John Krasinski: On the silence, sound and scares in ‘A Quiet Place’
“I’m an emotional dude, so I’ll tell you everything.”
John Krasinski has written a love letter into a horror movie. A self-proclaimed scaredy-cat with eyebrows made of charisma, his passion is contagious as he talks about his latest film, one that is simultaneously unexpected and organic. In an interview with The Daily, Krasinski opens up about the on and off-screen scares that came with his experience of co-writing, directing and starring in “A Quiet Place.”
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where mysterious creatures hunt by sound, the horror-thriller centers on the Abbott family and their reliance on silence for survival. “I don't think that anyone would consider me the horror guy,” Krasinski admitted, and considering he is widely known as “The Office”’s small-town heartthrob Jim Halpert, few would disagree.
And yet, he found himself drawn to the story beneath the scares. Krasinski read the script a few weeks after he and Emily Blunt, his wife and co-star, had their second daughter.
“I was already in the state of terror of keeping this girl safe, keeping this girl alive,” Krasinski said, recalling the usual fears that come with new-founded fatherhood. “When I first read the script … I saw that it could be a huge metaphor for parenthood. I was wide open for this one and it connected to me in a big way. ”
Krasinski took on the rewrite, drawing from his own haunts to lead each scene back to the central family dynamic. He deeply connected with his character, Lee, a father whose main priority is to keep his family safe, while simultaneously crafting a beautiful foil in Lee’s wife, Evelyn, a mother who persists to nurture her children despite the surrounding threats. An intricate relationship was born on screen and, secretly, Krasinski thought of his own wife for Evelyn’s role throughout the rewrite.
Blunt was working on “Mary Poppins Returns” during the time of Krasinski’s rewrite (“A small little indie movie,” Krasinski joked) but once she read the script, she was sold on the role.
“I've been firsthand seeing how she makes decisions and how incredibly smart she is,” Krasinski said. “So when she actually signed onto the movie it truly is the greatest compliment of my career because I’ve seen what it takes to get her to say yes to things.”
From there, Krasinski and Blunt drew from their personal relationship to keep honest communication on set. The duo was constantly talking about the film, the relationship that they were portraying on screen and the visual and audio elements that would have to be married into a cohesive unit in order to pull off the film’s vision.
“We were both really scared to work with each other,” he said. “But I’ve never collaborated with someone who is better. It was amazing.”
Krasinski, from the start, was all in, generating an energy conducive to experimentation. “The cool thing was, every single member of the crew knew that this movie could be special. From the production design to the cinematography I had a vision, but I always love input because I think an idea can always be beat.”
His work as an actor was especially important while directing and allowed to create an intimate space for the central four characters. “Instead of being a disembodied head that yells ‘cut’ and interrupts their flow, I actually get to be in there,” Krasinski said as he talked about working with Blunt and the two child stars, Millicent Simmonds (“Wonderstruck”) and Noah Jupe (“The Night Manager”).
For Krasinski, the performances themselves were never supposed to be scary. Drawing from his experience on “The Office,” he continued to employ creator Greg Daniel’s advice: Allow the audience to interpret a performance for themselves. “I never would have done this movie if it wasn’t for that advice because I looked at this not as a horror movie,” he explained. “If I can make you fall in love with this family then you’ll be scared because you don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Instead, fear manifests through the sound design and the score, which acts as an omnipresent narrator created by composer Marco Beltrami (“The Hurt Locker”).
“(Beltrami) wrote music for so much of the movie,” Krasinski said. “Then the question was, ‘Can we pull music out?’ I thought that that would be a difficult conversation to have with your composer, and he loved it. He was along for the ride of this experiment and could see how every day it changed.”
Finding silence was crucial. The Abbott family must figure out how to live in a world with no noise — sanding paths, communicating through lights, avoiding wooden boards — in order to survive the creatures. “Not to sound too like hippy dippy or out there, but the truth is the most fun was actually just shooting scenes in dead silence.”
A large component of creating that silence was using American Sign Language, the form of communication that gives the Abbott family a chance at survival. “There’s a lot of pretty languages out there, but nothing more beautiful than sign language,” he said.
For Krasinski, it was non-negotiable to cast a deaf actress for the role of Regan, the Abbott’s deaf daughter. Their inspiration, teacher and guide came in actress Millicent Simmonds and, at the risk of sounding corny, Krasinski gushed on the delicate nature with which Simmonds approached teaching ASL.
“I’ve never had someone take in all of me when we were communicating,” he explained. “She said, ‘I think it’s really interesting that each of the characters is coming out in your sign. The father is a guy who doesn’t care about anything in the world but keeping people safe, so all of his signs are very curt and short. And Emily is trying to give these kids a much bigger life. So hers are much more poetic and gesture-y.’”
And in silence, “A Quiet Place” was able to transcend beyond the usual horror film. “You can overwrite dialogue, you can overwrite backstory … and in doing so you rob the two characters of having an intimate moment,” Krasinski said. “I got the rare opportunity to have a slow dance with my wife in this movie. So much is being said in that one dance.”
“You’re catching me in a moment where I’ve never been more overwhelmed by a response to a movie,” Krasinski said, that emotional dude spilling out a bit more than before. “There’s just that moment where you have to step to the edge and jump or not. I’m really glad I took the I took the leap.”
“A Quiet Place” comes to theaters April 6.