The di­rec­tor of A Quiet Place up­ends a genre


Smithsonian Magazine - - Features - by J.W. Bishop

LAST MARCH JOHN KRASIN­SKI and his wife, Emily Blunt, were driv­ing to the world pre­miere of their first col­lab­o­ra­tion— A Quiet Place— at the South by South­west film fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas. Nearly 20 years into his ca­reer, Krasin­ski had di­rected other fea­tures ( Brief In­ter­views With Hideous Men, The Hol­lars) and held his own act­ing op­po­site for­mi­da­ble co-stars. But he’d never been so ner­vous. So Blunt sug­gested that he fo­cus on a sin­gle ex­pec­ta­tion for the screen­ing.

Sit­ting in the car, he thought: “If peo­ple clapped, that would be re­ally cool.”

Krasin­ski, now 39, seems mod­est by na­ture and nur­ture: He was raised in a Bos­ton sub­urb by lov­ing par­ents—his fa­ther a doc­tor and his mother a nurse—who re­in­forced fam­ily val­ues and a how-can-I-help at­ti­tude in him and his two broth­ers, both older. He still won­ders whether he de­served what he calls his “lot­tery ticket” break­out role as pa­per sales­man Jim Halpert on the Amer­i­can ver­sion of The Of­fice, which he landed af­ter study­ing play­writ­ing and Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture at Brown Univer­sity and work­ing his way through small movie roles.

Still, he had good rea­son to be anx­ious at the screen­ing: With A Quiet Place, he made a hor­ror movie for grown-ups, ex­plod­ing the genre by es­chew­ing gore, de­ploy­ing si­lence as an in­stru­ment of sus­pense and fo­cus­ing on fa­mil­ial love.

The script, by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, came over Krasin­ski’s tran­som shortly af­ter Blunt gave birth to their younger daugh­ter, Vi­o­let. (Their first­born, Hazel, was 2 at the time.) Like so many new par­ents, Krasin­ski was ter­ri­fied that he might not be able to pro­tect his chil­dren, and he saw the po­ten­tial for a hor­ror story an­chored in this pri­mal fear. He re­vised the script to am­plify the plight of a fam­ily try­ing to sur­vive in a world where alien crea­tures with height­ened hear­ing at­tack at the slight­est sound. (Tag line: “If they hear you, they hunt you.”)

Krasin­ski would also play the fa­ther. He and Blunt, who mar­ried in 2010, had been cau­tious about col­lab­o­rat­ing pro­fes­sion­ally. But when Blunt, a Golden Globe-win­ning ac­tress, read the script, she said, “I had this over­whelm­ing feel­ing of, ‘I don’t want any­body else to play this part.’ ”

For the first time, “I wanted to put my whole self into a movie,” Krasin­ski told me.

He stud­ied hor­ror films, not­ing “every sin­gle mu­sic cue, ten­sion beat or jump scare . . . that worked on me.” He no­ticed the ways

There Will Be Blood and No Coun­try for Old

Men went quiet in cer­tain scenes. “There was a power to that . . . a con­fi­dence that I wanted to put in our movie.” Con­fi­dence, in­deed: His script for A Quiet Place, a film that runs 90 min­utes, has only about 90 lines of di­a­logue. In the per­vad­ing si­lences, the fam­ily com­mu­ni­cates al­most en­tirely

in sign lan­guage and by fa­cial ex­pres­sion. Sound ef­fects are sparse, the few bursts of di­a­logue pre­cise.

Krasin­ski went all-in on the pro­duc­tion de­tails. He scoured Zil­low to find the per­fect farm­house in up­state New York. He dressed the house with pri­vate pho­to­graphs of him­self, Blunt and their real-life chil­dren. Re­call­ing a ju­nior high les­son about me­dieval vil­lagers light­ing fires down a coast­line to warn against in­com­ing threats, he di­rected his crew to string lights across the prop­erty to sim­u­late that prim­i­tive alert sys­tem. He even stood in for the aliens on set—be­fore they were added dig­i­tally in post­pro­duc­tion—to help Blunt and Noah Jupe and Mil­li­cent Sim­monds, who play his chil­dren, re­act au­then­ti­cally to them. The re­sult is a highly per­sonal, out-of-the-box hor­ror film steeped in in­ti­mate hu­man re­la­tion­ships.

When A Quiet Place pre­miered be­fore some 1,200 strangers in Austin, Krasin­ski re­calls what hap­pened with no lit­tle irony: “Peo­ple stood up and made the cra­zi­est noise,” he says. “I’ll never for­get it be­cause I looked at my wife and she was yelling, ‘Oh, my God.’” But: “I couldn’t hear her be­cause the [cheer­ing] was so loud. I burst into tears and gave her a hug.”

The film has re­ceived nearly uni­ver­sal crit­i­cal ac­claim. But what has moved its di­rec­tor the most, he says, is the re­sponse from movie­go­ers—who raved about it on­line as they drove the box-of­fice gross to more than $300 mil­lion, a stag­ger­ing num­ber for a film that cost only $17 mil­lion to make. “Th­ese fans have been so un­be­liev­ably kind and in­vested,” he says.

Since The Of­fice ended, in 2013, Krasin­ski has worked in over­drive. He ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duced Man­ches­ter by the Sea (2016), which earned two Os­cars, and the Emmy-nom­i­nated com­pe­ti­tion se­ries “Lip Sync Bat­tle,” which he co-cre­ated. He cur­rently stars in and ex­ec­u­tive-pro­duces Ama­zon’s po­lit­i­cal thriller Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. (Blunt has the ti­tle role in Mary Pop­pins Re­turns, to be re­leased later this month.)

Work­ing so fever­ishly, he says, makes him feel like “I some­what half-de­serve” his Hol­ly­wood ca­reer. Now, between film­ing the se­cond sea­son of Jack Ryan and spend­ing time with his fam­ily in Brook­lyn, he’s writ­ing the se­quel to A Quiet Place. Though he de­clines to pro­vide de­tails, Krasin­ski prom­ises that the fol­low-up will be “re­spect­ful of the re­sponse” the orig­i­nal re­ceived. Mak­ing it, he said, isn’t a busi­ness de­ci­sion. “It’s a life de­ci­sion.”

VI S UALARTSJohn Krasin­skiA Quiet Place

To Krasin­ski’s re­lief, the au­di­ence at his film’s pre­miere “stood up and made the cra­zi­est noise” when the screen­ing was over.

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