Being Afraid of Horror Movies Helped John Krasinski Direct 'A Quiet Place'
'The Office' actor tells us how frightening it was to make his directing debut.
The Office and A Quiet Place. Images via YouTube
“Why do I get so scared? Honestly, I don’t know why,” he tells me before chuckling. On paper, a guy who admits to being easily frightened during a simple shower has no business being a horror director. In fact, he has no business being a good one. But just a few days ago, Krasinski’s head was spinning when Stephen King himself gave his new flick, A Quiet Place, a seal of approval.
The critically acclaimed horror thriller earned $50.8 million this past week and is heading toward $100 million this month. Most of those involved, including Krasinski and co-star/wife Emily Blunt, never saw it coming. Smart marketing, word-of-mouth, and a high-concept story (a family that can’t make noise because of horrifying monsters that hunt by noise) transformed a low-key $17 million dollar SXSW film into one of the biggest movies of 2018 so far.
While Krasinski may always be known as the lovable, human gif that is Jim Halpert from The Office, he’s on a whole different ride right now. So I reached out to Krasinski to find out how a self-professed scaredy-cat managed to make 2018’s best horror movie.
VICE: So, a guy from The Office has the legendary Stephen King calling A Quiet Place a masterpiece, are you feeling OK?
John Krasinski: It’s overwhelming. You don’t even fathom that as being possible. He’s literally the king of horror!
It’s not really stopping. You got James Corden, Lebron James, Chris Pratt, and so many others saying the same, plus that 96 percent Rotten Tomato score. How are you processing all this during your quiet time?
That’s a very good question. I’m still processing. I’ve been processing since that first screening at SXSW. It’s like that high school feeling that you get when you think something’s cool, but you hope other people also think it’s cool, and the fact that other people think it’s cool makes it now cool. Both myself and Emily are completely blown away by the reaction, and we honestly couldn’t be happier.
Do you think not being a horror guy as you’ve often said had something to do with you being able to make a horror movie that felt different?
It may have because I didn’t go into it looking at it as a horror movie. It was more of a movie about a family, and just making sure that I locked that down in a way that felt very organic and real to me. It also helped that I was just experiencing the fact that Emily and I just had our second daughter three weeks before I even read the first script. I wanted it to reflect that kind of experience. I still remember Greg Daniels on The Office telling me that my job wasn’t to deliver the lines in a funny way; it was to deliver them honestly. If they find them funny, it’s up to them. If people found them emotional, that was up to them, too. I have to do what I know I can do, and my job is to make sure that the family in A Quiet Place feels as real as any group of people.
I also watched a ton of horror movies in preparation. I found my strength in that very thing I thought was my weakness. When I was watching these movies, I wasn’t looking for technique and what I could steal from them; I was just paying attention to how I reacted. When was I scared? When did I feel tense? When did the moments work the best for me? I felt like my own test audience.
It’s funny because you’ve said in so many interviews that you scare easily. Why is that?
For me, it’s the bigger things, like the things in this movie. The idea that I wouldn’t be around in the moment that my kids were in the most danger and the toughest spots. But why do I get so scared? Honestly, I don’t know why [laughs]. I’m one of those guys that when I’m in the shower, and Emily comes to tell me she’s going out with the kids, it’s like my mind invests completely in what I’m doing at the moment, I lose all awareness of what’s around me. I’m not one of those one ear, one out guys [laughs], so her just telling me that they’re going to the grocery store will send me jumping five feet in the air!
So you don’t remember when it first started for you? Like a movie where you were just like, nope, I’m done with this horror shit.
Yeah! I mean, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which was mostly the slasher, Freddy Krueger, and Jason era. I just had no interest to invest in all that. Nothing good came out of that for me [laughs].
I remember being at a friends house, and they were going to watch Nightmare on Elm Street, and just as he’s about to put in the VCR tape—yes, the vintage days of VCR tapes—he was putting it in, and I just started to have a real anxiety attack. My older brother notices, and he pulls me out of it and says, you know what, John’s too young for this, I’m taking him out of here. I only realized years later that he totally did that to save himself [laughs]. He completely used me to extract himself from the situation because he didn’t want anything to do with Freddy either. It was genius really.
It’s interesting, though. Jordan Peele loved horror, but he was also afraid of it. His background was mostly rooted from comedy with Get Out. And it’s like he understood the comedic workup to the punchline. Horror films like A Quiet Place are all about that workup. Do you think your relationship with comedy played a role here?
That’s really interesting. I think the idea of timing was huge, and I heard someone suggest something like this before. It also plays a major role in comedy obviously, and it plays a huge part in scares. I remember with 24 hours left in my cut, we were just shaving frames before the scare, and it was all about the setup and the knockdown, just like a joke. I think there’s some truth to it. Certainly, I benefited greatly from my experiences in comedy in a huge way. What Jordan did with Get Out was phenomenal, and I loved that movie, but the other thing about it is that there was a bigger theme. Comedy does the same. You’re not just making a film about jokes, Peele did that, but it was also about a much bigger, deeper theme that needed to be discussed. I feel the same way about A Quiet Place.
A great thing about watching this was the nuances being communicated with just faces. If my significant other gives me a certain look, I already know what it means. How valuable was it to have your real wife, Emily Blunt, be a part of this sort of film?
[Laughs] So valuable in every single way! Certainly in the way that you’re talking about too. You can identify with the idea that there’s this secret language between spouses or people who had a romantic history. That’s kind of brilliant because that’s the only language we had to use, so there was so much of that. The power of being married in this movie as well as real-life helped big time.
Then there’s Emily, who was just supportive and next to me literally, physically, and figuratively, and it was unbelievable. To be able to rely on her not only performance wise but in the way that she had a calm hand through the whole thing, it helped. This was the most all-in I’ve ever been on a movie. It was the biggest career risk I had ever taken. To have a person be that rock next to you in that situation is huge.
It’s obvious that you have an appreciation for family. It’s why you chose to do this horror film. What are you drawing from as a father?
Wow, everything. When my daughter arrived three weeks before, there was a feeling that every parent goes through, which is sheer terror. Not only the terror to keep your child alive and safe but all those physical attributes that come with the day to day experiences. There’s also the idea that you’re not ready, and that you’re not a good enough person to be their father, and that this is such a responsibility and undertaking. You just hope you’re good enough. All of those things are factored in. Certainly, the relationship between Millicent Simmonds and I, this idea of guilt, responsibility, and protection was a really beautiful and honest thing.
I've got to say. A ton of what you’ve been doing now has been a lot different then your earlier stuff—your first onstage play with Dry Powder, for example. It would seem like you’re trying to build an image away from The Office, but how much do you miss it?
I miss it on every level. And I’ll tell you right now, I’m not trying to move away from Jim and The Office at all. I completely get that by the end of my career, I’ll most likely be known best as Jim, and that’s an honor. That’s not going away, and it’s actually because of The Office that I think I can take these risks. The Office can be something you put on your mantelpiece and say that it’ll never get as good as that because it can’t be replicated.
I named my production Sunday Night because when I was living in New York waiting tables, one of the things that people told me back then that I realize now is that the one thing you don’t get to do when you’re a working actor is act. You’re doing six or seven jobs, making ends meet to pay the bills. So my friends would meet every Sunday, and that’s the only time we ever had. Our group was called the Sunday Night Crew, and we just chopped it up about movies, plays, books, and the music we loved. It was the only time we could be artists and be creative. Back then, we all made the battle cries of, if we got the chance, we’d do this and that. I genuinely feel like that with the opportunity I was given because of The Office. I have to do what I promised my friends. I have to take chances. That’s really what it’s about for me.
And what a chance. You went into a horror genre and broke two thematic rules from the start. You had to know that this could go really wrong.
Yeah! You said it best. This was a high-wire act, and I think that’s why I said it’s the most personal experience I’ve ever had. It’s the most all-in I’ve ever been. Career-wise, I was putting a lot on the line, but also personally, this was a love letter to my kids. If I’m being honest, I knew that if I didn’t succeed in doing this movie, I was ready to end my directing career. I went in knowing that this was a make-or-break sort of move. So it was extremely challenging, especially with no dialogue. Filmmakers will tell you that dialogue is the metronome that you can cut to. You can edit to the rhythm, tension, and story with dialogue. It’s when you remove that when you’re left with something more untethered with you having to find your way. That was scary.
What were audiences willing to take? What were they willing to go with you on? I really did feel like this was all or nothing. In knowing that, I felt bold enough to make the choices I made because if it didn’t work, I was really never going to do it again, and that’s okay.
Well, as far as chances go, you’re going to take a chance on Mars, I hear?
I didn’t even know that story was coming out. I don’t even know where the title Life on Mars even came from [laughs]. At the end of the day, the short story seemed so interesting. It was just a seed of an idea that was something similar to A Quiet Place. My company brought it to Paramount and Platinum Dunes, so it was a piece of material that we loved and wanted to explore. If I direct it, that’ll be great, but if not, it’s just a really great story. It’s an open-door type of tale that can end up in different places.
So everyone got it wrong?
Yup. It's not called Life on Mars [laughs]... none of that stuff is real.
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