John Krasinski Interview for Leatherheads

April 4, 2008
Interview by: Dan Deevy

Written by: Rocco Passafuime

John Krasinski is co-starring in a movie with two of the biggest A-listers around—George Clooney and Renee Zellweger—and yet he is still as humble and as down-to-earth as always. He was stunned, shocked even, when Clooney handpicked him to take on the role of college football hero Carter Rutherford in the screwball comedy Leatherheads. Especially since Clooney is known to be a notorious prankster.

“I will be dead honest and this sounds incredibly crazy but it’s true,” Krasinski says. “I called my manager one day and I thought ‘Oh my God, this is it. This is George Clooney‘s biggest prank ever. Getting some kid from TV and getting him to believe that he is actually on a set with big movie stars and a big crew, and [George is] friends with Renee so he got her in on it.’ After therapy I realized that wasn’t true. No, I was really terrified that this whole thing might be some kind of weird prank. That’s how scared of him I was.”

Leatherheads is set in 1925 and follows the freewheeling game of football just before it became legitimized with rules and regulations. Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, the aging star of the Duluth Bulldogs looking for a way to keep his football dreams alive. Krasinski is Carter, the popular young athlete who could be Dodge’s ticket to fortune. However, Carter could also be the ticket for one reporter’s lucky break.
Renee Zellweger
plays Lexie Littleton, a sassy journalist set out to uncover a secret from Carter’s war-hero past. Krasinski believes it was his role as Jim Halpert on The Office that helped him snag the part in Leatherheads.

“I was given an amazing opportunity when I was on the show which is to play a character that is both sometimes funny and sometimes dramatic and I think that’s the best gift you could get as an actor, especially for a first role because it’s definitely how people see you,” he says. “That allowed George to see me as a potential person who could play a romantic character. Playing this character was a blast. Dressing up in actual costumes rather than a shirt and tie everyday and having a haircut for the first time was a big change for me and really helped my acting I think.”

The old-fashioned period piece aims to evoke feelings of the classic screwball comedies so Clooney gave all of his actors a bit of “homework” to help them further understand the style he wanted to achieve. “He gave us a list of movies to see and to be honest that was the biggest background work that I did, not that I’m that much of a background guy,” Krasinski says. “But watching those movies you really get a sense of two things: one is the acting style and how different it is, the Howard Hawks and the Preston Sturges movies and how punchy they are. George refers to it best as a front-foot when you’re acting rather than a back-foot which like The Office is very reactionary, it’s very living through the present moment whereas this type of acting style is being ready for the words and you almost respond before the other person said their line. But the other thing it showed you was the type of film George was making which is my favorite part about this film. The way my dad talks about movies that he’s seen like Butch Cassidy or something like that, his eyes will turn and he’ll get nostalgic about the moment that he saw that movie. Back then it was entertaining and it was like a whole new place you got to transport to a different place. And now there are political movies and action movies, there’s a lot of cutting and it’s very manipulative in a good way or a bad way. Back then it was a real sweet movie and you felt the sense of joy and almost overpowering Americana thing which I think this movie has.”

It also has a bit of love triangle, when Carter and Dodge both begin competing for Lexie’s affections. In real life, rumors swirled about Krasinski and
after they were spotted out together. Those rumors have since been debunked, but Krasinski credits
with helping him get through those stressful first days of shooting. “It started to get very overwhelming when you started to realize who you were working with and what kind of movie this was, and I think she immediately saw that and knew how to calm me down which was just by getting me to talk because I wasn’t really breathing that well,” he says. “So she became a friend right away and was so respectful of where I was and what it took to get there and I think she had gone through the same thing and so had George. That’s that thing, they always remember their first day and I think that’s what makes them such great stars.”

Working closely with Clooney also allowed Krasinski to observe the way he handled the dual roles of actor and director. “Clooney the actor is way nicer,” Krasinski jokes. “In both arenas, the similarities are that he’s incredibly focused and he’s just so good at what he does. He’s very well-composed, he’s very confident. It was funny to watch Clooney the actor being directed by Clooney the director because one of the biggest differences which he would hate but I loved was he had to do a football scene where he got hit really hard and then he runs back to the screen to look at it and while he’s looking at it he’s praying that it looks good so he doesn’t have to do it again. But he did. He had to go back into the throngs of it just like all of us.”

Speaking of actors directing their own projects, Krasinski recently directed his own film based on the David Foster Wallace book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. “It’s still in the editing process,” he says. “Unfortunately, I’ve had to chop up the editing process because of the movie and this pesky show. So we’re still figuring out what’s going to be happening with that, but I assume hopefully we’ll be hitting the film festival circuit soon.”

So who’s the better director: him or Clooney? “He is by far a better director, I would assume,” he says. “My directing was more sort of a liaison between actors trying to get them to realize what we were trying to do with the book because my entire movie relies on these monologue interviews. So it’s almost more of a theatrical piece, like a theater piece which makes my job really easy because I get to be like an audience member behind the monitors basically just laughing and getting a free show every day. So to actually do all the things that George was doing, I learned a ton and I think it’s still having an influence on the way I’m cutting the movie.”

Next up for Krasinski is a film co-starring SNL‘s Maya Rudolph and directed by award-winning director Sam Mendes. “It’s called Untitled Sam Mendes project as of right now, which I really like,” he says of the film. “It sounds like it’s gonna bring in a lot of people.”

In all seriousness, Krasinski seems genuinely excited about this one as he describes what the premise is about. “It’s quite simply a story about two people who don’t feel like they belong anywhere and when they get pregnant they decide to go all around the country and visit friends and wherever feels like home their going to stay for the rest of their lives,” he says. “Which I think is a sentiment and a fairytale that’s really nice. I think we all would like to belong somewhere. So in that really seemingly simple arch it’s just plenty of opportunity to bring in Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida’s words which are incredibly smart and incredibly well-written. The interaction between all the characters is gonna be really fun to do.”

And of course, we’ll be seeing more of Krasinski as that loveable Jim on The Office. The show returns next week from a writer’s strike induced hiatus. “Being back to The Office this week after the strike was very interesting,” he says. “Coming back from a hiatus over the summer you come back and say ‘how is everybody? How was your summer?’ No one really cares. But coming back to the show this time after being forced to have a hiatus everybody’s got a real new appreciation for what we’re doing–acting, being with a crew like this, being in the entertainment industry, but especially being on this show. Because when you’re working day in and day out it’s very easy to get to that place like, ‘Oh it’s just a job.’ It’s not a job at all, it’s a fantasy.”

And Krasinski’s living proof that fantasies really do come true.



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