- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You might say that John Krasinski learned to direct on the job. His office, in fact, was “The Office,” the faux-documentary comedy show on which he appeared for nine seasons, and for which he directed several episodes.

“With multicamera [shows like] ‘The Office, the multiple cameras allowed you to feel like it wasn’t being staged,” Mr. Krasinski said of the American version of the British import. “And I think at that point my job just became getting out of everybody’s way, setting up an environment where people felt not only safe and comfortable, but also where it was real.”

Mr. Krasinski told The Washington Times he took a similar approach to directing the new film, “The Hollars,” opening Friday in the District. Attached to the project for years strictly as an actor, Mr. Krasinski stepped into the director’s chair at the suggestion of one of the producers.

In “The Hollars” Mr. Krasinski stars as John Hollar, a man who returns to his small hometown to aid his ailing mother (Margo Martindale).

“It’s a story that you think you think you’ve heard before, sort of a guy going home and dealing with his family and what he left behind,” he said. “But it was written by Jim Strouse in such a way that … the U-turn between comedy and drama feels real.”

Co-starring with Mr. Krasinski are Anna Kendrick as his pregnant wife Rebecca, Charlie Day, Sharlto Copley and Richard Jenkins

Such casting, he said, made his job as director that much easier.

“You’re already halfway there, and people are giving you the recognition that the script is as good as you thought it was,” he said.

Mr. Krasinski says that one of the great things about being an actor is getting to be directed by the titans of the industry — and learn from them along the way. He cites George Clooney, Sam Mendes and Gus Van Sant as among those whose techniques he looks to for inspiration when it came time to helm “The Hollars.”

“George told me you can make a bad movie out a good script, but you can’t make a good movie a good one out of a bad script,” Mr. Krasinski said of the man who directed him in “Leatherheads.”

He also took notes at the elbow of a guy known for making huge movies about battling robots.

“Michael Bay, that’s like a film class in and of itself,” Mr. Krasinski said of the man who directed him in “13 Hours,” the film about the Benghazi siege that resulted in four dead Americans. “I don’t think I could direct like that because he sees the whole movie in his head at all times.”

While “The Hollars” has no Transformers to speak of, Mr. Krasinski did apply what he’d learned under Mr. Bay and Mr. Clooney on the set of his film. (He described Mr. Clooney’s sets as “like going to summer camp.”) And while he is mainly known for improv-heavy work such as “The Office,” his new film stuck to the letter of Mr. Strouse’s script.

“I would direct it more like directing a play,” he said. “I wouldn’t do a lot of cutting and allow for long takes.”

A native of Boston, Mr. Krasinski went to New York as a young man to intern for his comedy hero, Conan O’Brien, on Mr. O’Brien’s old “Late Night” program on NBC. A fellow native of the Massachusetts capital, Mr. Krasinski found it surreal to be working for the man whom he idolized on a nightly basis.

“I thought what he was doing was so groundbreaking, and then I ended up being his intern, which was insane,” Mr. Krasinski said.

Fast-forward a few years, and the show’s curtain was pulled back for Mr. Krasinski, now a star in his own right, to appear on Mr. O’Brien’s new Los Angeles-based show. Upon hearing his name being called out by his former boss, Mr. Krasinski recalls freezing up temporarily.

“It was so surreal to be back as a guest that I genuinely blacked out, and I woke up to him shaking my hand,” he says with a chuckle. “He said ‘don’t worry,’ because he could see I was totally freaked out.”

Mr. Krasinski has since appeared on Mr. O’Brien’s show on multiple occasions, including last week to promote “The Hollars.”

Mr. Krasinski and his wife, the actress Emily Blunt, recently left L.A. to move to New York, where he recently starred in a play in the city’s lively theater scene. Mr. Krasinski is also joyful the move will allow his wife to be closer to her London family and he to his Boston roots. The couple has two children.

However, he laughs at the notion of there being a “Boston cabal” in Hollywood.

“Yeah we have a club that meets on Fridays,” he says dryly.

But through his wife, he was in fact introduced to fellow Beantown native Matt Damon, who has since become Mr. Krasinski’s close friend. The two even wrote the film “Promised Land” together.

“It is very trippy for me because I think all Boston kids are born with a ‘Good Will Hunting’ poster tattooed on them,” he said of the Oscar-winning film Mr. Damon co-wrote with best friend and fellow Bostonian Ben Affleck, whom Mr. Krasinski now also knows socially.

With “The Hollars” in the can, Mr. Krasinski hopes to turn his attention to more theater work. But first he has the new version of “Jack Ryan” coming to Amazon next year, in which he will take over the role of the canny CIA analyst created by Tom Clancy and formerly played on screen by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and, most recently, Chris Pine in last year’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” directed by Kenneth Branagh.

“The biggest sell on the show was that the storytelling medium of a 10-part series every year is like looking at it as a long-form movie,” he said, adding that Jack Ryan’s “superpower” is his intelligence. “He’s an analyst, so we’re going back to the beginning of the story.”

Unlike his character in “The Hollars,” Mr. Krasinski has not yet faced the extremely common reality of taking care of an ailing, elderly parent. But because so many have — and will — he believes that makes his film relatable to a mass audience.

“I think it is one of the moments where you see the strength of family,” he said. “I think there’s something really powerful about that [and] I think hopefully people can relate to” that.

Making the film bonded director and cast, he said, which added to the realness factor of what the characters are undergoing in a difficult situation, and added more humor.

“Whether you love your family, don’t love your family, whether you have gone though something like this or not, I think [the film captures] a spirit of what it’s like to be in a family, period,” he said, “and what it’s like to go home and be around this world that you know defined you and now you sort of feel like you’re visiting.”

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