John Krasinski is negotiating a complex web of emotions. His latest directorial effort, The Hollars, screened earlier this morning to press and potential buyers; opportunistic politicians from Marco Rubio to Ted Cruz are using his movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi as a political weapon against presidential rival Hillary Clinton; and his New England Patriots are losing to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game (Krasinski is a native of Newton, Massachusetts.)
“I think I’ll catch at least the last hour or so of the game, and I’ll check in with it,” he says, chuckling. “When you’re in a movie that you care this much about, these are the sacrifices.”
We’re huddled together in a condo in Park City, Utah, where his film is making its premiere as part of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It’s The Office star’s fourth movie at the fest and his second as director, after 2009’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Like that David Foster Wallace adaptation, he’s assembled an A-list cast with The Hollars. Krasinski is John Hollar, a small-town fella who moved away to the Big Apple and scored him a wonderful, rich girlfriend (Anna Kendrick). Despite her looming pregnancy, John finds himself struggling to pop the question.When his strong-willed mother (Margo Martindale, brilliant) falls ill, the Hollars all unite, and are forced to address the myriad demons in their closets. Joining the aforementioned trio is Sharlto Copley as John’s screw-up of a brother, Richard Jenkins as his well-meaning but naïve father, Charlie Day as mom’s nurse, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as John’s high school squeeze.
Krasinski directed from a screenplay by James C. Strouse, and found himself relating to the story even though he comes from a “great, tight-knit family.” Mostly, he related to John’s dilemma: the existential crisis a man faces when he’s ready to take responsibility for people other than himself. Krasinski, who is married to the actress Emily Blunt, says that the birth of their daughter Hazel changed his entire outlook on life.
“I think I went through a real existential moment that everybody will tell you about when you have a kid, though it’s different for everybody,” he says. “When I had my daughter, I went through an experience where it really does hold up a mirror to your life whether you like it or not. Are you at the place where you want to be? Are you happy with who you are as a person?”
Hazel was born in February 2014 and shooting on The Hollars began two months later. While Krasinski found some kinship with John’s impending fatherhood dilemma, the part of John that needed to close the book on his lady-killing past (see: Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wasn’t close to his reality. “I’ll be really honest with you, I was never the coolest kid on the block, so I never had the ‘good ol’ days’ of a playboy type of lifestyle,” says a smiling Krasinski. “My good ol’ days were entirely different. So for me, the best days of my life started when I met my wife—that’s the truth, it’s not just me saying it because it sounds nice on a card. She’s one of the coolest people, she’s so talented, she’s beautiful, and she’s certainly out of my league. And so all of a sudden all of the things I loved, I got to find someone who loved that about me. There was a lot of my life that she hadn’t experienced and a lot of her life that I hadn’t experienced, so all of a sudden we got to start doing things that we liked.” He pauses. “When you’re lucky enough to meet your one person then life takes a turn for the best. It can’t get better than that.”
Curbing some of his enthusiasm, however, is the way that politicians and political pundits have treated his recent film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi—a dramatization of the terrorist attacks on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Krasinski plays Jack Da Silva, one of a six-member team of CIA security contractors who put their lives on the line to protect the Americans inside the compound, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was one of four Americans to lose their lives.
Those on the right have used the Michael Bay film as a political weapon against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is running for POTUS, while those on the left have dismissed the movie as anti-Hillary propaganda. All of this has weighed on Krasinski, who becomes very emotional when discussing how the film’s been spun.
“I think it’s a shame that a movie like this would be used so much as a political football,” he says. “Now, I’d be naïve to say that people weren’t going to take this politically. If that was your agenda, and you wanted to see this movie politically through your own lens, you were going to do that whether we want you to or not. And that’s your right. What I don’t think is fair, and what I think is a shame—and actually I’ll go so far as to say a total dishonor—is to not at least acknowledge what this story is: acknowledging these six guys. These six guys need that acknowledgement, and they represent the men and women who serve all around the world. So by just taking this as a political football of ‘this movie is a total propaganda piece,’ you are robbing people of the ability to see what these men and women are actually going through.”“I am actually slightly disgusted at the idea that applauding our military has become a political thing rather than universal,” he continues. “It’s universal. That should be an immediate acknowledgment, and then all the political opinions, conversations, and punditry is part of the process. I would never say we shouldn’t talk politically about stuff—as long as step one is acknowledging these guys and what they went through that night.”
While some members of the left-wing media have dismissed 13 Hours as fodder for Benghazi conspiracy theorists, Democratic politicians have remained relatively silent on it. Not so on the right, where Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have invoked the film in attacks on Hillary. “She is disqualified from being president,” said Rubio. “You want to know why? Just watch 13 Hours.”
Cruz did him one better, bringing up 13 Hours in his closing statement during a recent GOP presidential debate, using the movie as ammunition against Hillary.
Krasinski didn’t see Cruz’s movie pitch—he was flying, he says—but finds it disturbing that Rubio and Cruz have chosen to use the movie as a political weapon without paying proper tribute to the real-life heroes depicted in the film.
“I don’t care if you’re Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton herself,” he says. “All of them can safely say that if the movie succeeds in portraying these guys as heroes, then that’s an important thing that we should all acknowledge. Now here comes my political spin on it: even Ted Cruz, for him not to say it acknowledges our heroes but to make it about that night and connecting it to Hillary, you’re allowed to do that, just say how heroic these guys are first. Give them their due. And then say, ‘And now I’m going to talk to you about how it relates to Hillary Clinton.’ But for the most part, that’s not what’s happened.”“I don’t usually follow this stuff, but for this one, I took it personally for these guys,” he adds. “We all put our names on the line to make sure we did justice to these guys.”This is, Krasinski says, a teachable moment. “The truth is, we should all be proud of these guys, and the moment you politicize it, the more you’re moving us toward a world that I don’t want to be living in; a world where people want to score political points at all costs,” he says. “On either side, this is what I hope people learn: In moments like this, when we’re talking about the military, don’t score points. We should all be on the same page.”