If you watched actor John Krasinski play Jim Halpert on the NBC sitcom The Office (2005–2013), you’d never know that he had also been a producer and director. Though known for this comedic role, he made the drama Brief Interviews with in 2009’s Hideous Men and the comedic The Hollars in 2016. In addition, he had established a production company, Sunday Night Productions, in 2013 and married British actress Emily Blunt with whom he had two children. But when he co-wrote, directed, and starred (with wife Emily) in the critically and commercially successful horror-thriller film A Quiet Place (which was released 2018), he established himself as an entertainment juggernaut.
He got a nomination for Critics’ Choice Movie Award and Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay. As a result, Paramount banked on its sequel, A Quiet Place Part II, which he also directed, co-produced, and wrote, to lead off the summer with a big debut in the recently reopened movie theaters.
Krasinski also portrayed the title character in the Amazon’s spy thriller series Jack Ryan (2018–present) — on which he has been a co-producer. For that role, he was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series.
His much anticipated sequel not only stars Blunt again as Evelyn and his character’s two surviving children — Regan, her deaf daughter (Millicent Simmonds) and son Marcus (Noah Jupe) as well as other survivors played by actors Cillian Murphy and Dijmon Hounsou.
Interview with Writer/Director/Co-Producer John Krasinski on ‘A Quiet Place Part II.’
Q : You kind of started off with this original film that your character, Lee set the fire outside to signal from other people. Then, in the sequel Emily and Cillian’s character talked about the charters and the fire. They noticed the actual fire and everything. So how did you come up with that concept and then start it off on this sequel?
J.K : That’s a really good question. It’s funny because I thought of that idea in the first one and one of the things I always thought about when I was writing and directing the first one was, “Oh, I wonder how the people are on the other side of those fires.” But I never expected to do a sequel as I’ve said. And so when I got to investigate, as soon as the sequel came to my head, the only way I thought to connect them and get them out of the farm is to go to one of those fires.
Where I came up with the idea from fires was actually in eighth grade I took a class on medieval times and I thought that that’s kind of what would happen to the world that this happened. You go back to basically basic human living, human survival. And so you would weirdly adopt things that even though we’ve come so far with cell phones and stuff, what if the last communication was fire?
And so in medieval times, I had read obviously that they had these incredible towers all throughout the coast of England and they would like one fire If there were ships coming in and that would be perfectly set eight miles away or something from another tower which would then light and it would go to all down the coast and within 15 to 20 minutes, you could let the whole coast know that there was danger and so I always thought that was such a cool idea. And so when I wrote the first one when I was rewriting it, I thought that was a great thing to include. I never knew that it would be the gateway to the second movie, which is really fun.
Q : When I watched the first movie I thought that ending could be like the ending of the story or it could be like an ending that gives a hint to another. In this movie I think there are a lot of questions to be answered. Obviously, I don’t think you are thinking about shooting the third one yet, but if you could do it, are you already thinking about the story?
J.K : I have, not the whole movie, but I have ideas for what would happen next. Because in the first movie, I genuinely never saw it as a squeal, so I had all these fun ideas of what I would do if I could play with it more, but I didn’t think I would do as squeal. In this one I learned my lesson. So as I was writing the second one anytime I had an idea I actually wrote it down this time and was like, “okay, I can explore this if they ever let me do a third one.” And there are also Easter eggs in this one that I planted that when you watch the third one, if it ever happens, you’ll look back and be like, “Oh, that’s what set up the third one.”
(Q) : What is sort of particularly challenging to write for the squeal and how long was the writing process for you?
J.K : It was really a quick, the actual writing for me because the way I write is I actually… I come up with the idea and I basically just put the idea through a series of tests over and over and over every day. So I was actually doing that all through Jack Ryan season two. So while I was shooting that in my head, I just kept thinking about all the things that weren’t working about the script and then trying to answer those questions. So that by the time I’d got to the writing process, I think it took like three weeks. And it’s because I had already thought out the whole movie and it was a lot quicker to write.
As far as what the difficulties were, it was the stress, it was the stress of the pressure of doing a second movie. Because I realized in this process, I’m an audience member before I’m a director, writer, or an actor. And so as an audience member, I’ve always been weary of squeals. I’ve always wondered why do another one? Or it seems like a big cash grab for the studio, this isn’t for the fans. And it’s never as good as the first one, and it’s not even based in the first one. And that always made me sad. Not always, I mean some movies are great sequels. But it was one of those things where I said “no” to the studio in the beginning because I didn’t think anything would ever be that personal. I didn’t think I could ever write something that organic.
And the tiny idea that I had, our producer, Andrew Form, said, “fine, we’ll go find another writer/director. Just write an outline of that tiny idea you had.” And the tiny idea I had was to make Millie(Millicent) the lead of the movie. And I didn’t know where that would take me. It turns out Andrew is a Jedi, because he Jedi mind tricked me knowing full well that if I wrote an outline I was like, “God damn it! I’m writing, I’m directing the movie now.” But the idea of Millie actually was the gateway to realizing everything I loved about the first movie most was the metaphor of parenthood, this metaphor of love, this metaphor of family.
And she unlocked that so that I can reinvestigate and re-explore and continue and expand all the ideas I had in the first one. So if the first movie is about parents making that promise to their kids that they know is a false promise, which is if you stay with me, you’ll be protected forever. Parents know that that’s a false promise, kids don’t. And when kids realize that promise is broken, I think that’s what adolescence is. I think that’s what growing up is.
And so that was allowing me to do basically the complete inverse of the first movie. We had the father who had all these beliefs and all this power and all these ideas. And now this little girl without him takes up his mantle and becomes everything that he thought she would be times 10, she becomes the most heroic person. And that got me super emotional. I started getting very sad… not sad, very teary and excited about doing it because if the first one’s a love letter to my kids about what I think it means to be a parent. The second one is a love letter and a dream of mine that I hope they grow up in a world where you can be courageous, where you can be hopeful, where you can be optimistic. And if it is dark all around you, you should be the one to light the candle. That’s basically what the movie meant for me.
Q : When you have this apocalyptical films, they’re very bleak, but this is not it at all. Why didn’t you approach like that?
J.K : I’m fundamentally a huge sap. Anybody who knows me even a little bit knows that I cry at everything, I enjoy crying at everything. I love getting moved and there’s no way I could tell a depressing story. Not that there can’t be weighty things. In my first movie, I loved that people respected how uncomfortable it was that the father didn’t like his daughter. But that’s real life. People don’t know how to process their feelings.
People are angry about things and they project the blame onto a young girl who had nothing really to do with the death of their son, but that’s hard. So one of the things I wanted to do in the first one was show, that they used to be best friends. And so at the beginning of this movie you see that that father and that daughter were the same person. And that’s why he didn’t like her so much in the second movie because he couldn’t believe that the love of his life would ever take something away of such value. I like delving into dark things, as long as you can come out with hope. I’m not your guy.
(Q) : Can you talk about the merits, and also the disadvantages, that working as husband and wife at the same time?
J.K : I think that the disadvantage would probably be the heightened sense of nerves. I’m talking about the first one, the second one, we had much less nerves obviously. Because in our business you kind of live a circus life and you go off and do this circus and she’s doing another circus and we never mix the circus. This metaphor will die soon, but it makes sense right now. And so it was the first time we had ever worked together, so we each had our own routines. We each had our own behaviors, we each had our own way of doing things that we were inevitably going to step on. And so we talked about that a lot when we sat down on a couch. Before we got into the script and all that stuff, we were saying like, “so, what do you like to hear from a director? When do you not want me to talk to you?” And things like that, and it was really interesting to learn her playbook. And I’d say all the directing I did of Emily happened on the couch before we even arrived at set. So once we arrived at set, we really knew how to work with each other. And then it blossomed into the best collaboration, which I think would turn into the best advantage.
On a movie set no matter how many times I worked with them, no matter how talented they are, they will never be the collaborator that Emily is to me. She is not only an actress of such a high caliber that anything I write, she’ll make 10 times better. She’s the smartest actress I’ve ever worked with. She knows a lot about script writing. She’s really good on her notes, directing ideas of where to put the camera, she had those. But much more importantly, she’s the best leader on set. Every member of the crew and every member of the cast looked up to her. She’s incredibly empathetic, she understands when things are tough. She understands when things are going great and so she’s a leader. She’s the best gift you can have on a set.
(Q) : In this film, the sound and the silence are characters. How did you get this idea about the sound being a character of this movie?
J.K : We knew that sound would be an aspect of the movie that you’d have to pay close attention to. Again, I didn’t come up with the idea. The two writers who wrote the spec script were Scott Beck and Bryan Woods and they came up with a spec script and I wanted to rewrite that script, but their idea was perfect. I think that the idea of a family in duress and basically being hunted by creatures that if you make a sound, you die, that’s a new, creative, very smart way to go. I wanted to bring my own personal experience of fatherhood and all that stuff to it. In doing that I started to delve into what real silence is, how to stay really quiet. So the sand pads and lights and things like that. So what I’m saying sound became a character even before I was playing with sound design. And I think for me sound was always going to be a huge character and then it became an evolving process of how big a character that would be.
So sure, we knew that being quiet in the movie would be fun for an audience. But we hadn’t thought of Millie’s envelope yet. That came from a conversation that I had with Millie’s mom on set. I asked her, does Millie hear anything? I’m very new to any experiences with anyone who is deaf,” and she said, “she actually does, she has it all muffled.” And so if you shut a car door behind her, she can kind of hear it. She can kind of hear a little bit of your vocals when you’re talking.
And so I went back to the sound guys and I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do through Millie’s perspective?” They got so excited. That was a new idea. We immediately went into the lab and build that envelope that we thought was really cool. And it wasn’t only cool for the movie. It ended up being one of my favorite memories, which is after the premiere, Millie’s mom came up to me crying harder than I’ve seen most people cry. And she came up to me and she said, “You gave me a gift that I never thought I would ever be able to have, which is I got to live one day through the perspective of my daughter and I’ll never be able to thank you for it.” It was such a beautiful thing. My whole process is leaving the door open to possibilities of potential.
Q : What about the other movies that inspired you to make this film?
J.K : I’m a huge fan of “The Conversation.” I think sound is the main character in that movie, but in a different way. I think that “the Lives of Others” and things like that. But actually what I was really into was I started paying a lot of close attention was the western, specifically, modern westerns in last 20 or 30 years. For example, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”, those long shots when the oil blows up and is on fire. That was one of the most amazing soundscapes I’d ever heard. That was really detailed. And then No Country for Old Men. I think that that opening and actually even the way that Tommy Lee Jones’s voice cuts through this entire dense, wide western landscape, and Josh Brolin was walking though the desert and he doesn’t speak to anyone and he investigates all those cars and then he goes and finds the money next to the guy under the tree. That was really exciting to me.
(Q) : I was wondering, because you always said that the first one was so inspired by your fears of being a new parent and all of that. But here, it’s the fear of letting your kids go. There’s so much ugliness out there, social media and everything and everybody is not being nice, so you wanted to put that empathy and compassion.
J.K : That was one of the major things I wanted to put in the movie. I think the biggest theme is community. The need for community and that we are definitely turning into a more individualistic society, certainly through tech and all those things, which is understandable. I hope that we never get to the place where we forget where community comes from and what vital part community plays in our lives. Why I set part of this at a steel mill is for my grandfather. So my grandfather worked at Steel mill in Pittsburgh.
And Pittsburgh was a place where it was the most close knit community I’d ever heard of. So I heard stories as a kid about my grandfather giving I think $10,000 to his neighbor who got sick. My grandfather didn’t have $10,000, but back in those days, and in that neighborhood, whatever your neighbor needed you give them, it was non-negotiable, it wasn’t a conversation. And so that’s how I grew up hearing those stories. And now you come to this world where I love that Cillian’s character in the trailer poses the thesis statement of “these aren’t the people worth saving.” All set up for Millie to debunk and say, “I strongly disagree.”
I purposefully made the lead character a little girl who became the youth of the world and say “I actually do think if we had the answer, we need to fight to help everybody else. And that you cannot just live as an individual and in your own world.” And so community became a huge part of this.
Q : You spend so much time behind the camera this time around. I’m curious that in the opening sequences, you got a long shot that is kind of intriguing. I was curious, how much different from the original one compare to this one, as a director’s point?
J.K : It was definitely more difficult directing this one. Definitely the movie is bigger and it’s scarier and all those great things that you hope for in a sequel. But as a director, organically I had written these ideas where I wanted you to experience from day one.
So my influence for the opening in total was “Children of Men.” And I think that what “Children of Men” did so well for me, when Clive Owen is walking out of the cafe and then that particular cafe blows up, or it was the beautiful one shot in the car. It was this idea of I felt like I was in the movie. And so I knew I wanted to do one takes. I’ve never done one takes before. I’ve never done action before. So it was a big slippery slope to climb up. But I had the most incredible crew who never said “no.” They always understood what I wanted out of it. And so those were the most difficult shots. And also definitely the most proud I’ve ever been to be a part of a crew. A lot of people don’t realize how movies are made. And in those moments you really get to see firsthand that 300 people had to be perfect that day in the scene with Emily in her car and that if anybody messed up, not only would the scene not work, but my wife’s life might be in peril.
So it was one of those things where after that shot, I watched everyone run out of the buildings, the entire crew met in the middle of the road and hugged and high fived and we’re kind of emotional because we all achieve this thing. We definitely took a lot more risks, but it was a lot bigger payoff as well.
Q : How did you incorporate sign language in your life?
J.K : If I had Millie around me every day I’d become much, much better at sign language. But no. I think sign language is almost musical. I think that there’s something to it that is almost like jazz and it’s so beautiful. I would love to learn more and more to be more fluent. I was just proud that I was able to do those scenes.
(Q) : John, you’ve been acting for, I think, more than 15 years now. Tell me what has acting taught you over all these years? What’s the take away?
J.K : It’s taught me that I’m the luckiest person that I’ve ever imagined. I think that this world is, in my opinion, is kind of like a fantasy camp. This is not real life. The fact that I was a waiter and got the lottery ticket of being on ”The Office”, I get to do what I love every single day. And I know a lot of people do and I know a lot of people don’t. And so it makes me feel very grateful to be a part of it. And certainly it is the first and foremost thing I’m trying to teach my girls. Which is that you find you want to do, just make sure that whatever you do for a job is what you do that you love because that’ll be the greatest gift you can give yourself. That’s really it. I grew up very Catholic, so I feel I don’t deserve all the opportunity I’ve gotten. So I tried to do all these different things to somehow try to prove to myself that maybe I deserve it. In life and in charity and things like that it becomes much more and more real for me that I am in a fortunate position.