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Adapting a Literary Masterwork for the Screen: John Krasinski on His “Hideous Men”

Adapting a Literary Masterwork for the Screen: John Krasinski on His "Hideous Men"

EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men” opens in theaters this week.

With “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” actor John Krasinski makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s book of the same name. The film follows Sara, a doctoral candidate in anthropology who’s boyfriend leaves her with little explanation. As a remedy to her heartache, she begins a research project conducting a series of well, brief interviews with hideous men. indieWIRE interviewed Krasinski about the film, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, and is being released in theaters this Friday.

Please introduce yourself…

My name is John Krasinski. I was born in Newton, MA. Graduated from Brown University in 2001 with honors in English as a playwright. I attended the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, CT just after Brown. I moved to NYC in 2002 and was a professional… waiter, for 3 years. After getting several commercials and a few film and TV roles, I was lucky enough to get the part as ‘Jim Halpert’ on NBC’s “The Office.”

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?

Being on the show is, without a doubt, the most creatively inspiring environment I could have. The show has the greatest writers in the business, who deliver such awesome material that, as an actor, you gain confidence. Confidence to try new things, to commit to moments, to be funny- when really it’s all the writers’ doing all along. It’s that confidence that first gave me the delusion that I could direct a movie. I learned every skill I had simply from working week-in and week-out with such incredible directors, both in TV and film. Whatever instinct I had was coupled with the trust of the team around me. I learned that the best way to work is to allow the scene to live on its own before making major adjustments, whether in rehearsal or on film. Making this movie was such a team effort-and I had the best team, from the DP to all the actors. I was surrounded by the most amazing people who brought a special life to the film.

How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?

I have wanted to adapt this book into a film ever since I first heard it out loud. In college, I was asked to be a part of a staged reading of the interviews. I can honestly say that, until that moment, I hadn’t really even thought about being an actor outside of school. It was in that one night’s performance where my personal definition of acting went from just “an opportunity to make my friends laugh” to this incredible sense of “being a part of something.” As cliché as that sounds, I had never been so moved in watching a theater performance, seeing how all the interviews worked as a group. David Foster Wallace, in my opinion, is one of the greatest writers we’ve ever had, certainly in the last twenty years. His obvious dominance of the English language is partnered with honest moments and the most beautifully dark sensibility. The result is an astounding book, and the most awesome material for an actor!

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…

As far as the process of making the movie goes, I felt like I won the lottery, starting with financing for the movie. In any other situation, financing would have been next to impossible, but the film first saw light when a college roommate of mine read the script and agreed to finance the movie himself. And the winning lotto numbers just continued from there, including the day we got John Bailey, our cinematographer, on board. The man has shot some of my favorite movies, from “Days of Heaven” to “Ordinary People” and then that little indie movie, “As Good As it Gets.” Probably the biggest challenge for me as a director was to not show how scared I was. I was surrounded by some of the most talented people in the industry, and I had to pretend I knew what I was doing. It all worked out, and the vision I had had of the movie since the day we performed it at Brown was first realized, and then completely surpassed.

What are some of your favorite films, and what are your other creative influences?

Because I didn’t have one movie in mind to emulate, my drive and reason for wanting to see this movie through is 100% based on my favorite films that I watch over and over. Quite honestly, my definition of film is nothing more than “an amalgam of moments.” Whether it’s the final courtroom scene in “The Verdict,” any one of bowling scenes in “The Big Lebowski,” or the breakup scene in “All the Real Girls,” every moment in my movie was me trying to achieve only a FRACTION of feeling I get from film moments like those. I wanted to project the same feeling I got when I read the book. It was such an honor to get a chance to play with such terrific material. This movie can never achieve the wave of unbridled imagination one gets the first time one reads any of Foster Wallace’s work. But with any luck, it will at least do the book justice.

What are your future projects?

I’m not sure when I’ll direct next- I sure took long enough to finish this movie! But this is an extremely high bar set, as far as experience goes. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to direct something like this, with such amazing people around me, again! I’m always thrilled to head back to “The Office,” and in the spring I’ll be in a new movie called “Away We Go.” The film was directed by Sam Mendes, and written by Dave Eggars and his wife, Vendela Vida.

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