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John Krasinski felt acting in ‘The Hollars’ made directing easier

John Kraskinski and Margo Martindale in "The Hollars." | Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Frequently, when actors decide to direct a film, they pick a project that either has them acting in it not at all — or merely in a handful of scenes. Not so John Krasinski. For “The Hollars,” the second feature the former “The Office” star opted to directo, Krasinski selected a screenplay (by Jim Strouse) that has his character appear in virtually every single scene.

In town recently to promote the movie, the actor and filmmaker explained this particular material demanded he constantly jump back and forth both sides of the camera.

“Acting in this movie was extremely helpful to being the director in this. What I mean is, you had such an incredible cast, and the material is very intimate and very organic. So, my job was to create an environment where everyone felt safe and empowered to do such great work. I only think I could have done that as an actor working in the film as well as directing it.

“What I mean by that is, because I was in the scenes with them, I would rarely call, ‘Cut!’ We would just talk about what we wanted to do — and just keep going. So it ended up feeling more like we were doing a play, rather than a film. I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t an actor, so I’m grateful for that.”

In “The Hollars,” Krasinski plays a struggling New York-based illustrator whose girlfriend (played by Anna Kendrick) is about to give birth to their first child. When news reaches John (also the name of Krasinski’s character) that his mother is seriously ill, he rushes back to his small hometown to face his mom Sally’s battle with a brain tumor, his father’s failing plumbing business and a series of issues involving his brother, who can’t move on from his divorce and has moved back in with their parents.

Krasinski’s face lit up as he described his “dream cast” that includes Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins playing his parents, Sharlto Copley playing his brother Ron and Charlie Day playing a nurse in the local hospital now married to John’s high school sweetheart.

Reflecting back on the casting process, Krasinski recalled emailing back and forth with Oscar nominee Jenkins. “Richard wrote me and said, ‘If you get Margo, I’ll do it.’ … I remember writing back, ‘Ha Ha Ha.’ … And he wrote back, ‘No, I’m not kidding!’

“I believed him. I think if I wasn’t able to get Margo, he wouldn’t have done the movie.”

Krasinski has quite an interesting history with the “Justified” and “The Americans” actress, noting that the first job he had as an actor was as an extra in a TV commercial for Marshall’s — starring Martindale.

“So I knew her 17 years before I had ever done anything in this business, including that little TV show,” quipped Krasinski, referring to his long-running role on “The Office” — the series that made him a star and a household name.

Reflecting on his admiration for Martindale, the actor explained, “There’s a complexity to her acting. There’s a power to her acting, and an ability to bring reality and realness to her acting that no one else can do. … I had to get her for this role. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have directed it if she had said no. It’s one of those movies that needed someone as great as her. Let’s be honest. We’ve seen a whole lot of family films. I knew that going into it, and I didn’t want to tell any old derivative story.

“This was special because of Jim Strouse’s script, but you also needed an actress who could pull it off. My goal in this movie is to show this is everybody’s family. At some point, that family on the screen stops being that family on the screen, and they become projections of your own family.”

Krasinski stressed that relatability both on television and on the big screen is something he takes extremely seriously. “One of the reasons ‘The Office’ was so popular was that you knew a Dwight in your office, or your boss was like Michael Scott, or you were in love with someone you worked with.

“As an audience member that’s what connects with you, and you can start to see yourself in the story.”

Asked if his recently becoming a father had an impact on him directing this family-centric tale, Krasinski nodded his head vigorously. “If I had directed this movie five months before, it would have been a completely different movie. My daughter was four and a half months old when we began shooting. I will say my interpretation of the movie at that point was far different from the time I first read the script — and that’s likely the understatement of the year.

“Yes, I understood the concept of guy-at-the-doorstep-of-having-a-baby, but more importantly to me, becoming a father immediately exerted these unbelievably strong existential pulls towards my own parents. I suddenly understood them better, understood my brothers better — even came to think differently about things like a family name, lineage and things like that.

“Those are hugely powerful, weighty things. So, I was definitely working out a lot of those things in my head during the process of shooting this movie!”

As Krasinski brought up his family, it seemed natural to ask if he and his wife, Emily Blunt, would ever consider acting together. The actor and director did not hesitate to say, “I would love to work with Emily. I’m not going to hide from the fact that I’m hopefully one of her biggest fans. Aside from her being my wife, the work that she does, her work ethic, and the power she has as an actress continue to amaze me. … The hard part would be finding a movie where the story of us being a married couple doesn’t supersede the actual story of the movie.”

Before all that, Krasinski will first be returning to the small screen in the 10-part Amazon series “Jack Ryan,” with the actor tackling the iconic role as the Tom Clancy character previously portrayed in feature films by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine.

” ‘Tackling’ is a good word for it,” Krasinski said with a laugh. “You’ve got to take a running start at Jack Ryan. It is hugely exciting, but it’s also very daunting.

“But when it was pitched to me I quickly realized this actually is not going to be a television show — in the sense of the typical TV series. It’s actually going to be movie broken down into 10 parts — that’s the cool part about that. … It just might be the best medium to date to serve Tom Clancy’s work, because his books are so dense and so rich. … Plus, Jack Ryan’s superhero power is intelligence and problem solving, so that’s a role I really look forward to tackling — as you put it — when we begin filming in January.”