before I even met her. And then I've watched her go from being a really good actress who makes really good decisions to being the best actress who makes exceptional decisions, and it's because she can literally do anything. But I will say above all, I think her taste is what impresses me the most. She chooses roles and understands roles so specifically. Yes, most recently, she's getting a lot of roles given to her, but before then she was choosing these roles. And she's so committed — the story in my head is Salmon Fishing in the the Yemen — I remember she loved that and she connected to that script, and I remember her getting calls that like, now we're gonna push two months, now we're gonna push five months, now we're gonna push a whole year. And that's where, most of the time, you lose your actress, because they have to go on to other things. And Emily just said, "no, whenever they make this movie, I'm gonna do it." She's so dedicated to the roles that she plays. I don't know that there's anybody better than her. She's so fantastic. I don't think I enjoy watching anybody more.
"I don't know that there's anybody better than her. She's so fantastic. I don't think I enjoy watching anybody more."
PS: I can say objectively that you're not just biased.
JK: Not just a creepy husband? [laughs] I'll go so far as to say she inspires me. Watching her work and getting to see her work is so inspiring. It teaches me so much about what I can be doing more and better of.
PS: I thought I heard that you guys had said you were not going to work together?
JK: No, we would love to work together. Would love it.
PS: I saw that you're both voicing characters in the upcoming Animal Crackers.
JK: Yes, our first animated [film] — that is true, our first roles that we've done together! We play a married couple in it. But I guess because it's animated we didn't think of it as like our first, but it is, it's our first roles together. But we'd love to do a movie together. I think it's gotta be the right movie. It's gotta be a movie where the story of us being married doesn't supersede the movie itself.