We really must thank John Krasinski’s mom, Mary Claire, née Doyle. For giving birth to John, yes, but also for this: After he graduated from Brown University, he attended the Eugene O’Neill National Theater Institute in Waterford, Conn. When the 14-week course ended, Mary Claire, a nurse in Newton, Mass., where John was raised, picked him up. He got in the car and told her he was moving to New York to be an actor.
“In point-two seconds she said, ‘Great,’” Krasinski recalled recently, sitting on a hotel sofa in Toronto. “’Just know that in three years, if you don’t have a bite’” – here he pauses helpfully to explain that he and his two older brothers used to fish as kids – “‘or a nibble or any sign that you’re going to get something bigger, will you do me one favour? Will you pull yourself out? Because as your mom, you can’t ask me to tell her son to give up on his dream. You have to do that on your own.’”
Krasinski agreed. Sure enough, he phoned her 2½ years later. It was September. He told her she was right, he was going to bail, he’d gotten little parts here and there but nothing substantial. She said, “Oh, just finish out the year.” Three weeks later, he landed his now iconic role, snickery-sweet Jim Halpert on NBC’s The Office. “I think I owe her 10 per cent,” he joshes.
If your response is “Awww,” well, that’s pretty common. Krasinski, 38, is America’s sweetheart, the Good Guy Nobody Doesn’t Like. He adores his wife of eight years, the English actor Emily Blunt. (“Trust me, there were a lot of suitors out there,” he says, grinning. “I had to lock it down fast.”) He’d do anything for his two daughters, Hazel, 4, and Violet, almost 2.
Meeting him in person, your first (and repeated) impression is that he is startlingly buff. Handsome, 6 foot 3, he sports a full brown beard (like all beard guys, he can’t stop tugging at it), and wears a navy and cream striped sweater that accents his broad chest. He got into ab-countable shape to play a soldier in the Benghazi drama 13 Hours, and stayed that way – a lucky thing, since he’s playing the eponymous CIA operative in the Amazon series Jack Ryan, due this August. He has cool friends, including Jimmy Kimmel (the Blunt-Krasinskis used to live next door to the talk-show host in Los Angeles, but recently moved to New York) and George Clooney. And he’s humble as heck.
“George has been a great mentor,” Krasinski says. “I remember I told my dad” – Ronald, an internist – “’This life is like a snow globe. You have to make sure that you shake it up and look at it. Because if you believe that it’s real, you’re in trouble.’ The moment you feel like you deserve all this? You should be escorted out.
“But George’s thing is,” Krasinski, a bit of a free-associator, goes on, “‘Yes, you’re lucky. It’s about what you do with it.’ I always want to feel like I’m doing everything I can with it.”
That includes his scary new drama A Quiet Place, opening April 6, which he co-wrote, directed and stars in. He and Blunt play married parents, Lee and Evelyn, in a near-future where the few people still extant live in total silence, because the blind aliens who kill them hunt via noise. It’s edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, but also smart and surprisingly sad. Krasinski sees it as an allegory for parenthood.
“I never would have chosen it had we not had our second daughter weeks before I read the first draft,” he says. “One-thousand per cent it’s a love letter to my kids.”
Evelyn and Lee toughen up their children by sending them into the woods, and Krasinski was hyperaware that he was crafting a metaphor: “The biggest fear of parents is the day your kids have to go off into the darkness by themselves,” he says. “You know what’s out there, but they have to experience it on their own. You can’t keep telling them, ‘Don’t do drugs, watch out for this boy or girl.’ They have to live it.”
As well, there’s a political undertone involving people who are literally trapped in silos during unstable times, and the danger that befalls us when we can’t talk to each other. And it’s a swoony love letter to Blunt. “I’m genuinely shocked every day, how happy we are,” Krasinski says. “But working with each other – Emily phrased it better than I could, as always. She said, ‘You see a different side of your spouse.’”
Just before shooting began, Krasinski ran into Rob Marshall, who directed Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns (due Christmas Day). Marshall told him, “Not until you’re in the room when she does what she does will you know how talented your wife is.”
Sure enough, on Day 2, they shot an emotionally demanding scene with Blunt huddling in a bathtub. “There was only one take ever of that scene, because she just let it rip,” Krasinski says, wide-eyed with admiration. “I swear, all the air left the room. The crew couldn’t breathe. It did make me fall in love with my wife more, absolutely.”
Krasinski crafted the part with Blunt in mind, but he didn’t want to pressure her by telling her that. “Maybe it’s the Roman Catholic in me, but I can’t deal with people doing anything just for me,” he says. By the time he finally showed it to her, on a plane, she had begun to suggest other actresses.
“Halfway to L.A., she turned to me,” he recalls. “I genuinely thought she was sick. I was reaching for a barf bag when she said, ‘You can’t let anyone else do this role.’ It was like she was proposing to me. She said, ‘Will you let me do this role?’ People think I’m being nice, but it’s true: It’s the best compliment of my career, because I know first-hand what goes into her decisions. Her extreme good taste, her specificity, her strength of character and dedication to projects. I don’t know that I’ll have a better experience on a movie.”
All film sets are quiet, but this one had to be silent. Krasinski wanted to capture every room tone, bird song, wind swoosh. “I knew it was a high-wire act, but on Day 2, I realized that the thing I was most scared of – would the silence be interesting enough? – could be our superpower,” he says. “The performances are so emotional and specific and articulate, without saying a word.”
For a modest dude, Krasinski is not shy about casting himself – he’s directed three films and he’s in all of them. (The first two were 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and 2016’s The Hollars. He also directed three episodes of The Office). “I wrote A Quiet Place as an allegory for parenthood, and if I’m being selfish and honest, there was a part of me that wanted my kids to see me in the allegory,” he admits.
He also derives “a lot of benefit from not being a disembodied head behind monitors yelling Cut.” Creating flow in a scene “is like spinning silk. You conjure something out of nothing and start to build a moment, and when someone calls ‘cut’ it sort of ruins that. But if I’m also an actor, I can stay in the moment with the other actors. You’ve created this safe space where they can keep going with their ideas, you can give them little notes and not let anyone come talk to them, so it remains this safe membrane.”
As our time runs out, Krasinski circles back to that first big break. “I work hard,” he says. “But when people ask, ‘Do you do all this to distance yourself from The Office?’ I say, ‘No, it’s the exact opposite.’ As a kid, I was 1,000-per-cent a huge Jim Carrey fan, Chris Farley fan, SNL fan. But the opportunities in my life after The Office were so massive, I felt I would be squandering them if I sat back and did another comedy. I’m still the kid I was in college, who promised himself, ‘If I ever get an opportunity I’ll do everything I can with it.’ You have to realize you’re lucky, and I do, every second of the day. I feel so lucky that it freaks me out sometimes.”
To which I can only reply, “Awww.”