The Playboy Interview With John Krasinski
America's favorite office drone on how he outlived his defining role and ended up directing himself
In the fall of 2003, 23-year-old John Krasinski called his mother back home in Newton, Massachusetts and told her he was sticking to their deal: He was quitting. Upon graduating from Brown University with a degree in English, he set off for New York City to be an actor. His parents had been supportive. They always were to their three boys, of whom John was the youngest (and, at six-foot-three, the shortest). He’d already lived in New York a few summers earlier when he interned for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. But if he didn’t have some decent prospects after three years, his mom had said, he should rethink things. Well, almost three years had passed, and what did Krasinski have to show for it? An off-off-Broadway play, a walk-on part on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a failed TV pilot. Sure, he’d done a commercial for DeWalt power tools with NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth, but he still had to wait tables, one of the thousands of anonymous actors hustling to survive the slaughterhouse of small-town dreams that is Manhattan. Nope, he told his mom, he was done. “At least ride out the year,” she said. Three weeks later, Krasinski got a call to audition for another TV pilot: a remake of a pseudo-documentary British comedy series.
The Office would run on NBC for nine seasons, receive more than 40 Emmy nominations and make Krasinski a star. (It would do the same for his Newton South High School classmate B.J. Novak.) His character, Scranton, Pennsylvania paper salesman Jim Halpert, is a refreshing outlier among the angst-ridden, id-fueled male TV characters so celebrated at the time: the Tony Sopranos and Walter Whites and Don Drapers. A nice, relatable guy.
Krasinski would be similarly cast in his early film roles, including the comedies License to Wed with Robin Williams, Leatherheads with George Clooney and It’s Complicated with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. Yet like Jim Halpert, Krasinski was more complex than he seemed and eager to challenge himself, and in the following years he avoided the pigeonholed fate that befalls so many actors who play beloved television characters. He adapted and directed a film version of the David Foster Wallace book Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, got ripped to play a military contractor in Michael Bay’s controversial Benghazi film 13 Hours, worked with acclaimed directors Sam Mendes and Cameron Crowe, starred in and co-wrote with Matt Damon the fracking thriller Promised Land, and directed a second feature, The Hollars, with a cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Krasinski’s career has become one of the most enjoyably unpredictable in modern Hollywood, and this year that capriciousness continues with two very different projects: He’s reprising Tom Clancy’s famous CIA agent Jack Ryan in an Amazon series of the same name, and co-writing, directing and starring in A Quiet Place, a horror film about a family who must live in silence lest they arouse a monstrous entity. His wife in the film is portrayed by his real-life spouse of eight years, actress Emily Blunt, with whom he has two children, both girls. It marks their first time working together.
Krasinski, now 38, took a break from editing A Quiet Place to speak with playboy contributor and Simon & Schuster senior editor Sean Manning on the West Side of Manhattan. “I’d read several interviews in which he referred to himself as ‘winning the lottery,’ ” Manning says, “and he was just as humble and self-effacing in person. Apparently he’d fucked up his leg shooting an action scene for Jack Ryan, but he never grimaced or expressed discomfort. I didn’t know about the injury till the end of our session, when he got up and I noticed his limp. But there’s more: Our conversation kept turning to moments when he had operated ‘purely on emotion,’ whether he was directing his first feature or rescuing a complete stranger from a riptide. Beneath the affable exterior lies a deeply instinctual mind—one that defaults to bravery and human kindness when things get scary. Fitting, then, that the whole thing should start with horror.”
You’d talked for some time about doing a project with your wife. You always said it would probably be a play. Instead, here you are doing a horror movie together. How the hell did that happen?
You know, we didn’t want the story of our marriage to supersede the story of the movie, and that can easily happen. So I think, on first look, we thought doing a play together would keep it contained and about something that was once in a lifetime. Then I got the part for Jack Ryan, and the producers on that film, who are Michael Bay’s producers, asked, “Would you ever be in a genre film?” I told them, “The hook would have to be something interesting. I don’t want to just run around and get butchered.” And they said, “Well, there’s this really cool spec script that we got.” We’d just had our second daughter and, you know, I’m a super sensitive, emotional person, so I think I was probably wide-open when I read the script. The idea really triggered something inside me about protection and parenting, and I just thought maybe I could make it a metaphor for parenthood: the fact that no matter what, there will come a time when you don’t have control over what your kids do, what they say, what they think, and you just hope that the preparation was enough to get them through and they survive. There was something so beautiful about putting a family in a situation where—without giving too much away, this is the one family in the world that needs to talk and can’t. They’re going through something they should really be talking about with each other and a therapist, and they can’t. We not only thought the story was so unique and different that there was no way our marriage could supersede it, but that, weirdly, our marriage fit right in.
Were you a fan of horror movies growing up?
The complete opposite. I remember once, I want to say I was eight, and my brothers and I were all hanging out at the house of this neighborhood kid who’d gotten his hands on A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was debating how to get out of there, and my oldest brother said, “John’s too young. I’m going to take him home.” When we got back home, my brother was like, “I didn’t want to see that either.” He was terrified too, and he used me as an out! Ever since then, I’ve felt much more comfortable just saying I can’t watch that. That’s not to say I don’t love the more classic genre movies. Jaws is one of my favorites. And Let the Right One In is one of the best movies I’ve seen—the original. So I can do it. There’s just a threshold that I can’t cross.
It seems in the past few years we’ve seen a real renaissance for horror movies that also function as societal commentary. There was It Follows and slut shaming, Green Room and white supremacy, and of course Get Out——
Yeah, Get Out and Don’t Breathe and all that stuff. I saw all those movies when I was researching for A Quiet Place. They’re much more elevated and say so much more than just “Where do you put the camera to scare the person the most?”
You just said A Quiet Place is a metaphor for parenthood, but I wonder if you might also be making a statement about how deadly silence can be, how you can’t be quiet and say nothing and hope the monster goes away; you have to speak out and confront the thing.
That’s exactly it. I think in our political situation, that’s what’s going on now: You can close your eyes and stick your head in the sand, or you can try to participate in whatever’s going on. I think that’s what Jaws was for me. That character was scared to be a cop in New York, so he ran away from his fears to an island. The one thing he never wanted was a scary situation, and it’s now surrounding him. That’s kind of where I was coming from.
So then, shifting to politics——
Wherever you stand politically, I don’t think “Make America Great Again” is supposed to be up to our politicians.
In Trump’s comments about shithole countries, one of those he cited was El Salvador. Just before you went to college, you spent a few months teaching English in Central America, in Costa Rica. What was that experience like for you and what was your reaction to what the president said?
That experience changed my life completely. I was 17 years old. I’d graduated early from high school because of my birth date and had gotten into Brown mid-year, so I had to go six months later, in January. And I decided to go down to Costa Rica. My dad didn’t tell me until I got back that he and my mom were terrified I was going. The family I stayed with forced me to speak only Spanish, so it was anything but a cool, pura vida Costa Rica experience. I went there to teach English at a Spanish-speaking school. I was volunteering, but they literally didn’t have enough work for me to do, so they very politely fired me and I had to scramble to get a new job. I ended up at an English-speaking high school, teaching seniors all the stuff I’d just learned. I asked my mom to send down my books from school, Romeo and Juliet, The Canterbury Tales and all that stuff. I was teaching from the notes in the margins of my books. I never told them how old I was. They would ask, “How old are you?” and I was like, “How old do you think I am?” They would say, “Twenty-seven?” and I was like, “Perfect.” But all these things were happening when I was 17 years old.
I also traveled by myself. One of the places I went was this amazing beach called Manuel Antonio that I didn’t realize had an insane riptide. While I was swimming there—this is a story I’ve never told anybody—this Costa Rican girl and an American guy were swimming right next to me, and we were knee-deep. I went underwater for a second, and when I came back up he was screaming at the top of his lungs. Literally in three seconds the girl had been swept 150 yards out.
My mom was a lifeguard and taught us to swim very early. In that moment, I didn’t ask anyone. There was no one to help me. I just went out and tried to save her. And then of course when I got out there, I was in a crosscurrent with her. It was one of those moments of “Oh my God, you just made a poor choice and it might cost you your life.” But I didn’t think about it like that. It was just this survival instinct. It was really weird—like the girl was asking me to let her die. But I got her back. When I got within 20 yards or so of the shore, some surfers came out. Granted, not everybody needs to have life-or-death experiences, but that changed my entire life. All of a sudden I grew up.
When I got to Brown, I remember kids calling their parents and saying, “I miss home” and “I’m lonely,” which I totally get, but I was so far beyond that. Whereas college should have been my defining moment, Costa Rica was. It just ripped all the protective layers apart and allowed me to get hurt. And you know, not to keep circling back to A Quiet Place, but there is something about that—at some point you have to let your kids get hurt. That’s very palpable in my life right now with my girls. I hope I’m brave enough to be as good as my parents were.
I think traveling is one of the most important things anyone can do. From afar, anything looks scary, but then you get there and it’s like, “Oh shit, I had no clue.”
Absolutely. And to me, what was overwhelming and a religious or spiritual moment in my life was seeing joy in abject poverty. Seeing true happiness, not just survival. You know, we look at it from the outside and say, “My God, these people are living on dirt floors.” And they have more joy than a lot of people I know. I was moved at the power of what was able to be achieved in the category of happiness with nothing.
So different—things like family and a lot of the ideals that I know we still have in America. In my opinion, the whole idea of making America great again is so much more on us than anybody else. Wherever you stand politically, I don’t think “Make America Great Again” is supposed to be up to our politicians. It needs to be on us. You go down there and realize they’re making their country great by living every single day.
I covered the 2016 Republican National Convention for Playboy.com, and I was in Quicken Loans Arena the night two of the contractors who survived Benghazi, Mark Geist and John Tiegen, gave a speech. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were also referencing 13 Hours on the campaign trail, and Trump rented out a theater in Iowa to screen it for free. After all that and then the outcome of the election, did you have any misgivings about doing the film?
I didn’t have any misgivings; I had real sadness. I felt maybe the system had done those men a disservice, because this was going to be such an awesome awakening for people to get to hear the true story. Who the hell knows that story? I didn’t know anything about Benghazi. You know, it was a word in a headline, which I think put me among the large majority of people who thought they knew what Benghazi was but had absolutely no clue. There were no politics that night. That was a situation where someone was in trouble, and these guys—sure, they were contractors in that moment, but they had long ago given their oaths to the military. They have to help that person. We have deleted that part of the story from the narrative. You take out the idea of these six men going in and trying to do things that we can’t comprehend. You take that out and you go, “Yeah, that was amazing—but look how horrible all this political stuff is from the fallout.” The reason I did the movie is because I felt that was wrong. I felt it was wrong to have any political conversation. It was purely about telling the story of these men I looked up to and still look up to.
You know, I grew up in a big military family. That was always really important to me. I think, to be honest, it may be one of the most important movies I’ve done or experiences I’ve ever had in my career. I remember a woman came up to me and said, “Thank you for making that movie. That was about my husband.” I said, “Oh, where was your husband? Was he CIA, or was he in Benghazi?” And she said, “No, he died in Iraq 12 years ago, but that’s his story too.” Again, I’m very sensitive, so I’ll tear up just talking about it, but that stuff changes your life. We knew it was a hot-button issue while we were shooting it. We certainly knew it was a hot-button issue as the campaigns fired up. And I think it was actually just before opening when Trump rented out the theater. This has nothing to do with politics. This has something to do with the universality of the idea that the military should never be politicized. This is a universal thing we should all get behind no matter who you are, because you are living in the country these people allowed you to live in. Literally, they’ve allowed you to live here because of what they did. So that is why I was so bummed—not because of any specific political reason but more because we knew that was going to change the narrative of our movie.
With Jack Ryan, you’re once again in the world of the military and the CIA. I assume that when you researched for the part you talked to people in that sphere. Did you get a sense of how they’re feeling within the current administration?
We went to the CIA to have our first meeting the same week Trump was bashing the CIA and saying it’s—I’m paraphrasing—sort of null and void and we don’t need them and they’re a bunch of jokers. So that certainly wasn’t a great vibe. But I don’t think anybody in the CIA would tell you they’re a Democrat or a Republican. I’m sure a whole lot of people at the CIA are Republicans, and I’m sure a whole lot of people at the CIA are Democrats. I think they’d tell you there’s no politics in that building. And they basically said as much: that they have dedicated their lives to saving other people, to trying to thwart bad things.
Tom Clancy created the Jack Ryan franchise, but you seem to have more literary tastes. You’ve worked with the novelist Dave Eggers on Away We Go and Promised Land, and you adapted and directed David Foster Wallace’s novel Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. How did you end up doing that project?
That’s a really interesting story. Reading that book was the moment I realized what acting really was.
How old were you when you read it?
I was in college. I went to Brown thinking I was going to be an English teacher. I even had very foggy ideas of playing basketball there. When I got there and realized I wouldn’t play basketball because I wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t a life I wanted to dedicate myself to, I had no idea what to do. I was bizarrely shy, and I joined this sketch-comedy group because I loved Saturday Night Live and wanted to be a part of the community. At that point, the smartest, most free-thinking, open, engaging, interesting people were in theater. Chris Hayes, who’s on MSNBC now, was a director at Brown back then, and he came up to me one day and said, “Listen, I’m going to do this thing called Brief Interviews. It’s interviews with guys. Would you do one?” And I said, “Yeah, absolutely, no problem.” I was so insecure at the time that I was thrilled to be chosen; it was still that thing of being picked for the team. I think we were supposed to do only one or maybe two nights, and I would say maybe 90 to 100 people could fit in the room where we were doing it. Two hundred and fifty people showed up and about 200 of them got turned away. I remember walking through campus and a teacher came up to me and said, “That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen at the student theater.” And another teacher, on the exact same day, said, “I thought that was offensive and grotesque.” Getting someone to react is powerful; that was the first example for me. You could make an impact. You could change people’s lives. I mean, people in the audience were crying. They’d gone through very specific things that we were talking about, which if you know the book, you know there’s some really dark stuff in there. And to have people connect to that dark stuff, that changed my whole outlook.
The moment I got The Office, I asked my business manager how much money I had, and I offered that exact amount to David Foster Wallace’s agent. I remember very clearly she said no. And I said, “Can I come out and talk to you about it?” So I flew out to Los Angeles and talked to her about it.
Damn, how ballsy and——
Stupid. [laughs] I think it gets back to that whole Costa Rica thing. I just didn’t understand why you wouldn’t do it. Because if I don’t do it, then no one else is going to do it. So it was ignorance. Directing it was the exact same thing. I was looking for a director forever, and it was Rainn Wilson who said, “You should direct it.” So I went and directed it, and it was like walking through a minefield that you have no idea is a minefield. At the end, I remember my director of photography said, “Congratulations, that was really good.” And I said, “Yeah, it was fun. It was easy.” And he was like, “It was anything but easy,” and then showed me all the things that could have gone wrong. I was going purely on emotion.
Did you ever meet Wallace? Did he offer you any suggestions on adapting the book? And did he get to see any of the footage before he died?
I spoke to David only once, on the phone. I was nervous as hell. Then I was blown away by how incredibly gentle he was. So kind. So generous. We discussed his discomfort with having any of his work made into a movie. He said something to the effect that he writes books with the understanding that once they’re published, that’s it. That is their life. It felt strange to him to have something he thought he was done with taken to a new medium. And I got that. That said, he was incredibly supportive and generous about my making the movie. I remember he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear about the screenplay and what I had done to the story. And then he said he let temptation get the best of him and asked me to tell him. I did. He was very kind about it. He remembered one of our writers on The Office—the great Mike Schur, who had invited him to Harvard for an award while Mike was a student there. I remember asking David if he would ever like to come visit Mike and me on set. He asked me where we shot. When I told him the studio was in Van Nuys, a ways from where he taught, at Pomona, he simply replied, “No, that’s okay. I’m not a big fan of driving.” I always loved that. Sadly, he passed during the sound mix of the movie, only weeks before we went to Sundance, and never saw a frame.
The common perception of artists is that they’re these existentially tormented, emotionally fragile people. In his Playboy Interview, Jon Hamm, who lost both his parents by the time he was 20 years old, said, “I think anybody who chooses any kind of career in the arts…comes from a place of being a little bit unmoored. If I had grown up in a two-parent household and had parents telling me what to do, I’m sure their first piece of advice would not have been ‘You should be an actor. You should move to L.A. with no money. That sounds like the best plan.’ ” And yet that’s pretty much what happened with you.
So do you not have any demons?
Oh, I’m sure I have demons, and I’m sure I have darknesses and insecurities and all those things. Absolutely. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible friends and family who keep me on track and don’t let me spin out into my own universe for too long—namely, and most important, my wife. I think my wife gets me. Not just to sound adorable, but the truth is she gets me more than anyone else has ever gotten me. And so she allows me to, for lack of a better term, bottom out for a second and get really scared. Like right now in the editing process, some stuff works amazing and some stuff doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, I get really nervous, like, “Will I ever get to this place?” And she says, “Yeah, just keep at it. One step at a time.” But to Jon Hamm’s quote, I totally understand that I’m an anomaly, but I’m completely unmoored in the artistic sense. I wasn’t trained. One of my dear friends, Billy Crudup, went to New York University, arguably one of the best schools you can go to for acting, and he came out and completely dominated everything he did. I just saw him in this one-man show, and it blew my mind to watch this guy do hairpin turns between drama and comedy and timing and 11 different characters. I guarantee you, if you gave me 64 years, I could never do that. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is something about having all that training. But I feel lucky that I wasn’t trained. Sam Mendes said, “I love working with you as an actor, because I’ve never worked with someone who runs 150 miles an hour at a wall when I tell them to, and when you hit it and I was wrong, you turn around and I give you another wall, and you run 150 miles an hour into that wall too.”
On 13 Hours, I teared up almost every day on set. I felt I was a part of something. I felt I was in a moment of incredible power, rather than “Okay, this is great and I love talking to Navy SEALs, but I’ve got to go in this dark corner and light a candle, and I’ve got to ‘red leather, yellow leather.’ ” I also know that about my wife. My wife didn’t train. There’s something unbridled about her that feels really organic, and it’s what makes her such a powerful actress.
Was it surreal when you first started dating? By that point she’d already been in a bunch of films, including The Devil Wears Prada, and had won a Golden Globe.
Yeah, when we first started dating, that was weird. I remember she’d done this Vanity Fair cover with Amy Adams, Jessica Biel and a couple of other people—“young up-and-coming hot Hollywood” or whatever—and that issue was in my living room when we first started dating. I don’t think she had Boston magazine with me on the front wearing Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins stuff. I don’t think she had that in her living room.
She had your Matt Kenseth commercial queued up.
Yeah, exactly. I was definitely aware of it, probably in a way that could have been extremely unhealthy if it wasn’t for how insanely down-to-earth she was. I remember being at my house and saying to her, “So I just want to have this really honest conversation. I think you’re one of the best act——” I didn’t even get out “actress.” She went, “No, no, no, no!” Very loud. We didn’t have that conversation again for a really long time, and it saved our relationship. We got to have a very removed existence, because we just looked at it as though we were two people who had fallen in love, rather than two Hollywood celebrities who’d met each other. I remember people saying, “Wow, for Hollywood you guys have been together forever.” And I was like, “What does that mean?” I mean, I would say nine years is average for most people. I’m a son of two people who have been married for—man, is it going to be 45 years this year?
Okay, so that leads us to the sex questions. This being Playboy, you knew they were coming.
Sex questions. I’m terrible at these, but let’s do it. Here comes the mask.
You’ve said in previous interviews that you weren’t much of a ladies’ man in high school.
Yep. I wanted to be.
You said that you would adore girls from afar and they would just end up asking you to sign their yearbook.
But B.J. Novak once told Playboy, “John was popular and smart, and if he liked a girl, he would just ask her out.”
That is completely false.
Who is telling the truth here?
Hey, listen, I will take his lens over mine any day. I don’t think I dated anyone in high school, to be honest. I think dating for me was something I was so nervous to do. I had a nerdy version of relationships. I really wanted to be married from a young age, because my parents were really happily married and that seemed really cool: having a partner, having a best friend. The idea of one-night stands felt much less cool to me and much more rife with anxiety.
Did you get any scandalous fan mail while you were on The Office? Were there Jim Halpert groupies?
Girls were really nervous to meet me because they felt they had gone through a relationship with me. You know, everybody says, “Well, you’re in their home. That’s the difference with television.” I remember rolling my eyes at that. But then when I was doing Leatherheads with George Clooney, he said, “No, it’s a real thing. If I walked down a street and Brad Pitt walked down a street, they would point and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s Brad Pitt.’ And then one of them would run up and punch me in the arm and go, ‘Dr. Ross!’ ” Because they know you and they’ve had their own relationship with you. So that’s what I experienced. But as much of that as you get from girls, more of it’s from the dudes. A lot of dudes just want to buy you a beer, which I’ll take any day.
Whenever people talk about the golden age of TV in the 2000s, they’re always quick to mention Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire——
Well, that was my question.
Come on, man, The Office was fourth? Jesus.
When people talk about this sort of golden age, The Sopranos——
I remember being a waiter at Sushisamba, down on Seventh Avenue. I was a waiter everywhere. I think I was fired from nine jobs, because as soon as you go for an audition, they say, “If you walk out this door, don’t ever come back.” And I’d say okay. But at Sushisamba, I remember Sunday nights up until 8:15 it would be packed. And then at nine P.M. zero people. That was back in the day when people ran home to see The Sopranos.
Yeah, there was no HBO Go then.
No, and who wants to watch that on VHS or whatever?
But when people list those golden-age shows, they rarely include the really amazing comedies of that time—The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock. Do you think comedy still gets the shaft compared with drama?
That depends on what crew you’re in. When I was growing up, Jim Carrey, Chris Farley—those were my heroes. In New York I would go to comedy clubs. I was going down to Upright Citizens Brigade and watching all these geniuses. One of the biggest influences on me, period, was Conan O’Brien. What he did on that show, especially the 12:30 slot, was mind-blowingly wild. It was instinctual. It was funny. He was taking chances. And I got to be his intern and learned a lot there. Amy Poehler was a day player on Conan whenever he needed that character of his little sister or something. And Matt Walsh and all those people. So I was huge into the comedy nerdom of it. I remember when Arrested Development came on, I was like, “I can’t believe there’s something this crazy on a national network.” I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen. The fact that they would call jokes back from six episodes ago, and if you didn’t get it, they didn’t care. That was bold to me. Then the original British version of The Office came out. Someone I knew had that black DVD box set and was like, “You’ve got to watch this.” I remember thinking, That’s it? They did only 13 episodes? That’s got to be something special.
What The Sopranos did that led to The Wire and then to Mad Men, that was already happening in comedy. I also knew that what we were doing on The Office was groundbreaking. I think the first episode was “Diversity Day,” and I remember reading that script and being uncomfortable, thinking, If I’m uncomfortable and this is on NBC, this is a moment. I don’t think we’ll do many of these. I truly thought we were going to get canceled, and we were threatened with cancellation all the time. Because nobody got it. You know, we legitimately owe everything to our fans, because it was the moment of iTunes. Because of the fact that people were paying $1.99 to see a show they could see for free on Thursdays, I think very begrudgingly NBC was like, “Fine,” and picked us up. The fans saved us. I remember walking through New York and some guy was like, “Hey, man, you’re on my iPod.” I was like, “First off, what’s an iPod?” And second, I was like, “That’s my face on a two-inch screen. What is happening?” That was a weird one.
Just being a good person is really all we should be striving for, because that’s how anything will get done.
Somewhat related to that idea of being out of your comfort zone: What was the scariest thing about working with your wife?
I think the scariest thing is that I didn’t want to let her down. I was so moved when she said, “You can’t let anybody else do this movie. I have to do it.” It really was the best compliment of my career. I respect her and her choices and her class and her taste. That sounds like heady actor babble, but it’s true. I remember she got this script, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, when we were together. She said, “I really like this script.” I think I said to her, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen? You can’t get a better title than that?” And she said, “It’s -really special. It’s something really cool.” I told her, “Well, pitch it to me.” And she said, “Well, it’s about this guy who’s trying to start salmon fishing in Yemen because it’s meditative.” And I was like, “Not getting any better.” She was definitely in that rising-star moment, but she knew this script was what she wanted to do. And that showed me strength and conviction and taste in a way I certainly didn’t have.I was sort of like, “Oh God, I’ve got to stay relevant and stay working.” You know, I was just doing whatever movie I could do. I got very lucky having some of my first movies be Leather-heads and Away We Go. I worked with great directors on great material. But I was still just doing whatever I could get. I would have done anything. Emily was much more measured, much more specific, much more confident. I remember referencing that to her, and she didn’t get it. She was like, “What do you mean? It’s just good.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it’s so much more tempting to just do whatever it takes to…you know, when your agent is like, ‘This is a hot script.’ ” And she was like, “I don’t do hot scripts. I do what I like.” So, working with her on A Quiet Place, I didn’t want to get to the end and be like, “Whoops, I duffed that one.” It was just a constant awareness and making sure the movie was as good for her, if not better, than it was for me.Look at it from her perspective. Here’s this guy who has co-written a screenplay with Academy Award–winning screenwriter Matt Damon, who was the lead actor in one of the most popular TV series of all time, who premiered the two previous films he directed at Sundance. Who else would she want to work with?
She was lucky! Yeah, that’s the way I’m going to go with it.Seriously, though, maybe being too humble is your demon.
There is a very similar background to being from Boston and being from London. In London, Emily says, it’s called “tall poppy syndrome.” Which is, as a society, you celebrate everyone, and if you get too tall as a poppy they knock you down so that you’re the same level as everybody else. And there’s something about that with Boston too. Everybody loves celebrating when you do well in Boston, but no one wants to hear you say you’re the best. If Tom Brady today was like, “I am the greatest of all time,” they’d be like, “Get out of here, Brady!” To be honest, and it probably sounds super—what’s the word?—conceited, but one of my favorite things is when people in articles or on Twitter say, “He seems like a really good guy.” That was kind of the directive from my parents: Just be a good person. That to me is so much of a compliment, as much as people saying, “Wow, man, amazing performance.” Just being a good person, I think in this day and age, is really all we should be striving for, because that’s how anything will get done.
Which is a good transition to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Having a spouse who has worked in the entertainment industry for a while, were you aware of any of this horrible stuff? Had you two talked about it?
No. We definitely had the conversation once it blew up to the level that it did. I felt terrible and borderline embarrassed that I hadn’t asked her about it. I was like, “Have you ever had a bad experience?” I think she said in Vanity Fair, like, “I’ve had my bum pinched a couple times, but.…” First of all, I believe I can’t add anything to the conversation. There’s so much that has been said and is continuing to be said, and all the things that need to be said are at least out there and on the table now. What we actually piece through and hold on to in that conversation, I think, is the most important now.This is a much bigger movement than just sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is the by-product of a system that failed women a long time ago. I remember when we had our first daughter, we read this article somewhere. I think they interviewed a hundred girls who had graduated college and gotten, quote, “good jobs,” whatever that means. They asked them about the relationship between their father and their mother. Ninety-six percent of the girls had had fathers present. And there was this weird statistic—I’m probably getting it completely wrong—but there was some version of 86 percent of love and affection comes from the mother and 93 percent of confidence and conviction comes from the father. Meaning no matter how loving the mothers were, in this study, somehow these girls knew that if they did something great, they looked to their father and said, “Wasn’t that a great game?” or “Didn’t I do well on that test?” To me it meant there is something subconscious from the moment women are born that they have to fight an uphill battle that men don’t.The sexual-harassment stuff is the disgusting by-product that is shaking people up and making people awake, but I hope we don’t stop there. I hope we have 50 percent women in the workplace in power positions. I think it’s a conversation about power more than anything else. To me, that’s what’s so palpably powerful. It’s not as a father of two daughters or the husband of a wife who’s a strong feminist woman in the business. It’s as a human being. I think it’s a human-being level that we should all be talking about. I hope this is just the pulling back of the curtain, and once we see the wizard, we get to dismantle him and rebuild it and live in the kingdom we want to live in. The problem is the system is very old, so the dismantling process is going to take a while.So what can men do to help make that happen? What should they do?
Well, if you’re a male CEO and you don’t harass people, don’t pat yourself on the back. Get other people to be more like you. I will say, I was raised in a very old ideal of America. Like, my dad told me to help your neighbor no matter what. You don’t hold a vig against them. You just help if you can. I held doors for women. I called my father-in-law before I married Emily. It wasn’t a decision for me. It was a foregone conclusion. I think more people need to have the foregone-conclusion version of treating women equally. Women are treated equally rather than women should be treated equally. I just read an article where some woman—it might have been [Wonder Woman director] Patty Jenkins—got an award, and they said, “You’re the first woman to blah-blah-blah. How does that feel?” And she said, “It feels weird because you’re still singling out that I’m a woman.” I think that’s the best answer you can have. I hope really soon that we get to the place where you just directed a good movie, you just ran a great company, you’re a perfect candidate politically. No division, you know what I mean? We really should have been here a long time ago.