“The Hollars,” which debuts on Friday, takes a comedic look at a very emotional situation in a family that is, for better or for worse, a little disjointed. John Krasinski is in both the actor’s and the director’s chair for his latest project, accompanied by a cast of Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley and Margo Martindale. Krasinski and Martindale spoke with Variety about bonding like a real family on the set of “The Hollars,” the awkward moments that bring out the truth of the film and their first job together.
How did you get attached to the project?
John Krasinski: I was attached as an actor six or seven years ago. I got sent the script and I don’t think I’ve said yes to anything faster. It was just a script that I felt – I mean, there’s a lot of family movies out there and I certainly didn’t want to do anything derivative – but when I read [writer] Jim [Strouse]’s script I said I had to do it because it was so real and specific and honest. I could see so much of my family in this family and mine couldn’t be more different. It’s the magic trick that Jim has, you can see yourself in there and see those people. At some point the people on the screen stop being [their own] family and they become projections of your family. I think that’s why I jumped on so quickly.
Margo Martindale: I had done a movie by Jim Strauss before, “The Winning Season.” I love his writing and Will Arnett had given John my number to call me because he said he wanted to talk to me about a movie and I was so happy to hear from him after 16 years.
Krasinski: My first job ever was a Marshall’s commercial with her!
Martindale: He sent me the script and I absolutely loved it. It’s so specific and it’s so real and it’s a slice of life but it is surprising. I said yes immediately.
Margo, did it also resonate with you because you could see your family in there too?
Martindale: I think you can see your family in it. You try to bring your honesty, your reality to anything you do. I see some of my family in there. My core family, the one I live in now, is hilarious. But my family I grew up in was very, very funny. So I love that about this family.
Why did it take so long to get this movie made?
Krasinski: I think that these movies aren’t made very often and that’s sad. I certainly grew up with these movies. I think I had “Terms of Endearment” on my mind for this, and I don’t think movies that are this personal are made anymore because it doesn’t have giant aliens or robots and it doesn’t have millions of dollars behind it or it isn’t a book or whatever. I think it’s a big chance to take to make a movie that’s about as something as pure and honest and something people can relate to everyday. Our storytelling medium is to represent who we are out there and I’m not so represented by the robots and aliens, but I love watching, but I also think there should be more like this.
When did you make the decision to also direct the movie?
Krasinski: About four years after I was attached to the movie, the financier called me and told me he was having trouble getting the movie made which is a sad story for a lot of these smaller films. And he asked me if I would buy the film outright from him and if I would take the responsibility of making it myself and I said yes. That’s a big financial commitment and a huge responsibility and yet I had no hesitation because I knew this script was this good. It wasn’t a hard decision at all.
Was it challenging to be on both sides of the camera?
Krasinski: For me, this one was very easy, if not essential that I was an actor in it. I think the selling point of this movie is that it has to feel organic. It has to feel like a real family. The only way to do that was to stay in the moment and to kind of create a bubble around us.
Martindale: And to be inside the family, not outside of it.
Krasinski: We really bonded as a family and not a fake family. For a real 22 days we were a real family. I found that I had so much love for these people and I felt so much love back. We were so connected in a magical way that I have not experience in my career before. You know, then being an actor in there it was nice to be able to protect them from things like yelling cut and going behind screens and breaking that momentum and intimate feeling especially with something so emotional. It felt more like a play or a home movie.
Specifically for you Margo, how did you approach your character, Sally?
Martindale: I think just to be in the moment, listen to what they were saying. We were that family, it happened, it was magical and I don’t think I prepared it. I listen to something about seizures and what would happen during a seizure but as far as the rest of it, you’re there with your imagination and this new set of family members and circumstances. You’re there and you start living in that reality and that’s really what we did.
Krasinski: When you have a connection like that to the other actors you stop become an actor who has decisions and premeditated decisions about how you’re going to make it through a scene and you just start reacting to each other. As Margo nicely said she looked around the room as saw her two sons and he husband. And she got very emotional in that scene, we didn’t know how to respond to it and I think that’s real life. Nobody has an answer to an emotional reaction to that.
Martindale: If you think about how you’re going to respond, it’s not real.
How did you choose where you were going to shoot this?
Krasinski: The real challenge is to execute in the shooting of the movie, how well Jim had executed in the script. This has had to feel like your hometown. The minor moments, like the diner, have to feel like the diner you remember going to with your parents. For me, this had to be Anywhere, USA. We ended up shooting in Jackson, Mississipi. It’s not what I thought of first but when I visited it it had that indescribable vibe of this could be anybody’s house. The beauty is that we’re all from different places so we went around to look for that diner, when we walked into the one we used we my production designer and I clicked on it instantly. We’re from different cities but you know you have something special when everyone is relating.
The film has many comedic and emotional moments. Was it hard to transition between the two?
Martindale: The specific things about Jim’s script say it all. John was very specific on what tone he wanted. He created an atmosphere that allowed us to live and breathe in this kind of buoyant bubble that we could live and listen and respond in and all of that comedy that people say, “How do you go from one to the other?” It just comes out of reality.
Krasinski: I remember going to church every Sunday and those are the places I found it hardest not to laugh. It’s inexplicable but it’s the reason why at a funeral you laugh. It’s life, it’s not set up to be a joke or sad.
Martindale: It’s also because it’s quiet in the hospital. It’s a very somber place. It makes you kind of want to act up!
Krasinski: Not only was it not hard, it’s probably the best experience on a film set. It felt like summer camp. The only thing I can think of where I was that sad to leave because I was very aware I was leaving behind one of the best experiences I had in my life.
How did Anna Kendrick come into play as your girlfriend in the film?
Krasinski: I’ve known her for a bit. She worked with my wife on “Into the Woods” and was great. I really hired her because she said, “Yes.” I think she has a specificity where this would have been an average girlfriend role but I knew it was more than that. I didn’t want just the girlfriend of the lead guy, instead she’s his true north. Anna understood his mentally and the responsibility that comes with that. I mean she’s dealing with a guy who doesn’t know if he’s in love with her enough to ask her to marry him. And yet she understands him enough to persevere. Very complicated waters to wade through. Otherwise it becomes the bland girlfriend role.
Martindale:Also, she’s edgy!
What do you mean by “edgy”?
Martindale: Well she’s not the pushover gal, the soft girlfriend. She’s got an attitude.
Given the landscape of movies right now, what do you hope people get or see from “The Hollars”?
Krasinski: I hope they respond the way I responded the way I did when I read the script, which is beyond a movie there is something very real and honest that you can react to in this movie and it’s a conversation starter. It’s something that universally connects us all, whether you talk to your family or don’t, whether you love them or you don’t – it’s where you’re from. There’s this beautiful existential channel of communication and love that’s always there and in a world that’s pretty chaotic and dramatic in itself, there’s comfort there that your family will be there for you. I had a guy come up to me last week and say, “I love this movie so much, I wish I had a better relationship with my mom because I wanted to call her.” And I told him, “You can! That’s the beauty of it.” We’re constantly looking for place to feel safe and family is some way, shape or form can be a place feel that safety.
Martindale: If you think you’re going to see one movie, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprise that it is not that movie. And yes, go home and call your mother. It’s never too late.
What was your favorite moment while working on this film?
Martindale: I loved John shaving my head, him looking at me and saying, “I’ll do it.” We can’t even look at each other when we talk about that.
Krasinski: For me, the moment when Margo broke down. It’s a gauntlet that’s thrown down that I think I was just lucky to have been there for as an actor, director or creative person in general. That’s how you do your job and bring true humanity and love to something that is fake. She brought a reality to it that I think is so unbelievable powerful to it that I’m just honored she was in my movie.
Martindale: Well, I was honored to be in his movie.