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Interview: John Krasinski for "Leatherheads"

By Paul Fischer Tuesday April 1st 2008 09:48AM
John Krasinski for "Leatherheads"

John Krasinski is best known for his role as sardonic nice guy Jim Halpert on the popular TV series "The Office" for which he won a 2007 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series.

He was born John Burke Krasinski on October 20, 1979, in Newton, Massachusetts, USA, into a family of Polish-American heritage. He is the youngest of three brothers. His father, Ronald Krasinski, is a Medical Doctor, and his mother is a nurse. Young Krasinski was a voracious reader and was also fond of acting. His first stage experience was starring in a satirical high school play written and cast by B.J. Novak. He also was a good sportsman, he played on the same Little League Baseball team as B.J. Novak, now a writer and co-star on "The Office" (2005). After graduating from Newton South High school in 1997, he attended Brown University, graduating in 2002, as a playwright with honors, then studied for one semester at the Eugene O'Neill National Theatre Institute in Waterford, Connecticut.

He began his TV career in 2002, as a script intern on the Late Night show with Conan O'Brien. Krasinski made his big screen debut in 2002, then played several small roles, such as Ben in Kinsey (2004), and Bob Flynn in Duane Hopwood (2005). He appeared as Corporal Harrigan in Jarhead (2005) by director Sam Mendes, then played a supporting role as Ben in The Holiday (2006), a romantic comedy by director Nancy Meyers. He is billed as the voice of Lancelot in Shrek the Third (2007). His most recent film on the big screen, was his co-starring role opposite Robin Williams and Mandy Moore in License to Wed and is also director and writer of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, a big screen adaptation of the eponymous collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace.

In his latest film, Leatherheads, Krasinski stars opposite screen veterans George Clooney and Renee Zellweger as a war hero from the First World War turned football star in the mid-20s at a time when football was played fearlessly and without rules. He spoke to Paul Fischer.

Question: What are the challenges of finding a character that is un-Jim-like? And how excited are you to be back in "The Office"?

Krasinski: I'm very, very excited to be back in 'The Office'. You mean doing a character in Leatherheads that's different than Jim? Yeah. I'm not a good actor. Good night. No, it's fun. I was given an amazing opportunity when I was on the show which is to play a character that is sometimes funny and sometimes, dramatic and I think that's the best gift you can get as an actor, especially for a first role, because it's definitely how people see you. That allowed George to see me as a potential person who could play a romantic character. So I always say that "The Office was the first place and the only place and I definitely owe everything to that. But, playing this character was a blast; dressing up in actual costumes rather than a shirt and tie every day, having a haircut for the first time was a big change for me and really helped my acting I think.

Being back to "The Office" this week, it was very interesting after the strike, coming back from a hiatus in the Summer you just say, 'how is everybody and how was your Summer?' and no one really cares. But coming back this time after being forced to have a hiatus, it's great to be back where everybody's got a real, new appreciation for what we're doing; acting and being on a crew like this and being in the entertainment industry but, especially, being on this show. Because, when you're working day in and day out, it's very easy to get to that place like 'Ah, it's just a job' and it's not a job at all, it's a fantasy and it's not a real nine to five. So, is it good to be back? Yeah.

Question: Could you describe shooting in South Carolina?

Krasinski: There was a lot of sports fans, a lot of ribs...no, we had a blast down there. I've got to say that it's a totally different experience being down in the South. Everybody was extremely kind and really open to having a movie crew come and basically infiltrate everything about their small town. South Carolina and North Carolina, it was just fun to see a different way of life. I've got to say that the girls are very pretty down there. It was funny also, the time pieces of the stadiums...the reason George decided to go down there was because of the baseball stadiums (note: does he mean football??) down there looked completely, totally period and you actually feel like you are back when sports were really fun rather than being like more of a business. Back then it was to be there to see your heroes play out on the field rather than the most expensive team playing out on the field.

Question: Was there any appreciable difference between Clooney actor and Clooney the director?

Krasinski: Clooney the actor is way nicer. No, in both arenas, the similarities are that he's incredibly focused and incredibly, just so good at what he does. He's very well composed, he's very confident. It was funny watching Clooney the actor being directed by Clooney the director because one of the biggest differences, which he would hate, but I loved, was when he had to do a football scene where he got hit really hard and then he runs back to the screen to look at it and while he's looking at it, he's praying that it looks good so he doesn't have to do it again. But he did. He had to go back into the throng of it just like all of us.

Question: John, this Sam Mendes project....

Krasinski: I know. One of these days I'm going to work with a good director, I promise.

Question: It's supposed to be a comedy. It looks like it could be satiric of America and then kind of whimsical. I'm curious about the tone of the project.

Krasinski: It's exactly both of those things. There's a little darker undercurrent to it definitely as far as a Little Miss Sunshine, tonally, but as far as where the version of America takes place, it's quite simply a story of people who don't feel like they belong anywhere. When they get pregnant, they decide to go all around the country and visit friends and wherever feels like home, they're going to stay for the rest of their lives which I think is a sentiment that's a fairy tale and really nice. I think we all would like to belong somewhere. So, in that seemingly simple arc, it's just plenty of opportunity to bring in Dave Eggers and Vendela [Vida's] words which are incredibly smart and incredibly well written so the interactions between all the characters are really going to be fun to do.

Question: What's it called?

Krasinski: It's called Untitled Sam Mendes Project as of now which I really like. Sounds like it would bring in a lot of people.

Question: What's happening with the movie that you directed Brief Interviews with Hideous Men?

Krasinski: It's still in the editing process unfortunately. I've had to chop up the editing process because of the movie and this pesky show. So, we're still trying to figure out what's happening with that but, I assume, we'll be hitting, hopefully, the film festival circuit soon.

Question: How much protection do those leather helmets actually give you?

Krasinski: Zero. I mean you wonder why it's just on set to be decoration. They really don't give you any protection. Just to show you how little protection they give you, if you see the movie again you'll notice that Keith Loneker who plays Big Gus, has sweat coming through the leather in almost all the shots and that's his real sweat. We did not use an effect. It's funny, the game was very different so, back then, it was more like wrestling so you didn't actually hit each other. You sort of ran with each other, next to each other and slowly grabbed the other guy down in more of a wrestling move so didn't need protection.

Question: I understand that you got back to the set a little later because you were filming "The Office" and you were kind of the new guy so I wondered if George pulled any initiation pranks on you?

Krasinski: Luckily, George was very busy being a director and an actor and it was sort of one of the bigger productions he's ever done but I will be dead honest, and this sounds crazy but it's true, I called my manager one day and I thought 'oh my God, this is it. This is George Clooney's biggest prank ever', getting some kid from TV to believe he's actually on a set with big movie stars, big crew and he's friends with Renee so he got her in on it. After therapy, I realized that wasn't true. No, I really did. I was terrified that this whole thing might be some weird prank. That's how scared of him I was. Luckily, he was too busy to pull much of anything.

Question: So everyone was really nice to you when you got there?

Krasinski: Yeah. Extremely nice. I expected some hazing. I thought that would be part of the team atmosphere. I'm still dressed like I'm on the traveling team. We're traveling so you wear suits but no, everybody was really nice.

Question: How important is writing to you these days and are you working on anything?

Krasinski: I'm not working on anything as of yet. Writing has always been very important to me as an outlet but, I've never wanted to be a triple threat of a director, writer, actor but it is hard enough to be the single threat of an actor and I really love acting. That's definitely where all my passion is but, for me, writing is a wonderful way to keep thinking in different ways so "Brief Interviews" is really fun but really, I take everything from the author himself because I tried to be as respectful of the material as I could. I would love to, at some point, maybe write one of the episodes of "The Office" or maybe direct one of them if they would ever let me have any control like that, which would be nice.

Question: About the fighting scene with George. Did you guys land any punches at all? Were there a lot of takes of that?

Krasinski: We only shot for like three hours. It was a blast. We did not land any punches but landing on railroad tracks, very painful! No joke. We'd hit railroad spikes and things like that so that was the hardest thing, getting up the courage to really fall backwards when he got hit, like in that first punch where he says, 'just hit me in the..' and I hit him before he says 'face', he fell really hard and he had a bruise, a pretty bad bruise, not that I saw it. That would be weird.

Question: Are you a natural athlete?

Krasinski: I think I believe I'm a natural athlete. It's easy to believe that you're a phenomenal athlete when you're like 'yeah, I'm an actor. That's why I'm not in the pros'.

Question: Had you played football before?

Krasinski: I have. I played once in Junior High School which some would argue is the most competitive of all the areas of football but this is true, I couldn't get past the face mask. I couldn't catch a ball with a face mask in front of me so, in this movie, problem solved.

Question: Did you do this before or after doing your own directing?

Krasinski: Right in the middle so I had just finished shooting my movie but hadn't edited a frame of it yet.

Question: How would you compare yourself with Clooney as a director?

Krasinski: Oh, he's by far a better director, I would assume. Again, my directing was more as a liaison between actors to try to get them to realize what we were trying to do with the book. My entire movie relies on monologue interviews so it's almost more of a theatrical, like a theater piece which makes my job really easy. I get to be an audience member behind the monitors, just laughing and basically, getting a free show every day. So to actually do all the things that George was doing, I learned a ton. I think it's still having an influence on the way I'm cutting the movie.

Question: Given the screwball feeling of the film, did George have you watch any or study the banter in films like His Girl Friday and other screwball films?

Krasinski: Yeah. You were about to list two more and they would have been on my list. He gave us a list of things to see and, to be honest, that was the biggest background work that I did, not that I'm that big of a background guy, but, watching those movies, you really do get a sense of two things; one is the acting style and how different it is and the Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges movies and how punchy they are. George refers to it best of being on your front foot when you're acting rather than on your back foot. Like "The Office" is very reactionary and it's very living through the present moment whereas, this type of acting style is being ready for the words and you almost respond before the other person said their line. The other thing it showed you was the type of film that George was making which is my favorite part about this film. When my dad talks about movies that he's seen like "Butch Cassidy" or something like that, his eyes will turn and he'll get nostalgic about the moment that he saw that movie. Back then it was entertaining and a whole new place. You got to transport to a different place and now there's political movies and action movies and there's a lot of cutting and it's very manipulative, whether in a good way or a bad way, but back then it was a real sweet movie and you felt a sense of joy. It's like this overpowering Americana thing behind you which I think this movie has; before every scene the music and the way it looks, gets you happy no matter what. Maybe that's just me.

Question: How are you getting ready for the beach?

Krasinski: Well, I'm in the best shape of my life. As you can tell, from watching "The Office", I'm pretty jacked. No! I don't think I'm ever ready for the beach. No matter how many push ups or half sit-ups that I do, I'm never gonna be ready so tee-shirt and jeans on the beach as always.

Question: George is sort of the quintessential movie star of the moment. What did you learn from him, not so much working but just how he conducts his public life?

Krasinski: I mean you really hit it on the head. To me, the word 'movie star' equals George for that reason alone. I think there are very successful film actors but to be a real movie star and to be someone that is respected and revered as someone who represents "old Hollywood' or something like that, that's the highest compliment you can get. I think that compliment doesn't come from how big the box office was for your last movie or how quick you are to tell a joke or how handsome you are, it's about how much people respect you. I don't know how he's done it. Honestly, I had heard so many good things about him and you go down there expecting to see some chink in the armor and there never was one. He's incredibly open. He's incredibly genuine. He's incredibly charming and just respects so much where he is and how lucky he is to be there. To have that appreciation for where he is after he's done so much is mindblowing. So, as someone who is just starting out, I definitely can take all those lessons.

Question: How was building a relationship with Renee's character. Did you have any rehearsal time or just jump in?

Krasinski: We basically just jumped in. Renee was just fantastic in every way. One of the ways she was so great to me was, she could tell.. one of the first days I was down there we did one of the train scenes and I was terrified, I mean terrified. It started to get very overwhelming when you started to realize who you were working with and what kind of movie this was. I think she immediately saw that and knew how to calm me down which was just by getting me to talk because I wasn't really breathing all that well. So, she became a friend right away and was so respectful of where I was and what it took to get there. I think she had gone through the same thing and so had George and that's that thing. They always remember their first day and I think that's what makes them such great stars.

Question: Steve [Carell] was saying that this Dinner Party episode of The Office was one of the funniest ones.

Krasinski: Other than the one he wrote. He loves that one.

Question: What is your take on the episode?

Krasinski: I totally agree with him. It is one of the funniest episodes we've ever done and we realized it more and more in the shooting of it because, plain and simple, the way I describe it is it's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?' meets 'The Office' pretty literally, I've got to say. There's a little big drinking, a little bit of yelling and there's a whole lot of awkward stares from Pam and I while Jan and Michael are fighting so it was fun to do. It's as good as 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?' [laughs] I'd go so far as to say that.

Question: Burton and Taylor have nothing to worry about?

Krasinski: Nothing. And Mike Nichols, he's pretty good but we had Paul Feig who's right up there with him.

Question: When does it air?

Krasinski: I believe April 10th, Thursdays on NBC. It's weird how that programming comes out of nowhere.

Question: Have you now shot everything for the season?

Krasinski: No. We're one down. We still have six to go.

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