Film: Sundance Film Festival
The veteran star of The Office says becoming a father brought new meaning to Jim Strouse’s tragic-comedy about a dysfunctional family struggling to connect
By Katherine Monk
PARK CITY, UT — The closing night moment bordered on awkward. Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper celebrated the fact he wouldn’t have to introduce any more films at this year’s festival, and in the next breath, introduced the world premiere of John Krasinksi’s The Hollars.
The veteran star of The Office and Michael Bay’s 13 Hours looked a little surprised at the suggestion of duress, but took it all in stride as he thanked Sundance for the incredible privilege of unveiling his sophomore effort on Sundance’s final night of premieres.
“Sundance was always the goal,” said Krasinski to a sold-out crowd at Park City’s Eccles theatre Friday. Originally attached to the script as the star, Krasinski said he took on actor-director duties because he was moved by Strouse’s mixture of comedy and tragedy in his story of the Hollars, an average midwestern family that is forced to reassemble after the matriarch is diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Prodigal son and aspiring artist John (Krasinski) is living in New York with his pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) when he gets the call, but he’s not all that anxious for a homecoming. His brother Ron (Sharlto Copley) is an immature screwup with an ex-wife and two kids who is now living in his parents’ basement and his dad (Richard Jenkins) is a bit of a softie living in denial. To make things more complicated for John, he’s got unresolved feelings for his ex-girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and he’s desperately afraid of the parental duties that lay ahead.
It’s a story of panicked, childlike men and the bulletproof, saintly women who keep the world functioning. As husband to actor Emily Blunt, Krasinsky clearly isn’t threatened by strong women, and it shows in every frame of this family drama thanks to the casting of Margo Martindale (The Good Wife, Million Dollar Baby) as the narrative hub.
“I had the very rare occasion of getting everyone I wanted as first choice,” said Krasinski of the casting. “My first job ever was a Marshalls commercial with Margo Martindale. I was an extra but got bumped up to featured, and so I think I got to talk to her, and we bonded, and I’ve always been in love with her forever. And I’m sure anybody out there who has been watching film or TV has seen her and she’s blown you away pretty much every single time, so she was the first choice.”
Strouse actually wrote the character with Martindale in mind, and Krasinski said once she was onboard, the rest of the pieces came together easily.
“This is not a joke. I called Richard Jenkins and he said, yeah, the script is good and if you get Margo Martindale I’ll do it. So I got Richard. And because … those two people are so unbelievably talented, and also such wonderful humans, they became this beacon of light that you want to head for. So after that, everyone came on rather quickly.”
Krasinski, whose previous feature was 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, even convinced his friend and musician Josh Ritter to come on board with his songs. “I’m a huge Josh Ritter nerd. I went to a concert and might have cried. His music has always been really powerful to me. I really think he’s our Bob Dylan.. and he gave us his music for a song, literally,” said Krasinski.
With a cast that includes Martindale and Jenkins, as well as Anna Kendrick, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Charlie Day and singer-actor Josh Groban, The Hollars boasts one of the snazziest ensembles at the festival. But Krasinski says it was a decidedly unglamorous affair: It was shot in 23 days in Jackson, Mississippi on a modest budget.
“When you get that cast to go down to Jackson to shoot with you… and they are getting paid no money, and they are staying in a weird motel, and they are doing that because of this story and because of you, the responsibility is overwhelming,” said Krasinski.
“But I’m a tough actor to work with,” he added, jokingly.
“My only thought as an actor was don’t screw it up, man. Like look at what Margo Martindale is doing… At times I was holding my breath. You could just feel something spectacular was happening. So my thought was just don’t screw that up; just get in there and hit a solid double.”
Krasinski said he was probably even more emotional and raw because the shoot took place just months after Blunt gave birth to their daughter.
“Had we shot five or six month earlier, this would have been a completely different movie. I promise you that. I think I realized, and was embarrassed to realize, that all the clichés are true and they just keep coming. I connected with my parents in a different way. I connected with my brothers in a different way. I saw my faults very clearly and I saw what I hoped were my strengths very clearly. And then I looked at this little person and thought nothing matters except you, and that becomes a very powerful thing,” he said.
“So when I got down to Mississippi, I was very raw… I was a wide open nerve.”
A family movie that is part drama, part comedy, Krasinski said The Hollars is the kind of movie everyone can relate to in some way.
“…It never goes the way it’s supposed to go. It happens quickly. It happens without you knowing. It happens the day before you were going to say goodbye. I have lost people in my life. I lost my best friend in high school and it just happens like that,” he said.
“We had a cry-y set every now and then… But this script was special and complicated, and riding those two rails [of comedy and tragedy] is a difficult thing to do, but I connected to it immediately and I’m hopeful everybody else will connect to it in some way.”
The Hollars was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics. No release date has been set.
Photo above: John Krasinski addresses the audience at the Eccles Theatre for the premiere of The Hollars, (Katherine Monk photo)
THE EX-PRESS, January 30, 2016