For “Promised Land,” Gus Van Sant’s new eco-drama, John Krasinksi found himself pulling double duty. Not only is he one of the film’s leads, playing a devilishly charismatic environmental advocate, but he also co-wrote the screenplay with the movie’s other big star, Matt Damon (with some assistance from beloved novelist Dave Eggers). Not too shabby for a guy most people know for his lovably goofy drone on “The Office.”
We got to talk to Krasinksi about what it was like working with Damon, what references he touched on with the film’s screenplay, where he sees his career going and what his favorite movies of 2012 are (hint: one of them stars his lovely wife, Emily Blunt).
Was this something that Eggers brought to you guys? Or was it something the three of you wrote together?
It was my idea, actually. I had the idea about two years ago. I wanted to do a movie about American identity and it felt like the landscape seemed to be headed towards a crazy overture about the people being elected instead of the people who are being affected by these decisions. I felt like the first time in a long time we had forgotten about the people. Subconsciously I was thinking about it because of my dad, because he grew up in a small steel town outside of Pittsburgh and his dad worked three jobs and they didn’t have a lot. I remember being a little kid and asking him if his childhood was awful. And he said, “No, it was great. We had friends, family, and this faith in community.” I always remembered that and wanted to tell a story about a community like that. I brought it to Dave Eggers, who I had worked with on “Away We Go” and we hammered out the characters and story. He was writing a novel that summer so I only had him for a limited amount of time. Then I took it to Matt.
And what was it like working with Matt on the script? That must have been a huge deal.
Yeah, honestly I was totally shocked when he said he wanted to do it with me. He was talking to me about how much he wanted to direct and how nervous he was about directing and how he had to find the right project. One night he said, “Do you have anything you’d want to do?” And I said, “Yeah I’ve been working on this thing,” and pitched it to him. He loved it. He wanted to do something small and contained for his directorial debut. So we started writing right away, which was a crazy process. To be honest the whole process has been totally surreal. When you’re writing with the guy who wrote “Good Will Hunting,” and being from Boston we have the poster tattooed on our back… So being in a room writing with him, it was so surreal.
What was the transition like when he decided not to direct it?
It was a bummer when he decided not to do it. Basically he was shooting “Elysium,” this sci-fi movie, and they went about a month and a half over. So he thought that he would have a break before pre-production. He had gotten out in December and then immediately had to do all the press for Cameron Crowe’s movie [“We Bought a Zoo”]. So he realized he had been away from his family for so long and would have to go right away, so scheduling-wise it was a tough time to do it. And “Liberace” had moved up so his window was very tight. So he said, “For my first one I don’t want to put this much pressure on it.” And I said, “You’re a jerk.” No, it was a tough conversation to have but I knew why he was doing it.
Also, we had had funding from Warner Bros. because of him. They were doing it to support Matt. So when he dropped out they pulled funding. So everything seemed to be coming apart in my world. And the next morning I remember he said, “I sent it to Gus Van Sant.” And I remember thinking, Yeah right, like he’d ever do this. But Gus read it and loved it and wanted to do it, which I think was the greatest compliment our script ever got.
As far as substitutes for Matt Damon go, Gus Van Sant is pretty great.
Yeah, Matt said the best thing he ever did as a producer was fire himself as a director.
What was it like bringing him on as a creative principle?
He surprises you in every way because he’s so good. Gus is very quiet and he doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s so focused and so incredibly helpful and completely changes the trajectory of the idea. It was an incredibly blessed experience because we were all in it together.
Who did you look to for your character?
Well what’s interesting is that both of us had never done roles like this. Matt said that he had never done one of those [Elia] Kazan roles. He was such a big fan of “On the Waterfront” and “Wild River.” So he was really excited to write that part for himself. And I was really excited to do something a little different too. I’m a huge fan of all the [Frank] Capra movies so I’m sure that idea of a man going up against something was on my mind a lot. We were taking from things like “The Verdict” — that’s my favorite movie of all time. I remember watching “Michael Clayton” a couple of times throughout the thing just to keep it, tonally, in my mind.
Now that “The Office” is winding down, how do you see your career going?
It’s hard to base your career on anyone else’s. I just feel like that path would be filled with so much heartbreak. But to me, what I’m really excited about, is playing characters with conflict. I had a blast on “The Office” and it has given me every opportunity and I probably wouldn’t have met my wife without the show. But this movie is one of those moments where if someone gave me the keys and asked me what I wanted to do, it would be this movie. This is the kind of character I’ve always been interested in, and the stories I’ve always been interested in. I’m happy to be a likable guy as long as there’s something underneath.
You need to play a serial killer next.
That’s what I’m getting at.
What have your favorite movies of the year been?
I loved “Silver Linings Playbook.” I thought it was fantastic. And I’m a huge Paul Thomas Anderson. So that whole spectacle of “The Master,” because it really was a spectacle. So watching that was really interesting.
You should probably mention something that your wife was in.
Everybody thinks I’m kidding but my favorite movie of the year was ‘Looper.’ I saw a first cut a year and a half ago and was totally blown away. To me, I think it’s one of the best told stories, one of the best shot stories and one of the most entertaining. To do a genre movie is so difficult, but to have a genre movie be so well done also — it’s not only fun but also incredibly admirable. People get jealous when they see a movie like that.
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