In the shadow of this weekend’s “Imagine That” and “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” Sam Mendes’ newest character dramedy “Away We Go” will open in Boston. Starring John Krasinski from “The Office” and Maya Rudolph from “Saturday Night Live,” the film follows the story of an expectant couple on the search for the perfect home to raise their child.
Blast got a chance to talk to Newton native Krasinski when he came through Boston in a roundtable interview with some other Boston-based newspapers on everything from “Away We Go” and the up-coming season of “The Office,” to Krasinski’s directorial debut with “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” and politics.
Whose choice was it for the beard and does it really help or hinder your performing?
JOHN KRASINSKI: That was definitely in-character. That was all the way from Dave [Eggers] and Vendela’s [Vida] script. They wrote that, and they had it in the character and Sam jumped on it and loved it. I think part of that for him was he wanted to get aesthetically away from “The Office” if he could. But on top of it, I think it was really for the character. I remember the best direction he gave me right at the beginning, as far as general direction is, this character is just off. He’s not weird, so you can’t, because a weird character you could almost disassociate yourself from and be allowed to laugh at him and leave him behind, he said, but you know I need him to be just off. And I thought the beard and the glasses and the long hair is the perfect way to say, not totally weird, but I know someone like that. In fact, I might be that guy.
It’s almost like indecision in the way he can’t really shave, he can’t really get a haircut, he can’t really dress well.
JK: Yeah, exactly. One of my favorite things in the movie is when I go in the job interview and all I do is slick my hair back. I don’t shave or anything. I’m like, you’ll like me because my hair’s slicked back.
Did you talk to Dave Eggers and Vendela a lot before you started shooting?
JK: We had like a six week rehearsal process which was phenomenal on my end because we actually went almost line by line through the script. The cool thing about that was Dave and Vendela wrote this incredible script and I think no one can create a world like they do, and then Sam [Mendes] I think is the best storytelling director around, and I think there are great directors that make great movies but the way he tells stories so specifically and intimately, especially with relationships, it’s a whole different thing to bring to the project.
With Maya [Rudolph] and I, we were so nervous and excited to do it, but they were so generous and collaborative that all of us were just at a table going through every scene like, “What did you guys mean when you wrote it? What do you see when you want to direct it? What do you guys think when you read it? How do you want to play it?” So all those things were in play almost every line of the script, so that’s really where I developed my relationship with Maya. I mean, I had known her before a little bit and obviously, honestly, there are few people I’ve loved watching perform more than her. And then actually getting to know her, she is one of the most special people in the world.
But with Dave and Vendela it was the same thing. I had met them a couple times at these charity events, the 826 charity events, but had never really had a long conversation with them, and I’m a huge fan of theirs and a huge fan of Sam’s, so it was a big love fest for a couple of weeks.
BLAST: Did you actually go to all of the locations shown in the film?
JK: We went to a lot of them. Connecticut doubled as a lot of it. Connecticut doubled as Montreal, as Madison, and it doubled as Colorado, which is the house we started out in. But we did go to Tucson, we did go to Phoenix. So the first half was all stable and in Connecticut, which was actually kind of fun, because most of the movie was done before we went on the road, so when we went on the road we had a great idea of what we were doing, who we were seeing and why, and all that stuff. So we did Tucson for Tucson, we did Phoenix for Phoenix, and we did Miami for Miami and then the end of the movie we shot just north of Orlando and Leesburg.
And so that was really fun because for the huge scenes like Maggie [Gyllenhaal] and Josh Hamilton, when they do those scenes “" and I think it’s one of the best things Maggie’s ever done, and I love everything that she does “" but something that huge was really nice to not be on location, as far as in another town. To be central and to be able to come back to that for five straight days or whatever was a good thing, whereas when you’re in a hotel, shooting in a hotel, doing it in a hotel, being on location, it’s harder to feel like you can get those really substantial scenes done, so that was really nice.
BLAST: So you did most of it in Connecticut then?
JK: Yeah, I’d say we did probably 60 percent of it in Connecticut and then the 40 percent we did on the road was fun because I think that by going on the road to those scenes, it opened up the movie aesthetically and I think the vibe of the movie, I think, you could only get by going to those cities.
BLAST: I don’t think Connecticut could double as Tucson or Phoenix.
JK: Yeah, you can basically shoot in the parking lot and that’s it. Like, “We’re in Phoenix!”
You mentioned that scene with Maggie, and it’s so outrageous because we’re kind of used to guys at that point “" we’re traveling with you, we’re on your adventure “" and it takes such a sharp turn. What’s it like working with her? Is that scripted that way or is that something she brings to herself?
JK: You know, it’s completely scripted that way as far as her being completely, in my opinion, off her rocker. Unfortunately for me, you know, I don’t have a child, so I remember reading the script and being like, “Oh that scene’s so hilarious,” and Sam and Dave and Vendela were like, “No, no, that’s real. There are people like that, unfortunately.” The thing about it is she brought a commitment level that I don’t think any of us expected. She actually came on last minute in the film. She was brought in last minute; someone had dropped out of the film. And so she came in only a couple weeks before and hit the ground running.
She also hadn’t done hardly any acting since Ramona was born. She had even said, “I was nervous to come back.” Like, if that’s her nervous, oh my god. She really taught us incredible lessons. She brought such an incredible energy. You know, the way I see the movie for us as actors is Maya and I are almost like narrators in the movie “" we bring you into the scene and then we’ll bring you out, so we’re the constant variable, but once you’re in those scenes you know it’s a show where we’re the audience members, too. For that in particular, the way we shot it was the same way.
We had new actors working with us every week. And you know, Maggie “" also Allison Janney “" but Maggie was that incredible energy and it really changes the shooting experience, too, just like it changes the experience of the movie. It changed the shooting experience. Once you have that scene done, you’re like, whoa, this movie’s really starting to take shape. It was a blast.
Maggie’s character was probably the oddest characters in the film, but with such a wide variety of characters in the film, you feel like you have someone like them that you know. Do you consider yourself like Burt, or maybe another character in the film?
JK: I hope there’s some Burt in me. I think that eternal optimist is something we all hope we have in us. There’s something child-like in him, and he loves everything from traveling to carving a piece of wood, and I think that that’s really exciting. I think that, you know, I think that for me, especially in my view of being a father; I’d love to be a father someday, and I hope that I approach it a lot more like Tom does.
I think that, you know, Chris Messina and Melanie Lynskey’s characters are the true parents in the movie as far as people who actually have the kids, because our characters don’t have a child yet, but those two characters for me are such a good placement in the movie because you see that stability, you see that perfect world, and yet for them it’s not perfect, and yet you make do with what you have and it’s such an important part of the movie and parenting in general, and I think we admire that final ingredient, where everyone’s telling you, this is how you raise the kid: you give him a cell phone, you don’t give him the cell phone, you never put him in the stroller, all these crazy little bits of advice, and then their advice is you just shower them with love no matter what, and no matter what happens you have to love your kids. And that’s sort of what triggers us over to say to go where we end up in the movie. So I think I were to say if I were a mix of two characters, I’d hope it was Burt and Tom. I also think I secretly want to be Chris Messina anyway.
BLAST: The scene where you and Verona are waiting for her sister, and there’s the little kid who was coming around: How were you able to hold it together during that scene?
JK: I didn’t. Quite honestly, I didn’t hold it together. The first two takes, I was laughing so hysterically, because it’s one of those things that when you read it on paper, you’re like, “That’s funny,” and then when you put that dialogue in that little cute kid’s mouth, it was unbelievable. It was like watching some incredible comedy sketch where he’s been doing this for years. It’s also incredibly dark in a lot of ways, so having him smile and be very little kid about putting a pillow on a baby’s face, it was just so all not adding up in my brain, so I laughed a lot, but I think my brain collapsed, too. Umm, he was so good. Pete Wiggins: unbelievable.
I don’t know if you’ve seen those commercials, I think it’s like AIG, where he’s the lead in the commercial, but he’s dressed in like a business suit in like his office, talking about his retirement plan, it’s so good, and it’s the same type of thing. I don’t think he even knows how funny he is, he’s like, “I’m just going to say these lines.” I mean, it was awesome. It’s just fantastic. But I think we had to keep it together more for him, because when you laugh, I think he thought we were laughing at him. It was a real bummer. He was like, “What am I doing wrong?” and we were like, “No no no, I’m actually stealing everything.”
Kids were a big part of the movie. What was it like working with all of them?
JK: They were fantastic. I mean, again, like Pete Wiggins, some of that comic timing, you can’t achieve. It was sort of that thing that because he didn’t know that it was funny, it was even funnier. And then I remember, you know the girl who plays my niece at the end of the movie; to me that moment where she says, “Can you stay a little longer?” and stuff like that, it’s like you have to put a face to these kids because they’re the reason why any of us are doing what we’re doing in the movie. When Paul Schneider does that amazing speech about whether or not she’s just going to be the girl who doesn’t have a mom, you still have to see that girl and she has to make an impact, she can’t just be a face with a smile and two hands.
And then, I just think that the kids were so good because very rarely in a movie do you put so much on the kids. Because usually the kids are just the kids who are cute or do something funny or sweet or whatever, or they’re older actors and they’re 11 year olds or 10 year olds. You know, you have people like Dakota Fanning, you know, in those movies earlier on, where she’s just an incredible actress. And these kids, especially the kids in Phoenix, they did every single thing Sam said. They were berated with all that dialogue and just kept a straight face, did their thing, and so they fit into the movie so perfectly, that you realize that if you didn’t have kids like that, the movie wouldn’t have turned out the way it was supposed to. So I think we owe a ton to them.
This is such a different comedy for you. Your other films have been broader comedies, physical comedy, and it’s kind of like the way you look: it’s like a different you on screen. Is that important for something for you to do as an actor and is this more the comedy you’d watch versus some of your more physical, broader comedies?
JK: Yeah, absolutely. I think really the comedy that’s most like me is probably “The Office,” and I think for me, the comedies that I watch and the comedies that I like to participate in are the more subtle, the more reality-based stuff. Whether it’s comedy or drama, I’ve been asked, would you want to do more dramatic work, and absolutely, yes, is the answer, but not because I want to move away from comedy, but any opportunity that I can to play a real moment. A real moment’s a real moment, like in this movie there’s real moments that I think are really funny and great and then there’s moments like at the end, and it’s all in the same realm.
And I think that’s the same way with “The Office.” What we’ve been gifted with on “The Office” are the greatest writers in television who are gutsy enough to write a scene on a boat where I’m supposed to say “I love you” to the girl of my dreams and then I don’t say anything, because that’s real. They’ve never done anything for ratings or dramatic affect or anything like that, and I think that that’s evident in this movie, too, because there’s many moments in this movie where you can say there’s the big act two scene where we fall out of a plane or out of a bus or something where you hit some peak, but instead it’s all about the couple and because you’re connected to the couple you stay with the movie.
But you know the bigger, broader stuff, you know something like “Leatherheads” was just so much fun to be a part of because it was just so different and so you know the first part of your question is do I like doing things different, and absolutely. I mean, it’s like writing about one topic can get really old but there’s never anything I’m moving away from, which I’m so lucky to have. It’s not like I’m trying to move away from “License to Wed” or “Leatherheads” or this or “The Office,” and especially “The Office.” “The Office” is never something you want to move away from. It’s that thing that every season you beg for it to come back.
So I’ve just been incredibly lucky. The other thing about my career is I don’t have that Johnny Depp career where he’s made such incredible choices. I’m lucky enough where people have asked me to be a part of these movies. It’s not like I was sitting there saying, “I’d like to work with someone like George Clooney.” I was just like everybody else: in line, begging to work with him. And then Sam Mendes called me and said, “I’ve read this script, and I don’t see anybody else doing it than you.” And I know if I read that, that an actor had said that, I’d be like, “Wait, the dude from ‘The Office’ got a call from Sam Mendes? That doesn’t make sense.” And I’m with you. It’s totally surreal. So I’ve just been really, really lucky.
I think if you keep working with good people who love what they do and do it well, then the movie’s going to turn out to be really special, whether it’s a broad comedy that has heart, you know, a movie like “Big” is a perfect example of like, it’s a kid’s movie but it’s really funny but it’s got a lot of heart to it and it’s all because the people involved I think probably loved what they did and everybody was good at what they were doing and I think that that’s the type of movie that this is.
You got to commit to the reality of it somehow, because if you’re in the back of your head going, “People are going to love this because it’s funny,” then it’s going to look like you’re doing it for laughs, whereas if you really believe that kids are screwed up anyways, so just give them a cell phone, they’ll be fine; you’ve got to believe that line, you can’t say, “Oh, I can’t wait for people to laugh at that line,” because it’s a really different acting experience.
Which is why when Maggie says about her kids with the strollers, “Why would I ever push my kids away?” “"
JK: It’s amazing.