I interviewed John Krasinski after he screened his directorial debut, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, at Pomona College. I schvitzed the entire time. He said smart things and glowed like a beautiful famous alien.
LS: So…it’s kind of awkward to have an interview right after a Q&A. Sorry about that.
JK: I know, right? No problem.
LS: I’ll try to encapsulate this whole thing for those wailing multitudes who didn’t get in.
JK: (laughs) Alright.
LS: So first of all, since DFW isn’t with us anymore, we can’t really hear his voice here on campus about writing. I just wanted to thank you for bringing this movie to campus; it’s such a great opportunity for us to see his work come to life again.
JK: Ah, thank you, that’s very, very nice. Thank you.
LS: I read that you first discovered his writing as an undergraduate as Brown. What was it about his work that spoke to you, that really got you?
JK: It was…you’re right, this is weird after a Q&A. It was definitely the unique experience I had in doing that stage reading. It was one of those things where it started out just being really great acting material that I thought I’d have a lot of fun doing. And then, when you see the group all put together, all being performed…there was a lot of things that happened that night where there was a huge emotional impact of the work on me. Because I think, you know, when you’re a junior in college and you’re quote-unquote “finding yourself,” sometimes there’s a voice that can come through that rings like a bell. For me, that idea that I was talking about in [the Q&A] was about perspective, perspective on the world. Taking information that’s delivered to you and sussing it out, a few degrees to the right and a few degrees to the left, before you make some understanding of it. Even if it is, like I was saying in there…were you in there?
JK: Okay. Even if it is the same idea you had before, you investigate it slightly. It’s fine, but you have to do the work. And that’s sort of what [the quote at the end of the film] means: “The truth will set you free, but not until it’s done with you.” Usually even the truth takes a lot of work. But then I gotta say, in particular, the Daniel speech to me was sort of this epitome of self-reflection and self-discovery in the highest sense of the term. The ability to speak so off-the-cuff and project so much on a group of people – women, abused women – and then to slowly descend into this self-discovery, the fact that it’s happened to you…You know, to me, that sort of honesty was very rare in anything that I was reading or experiencing or acting it. So that honesty really rang true to me. Getting to the real meat of things, where you’re able to discuss things. I think college can be a very fun time for discussion, but at the same time these discussions are very heady and pseudo-intellectual. I was guilty of it myself for sure. But to really get to the meat of these things is so important. So that was it for me. And also to see the audience have such a polarizing reaction…some people were so excited by it, some people were really hurt. You know, off-put by it, in a way. And I just thought: that big of a reaction is so interesting. I just think it’s so rare these days to leave anything with that big reaction. I think people just leave movies or plays just going, “That was okay.” Or, “That was bad.” But to really feel something is very exciting.
LS: Right – when we’re entertained, when we’re reading a book or seeing a film, we’re not really expecting to be hurt or accosted.
JK: Exactly, exactly. And I think the way he writes everything, he’s forcing you to think about yourself whether you want to admit it or not. You know what I mean? There’s so much of his writing that sort of makes you uncomfortable. Like, “Oh my God, I see myself in that” or “I recognize the world around me” or “I absolutely don’t do the work he’s doing in these characters.” It was sort of that whole thing.
LS: Getting to the source material itself – the original four pieces that were the Brief Interviews. I mean, it’s all dialogue, it’s super complex. When you’re reading DFW, you’re thinking, “Every single word needs to be here, or it wouldn’t be right.” What was the process like, mentally, since you’re such a fan of his work…having to pare down –
JK: It was terrifying. I mean really, it’s like editing Shakespeare or something. You know that he’s done everything pretty deliberately. He’s made it very clear as an author that he doesn’t…that there’s very little of his observation in his writing that is done frivolously. And, not to mention, I had a connection to all of this stuff. So paring down some of the stuff, some of it meant paring down two-thirds of a monologue. So the question there, of what was lost in translation…I would hope a great deal. The page count would have been huge, what was lost in translation. So, the other thing was to pare down his writing to at times be slightly less literary so that the characters could come to life a little better. Some of those monologues start out being very casual and there’ll be literary ideas and pretty high-concept stuff that sort of take that character out of reality. For instance, the one-armed guy – I needed to keep him, in my mind, a little more blue-collar. There are definitely things in that monologue that would make him…it’s not even that it would make him not blue-collar, it would be uncharacteristic. And it would lower his believability as that person. So you had to assist the actors in getting their mouths around it. But no, it was a terrifying thing, because so much of what I cut is amazing. It’s funny, I went back and read the book after the movie was shot, just kind of like…as a goodbye. I was just like, “Oh my God, this is my favorite part!” But it’s not in the movie. So there were a lot of those moments. Yeah, it’s a big thing. I’m very honest about the movie because I never really intended to be a director or a writer, so there are gonna be flaws that people see in this movie, which they should. And then there are also just the ideas that these interviews being brought to life in this way is only one way. There are so many other people who could have done it, and hopefully this is gonna spur on directors to take his work in different directions. In this one way, it meant a lot to me, and I think it got across. And I hope people will talk.
LS: Well, we’re already talking about it. The theater was all a-chatter.
JK: Good, good. And if anybody didn’t like it, beat them up.
LS: (laughs) I’m on it. I’ll bring the pain. I will totally be the muscle.
JK: Sarcasm doesn’t play very well on print. Somebody’s gonna read this and be like, “That is ridiculous.” I made several jokes [in the Q&A] that have never played in print, so I can’t believe I just said that.
LS: Well, it’s recorded.
JK: Oh, God. You can have it on a recording forever. I’ll be like, “Yeah, I told a joke recently.” “Really, he wants to beat people up?” That doesn’t work at all.
LS: (laughs) So…you talk about other directors possibly bringing this material to film. I guess I just didn’t get a sense in [the Q&A] of why you’re so loathe to direct again.
JK: I’m not loathe to, at all! In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I had a great time doing this. So much so that it’s a very special experience. Circumstantially, it’s very, very special, very unique…and I would need that again. I don’t know that I ever want to pick up a script about two guys who get drunk and wake up the next morning and don’t know if they’re brothers or something. I just couldn’t direct a movie like that. I’ve talked to some directors about this – I’ve had the very rare experience of having the material propel me from day one till the very end. And it’s very rare, because normally the director’s the one who’s interpreting it and propelling the movie the entire time. And [DFW’s] book picked me up and delivered me to the finish line. I wish I could say that the opposite was true, but it’s not. This movie, this material, helped me the whole time, that you get spoiled. And you find that, yes, maybe if a friend of mine wrote an amazing script, just a story that had to be told…but this is the epitome of a passion project, so to get that opportunity again will be rare. I guess I’ll say I’m gonna hold out till one of those comes along.
Professor Fitzpatrick: You should probably let him go.
LS: Oh! Okay! One more.
JK: One more. Do it.
LS: This is the big question. You’ve spent so much time on this, years of time and passion. Why did you feel this particular film had to be made right now? This movie, this book?
JK: You know, it’s funny, because it started out for me having nothing to do with what time and place it would be released. Because it was very unknown as to if it would get made, or why, but you have to start. And I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by friends. Even when I was waiting tables in New York, I had friends who would go out and direct, they would go out and they didn’t have the money, they didn’t have the resources, they didn’t have anything. That idea of getting out and doing it…to stand up, to say something, to be brave is so admirable. And I have only a fraction of that, what my friends have. I just had to do it, I had to start. And once I started, where it ended and what time it ended up in was totally out of my hands – but I had to get it started, up the hill. And the climb was pretty tough, it was a lot…what we were talking about, with editing down the work, was in a weird way, sinful. It was just, ugh, it was terrible. And getting it through producers and actors and all that stuff, and then finally editing it. But it’s funny, the time that it’s arrived in, right now. I think I was trying to allude to it in [the Q&A], but I think there probably hasn’t been a better time in a while. I think that, especially that – oh man, it’s gonna get into some big political thing. I don’t mean it to be. In a time when we are being asked by everyone around us – the higher-ups, our government, whatever – to participate, to be the ones to carry out this new idea of change…the only way the change is possible is to find yourself, like I was saying. You can’t just go out and do something because it makes you feel good, like you’ve done your job. You’ve got to believe it, you’ve got to want it, and be willing to face what you’ve been doing wrong in order to change other things. So that idea of the movie for me is so poignant right now. It’s just so incredibly sad on every level that we lost [DFW] for, first and foremost, his friends and his family. But also that we don’t have that light guiding us anymore. Because honestly, that voice is one that a lot of people pay attention to above all others; I wish that we had a little extra guidance around now. So hopefully people will take a little guidance from this.
LS: I really think that your film has helped to continue his fight, to further his way of thinking.
JK: Thank you! Oh my God, that’s very nice. That’s a huge compliment, thank you very much.
LS: Yes, definitely. Thanks so much for meeting with me!
JK: Absolutely, thank you.