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John Krasinski on Promised Land, Good Will Hunting, and The Office

John Krasinski. Photo: Getty Images

In Gus Van Sant’s new drama Promised Land, John Krasinski plays an environmentalist who becomes a thorn in the side of fracking salesman Matt Damon, but behind the scenes, Krasinski and Damon were more like collaborators than adversaries: The two actors also scripted the movie together, based on a story Krasinski had hatched with novelist Dave Eggers. Krasinski and Damon have been friends ever since the latter starred with Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, in The Adjustment Bureau, but does Krasinski — a self-professed Good Will Hunting superfan — ever geek out around his pal and writing partner? Most definitely, he tells Vulture.

I feel like the idea of asking someone to write something with you is like asking somebody out on a date. And you aimed very high on this — Dave Eggers, Matt Damon — so did you feel a little bit nervous about asking them to collaborate?
Yeah, 100 percent. Everyone always tells me, “Let’s make a list of people who would be good to write this with,” and so I just went to Dave, and I wrote him directly, and he loved the idea. I knew that a lot of these issues were very close to his heart, and this is long before fracking came into it; it was just that sense of pro-community civic engagement. So he and I started hashing out the characters and the story and then he had to go off and write one of his novels, and I brought it to Matt.

How did you pave a road for this with Matt?
We had talked a lot about what films we wanted to do, what he’s into and what I’m into. And then he was like, “Do you have anything for me to read?” and I said, “Yeah, I’m working on this stuff.” And he said, “Well, I’m actually thinking of directing. Do you have anything for me to direct?” And I was like, “Yes! This!” When I brought him the idea, he jumped onto it immediately. And I was writing with him in, like, two weeks.

And how long ago was this? Because the production seemed to get up and running very fast.
I had the idea two Christmases ago, so by the time it comes out, it will be just two years from then. Which is nuts.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Promised Land is basically coming out on the fifteenth anniversary of Good Will Hunting.
That’s true. I was only doing this movie so they’d ask me to be on the DVD, but they didn’t.

Do you remember seeing that film?
I mean, you don’t understand. I’m from Boston, so Matt and Ben are, like, the mayor. To be really honest, I was super-nervous the first day Matt and I started writing, because it was like hallowed ground. I’ve seen that movie, no joke, 172 times.

Did you ever cry while watching it?
Totally, totally. 100 percent. The scene where I totally cried was when Ben says, “If you’re here 50 years from now, I’m gonna kill you,” where he sort of lets him go. To me, that was way bigger than “It’s not your fault.” I’ve asked them about all these scenes like a psycho fan, and Matt said, “Yeah, that scene almost didn’t happen because Gus, in one of the rewrites, was like ‘I want Ben’s character to get crushed in a pile of bricks.’” That could have been the ending, that Chucky died! Which is crazy!

Gus stepped in to direct your movie when Matt decided he didn’t have enough time to prep it. When you watch Promised Land now, do you think what it might have been like if Matt had directed it?
If Matt had directed, I think it would’ve been a much different movie. I think you’d be hard-pressed to say “better,” only because I’m sure Matt’s a great director, but there’s something about Gus. Not to say that Matt won’t direct — I think he will; I think he should — but there were days on set where he would look at Gus and say, “And that’s why I’m not directing.” Gus would make these choices and be so at ease and confident with the whole thing that Matt said, “Working with Gus will set you back a few years from wanting to direct.” Because it’s like, if you can’t do it a fraction as good as he can, then don’t try.

What about you? You’ve directed before. When Matt decided he couldn’t direct the film, did you think about stepping in?
I didn’t have time. Matt bailed, and twelve hours later we got Gus, which is insane. And Gus was the number-one name on my list as far as who I’ve always wanted to work with. I met him at the SAG Awards the year Milk was out, and I remember it because it was this big a deal. I’d gone out to get a drink at an outside bar because the inside one was too packed, and Gus was standing outside, and I went up to him and just said, “I love everything you do,” and that could’ve been read as creepy. And then I remember almost throwing up because I was so nervous.

Did a conversation spring from that?
No! Not many conversations spring from Gus. But you know, he was like, “Oh, thanks,” and I took his shyness to mean “Get the hell out of here.” So when we met later for this film, I told him about that encounter, and he said, “I remember that,” and I was like, “Nooo!” because I wanted to be thought of as way cooler. I was like, “Okay, well, I guess I just have to be myself then, instead of trying to play it off like I’m a cool producer.”

How come you never wrote an episode of The Office?
You know what’s funny? Weirdly, that never came up. Some of the actors on the show did write episodes, but they were hired as writers and actors at the same time. So with any of the actors that weren’t hired as writers, it’s a weird thing: You don’t want to cross that line; there’s an etiquette there. But they involve you in the process. I don’t know if I need to write my own episode, but I’m directing a couple this year, which is fun.

Are you still working on that project about the Chateau Marmont for HBO? With Aaron Sorkin scripting?
Yes. That was the other person I was talking about when a whole bunch of people were like, “Make a list of who you want to write with.”

You’re asking out the hottest writers in Hollywood, basically.
Yeah, exactly! The thing that’s really exciting about it is, if you have a good idea, people want to work on it. And that felt really good. It’s validation. Now I just need to keep coming up with good ideas; otherwise, I’m screwed.

John Krasinski on Promised Land and The Office