John Krasinski and Emily Blunt on Their New Horror A Quiet Place

The filmmaking power couple on fighting monsters and real intimacy

John Krasinksi is grinning from ear to ear. The night before, his latest film as a director, A Quiet Place, got a standing ovation after its world premiere at SXSW. Now in a hotel suite overlooking Downtown Austin, a PR staffer has just handed him a phone. She points, whispers, and that Krasinski smile gets even broader.

Terror in silence: Emily Blunt and Millicent Simmonds in A Quiet Place.

The first reviews are in on the film, a high-concept horror about a family hunted by mysterious creatures that attack anything that makes even the slightest sound. Like a proud father, Krasinski (who directed, co-wrote, and stars alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt) is ecstatic: It stands at a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie initially seems an odd choice for Krasinski, who became a household name because of smash hit sitcom The Office. Not that he's running away from the role that made him famous ("It gave me every thing and every opportunity I have," he said, "and probably at the end of my career, still the thing I'm most known for is Jim, and that's the best.") However, it's not the film he would have expected to direct.

Neither Blunt nor Krasinksi are big horror fans but, he said, "now I'm getting educated very fast. ... From Get Out to The Witch to Don't Breathe to It Follows, all these different kinds of movies, are some of the best filmmaking going." However, he was not attempting to reach their critical heights with A Quiet Place. "I just saw it as fun," he said. "When I was writing, I was like, 'Wow, the sand paths, and the lights, and this is so great, and the conceit.'"

“Your job is not to deliver this film scary. Your job is to deliver the movie, have them fall in love with the family, and if they get scared, they get scared because it’s the family.”
Instead of aping the classics and new standards of survival horror, his approach was informed by something The Office executive producer Greg Daniels told him about playing comedy. "He actually said to me, 'Your job is not to deliver the lines funny. Your job is to deliver the lines, and if people think it's funny, that's up to them.' It is a genius idea, and when I was a younger actor I thought, wow, that is so smart. But then I realized that applies to everything. Your job is not to deliver this film scary. Your job is to deliver the movie, have them fall in love with the family, and if they get scared, they get scared because it's the family, rather than 'watch this, it's going to be so scary!'"

Blunt admitted that she is "a complete scaredy cat" when it comes to horror, "but then the only film that John and I have watched maybe 30 times is Jaws. I think it's an extraordinary film, and it's not about the shark munching off people's legs. It's about these three men, and their need to overcome something bigger, and that's really why we wanted to do this film."

That's been part of the success: By not knowing the tropes, Krasinski didn't know when he was avoiding them. He said, "Someone last night said, I never thought you would direct a horror movie, and I said, yeah, I'm not a big horror guy. They said, 'That's why the movie is the way it is.' I said, 'What do you mean?' and they said, 'Because if you knew what you were doing, then you might be aiming for a target that you would miss. But you just said, this is what I think the movie [is], and then you hit the target.'

He added, "I remember reading an interview with Steven Soderbergh, who obviously very articulately caught the whole process. He said, 'Your movie becomes its own thing, and it becomes what it wants to become,' and the difference between confidence and ego is if you can't see when your movie's rejecting something."

For Krasinski, the idea was to create a world of silence that was as immersive as the ocean. "It was this idea of, can we get the audience to be in the world, to literally give them an experience." That became a particular challenge. "If I read in the paper that it's an experience, well, then that's a high bar. When I go in, I go, well, I then want a full experience. So we really wanted to set this tone that, when they're in the woods, you feel like you're in the woods with them, and when they're in the basement you can hear the difference."

John Krasinski and Emily Blunt at SXSW 2018 for the world premiere of A Quiet Place (Photo by Gary Miller)
That meant he entered into an unusually close creative relationship with sound mixer Brandon Proctor (who Krasinski called "genius. You're watching this guy go through this stuff and you feel like you're getting a free course in how to appreciate movies"), and supervising sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl. When he first saw their résumés, which include just about every wall-shaking blockbuster of the past three decades, he realized that "to get anywhere near them would be amazing."

When they finally met, Krasinki knew they were the right collaborators. "They saw an early cut of the movie – and this was an early cut, no sound, no creature, nothing – they just said, 'Yeah, we've got to get working.' I said, 'What do you mean?' and they said, 'We've got to go right now. It was great, we've got to go,' and it was because they knew exactly what the movie was. ... They said, 'We've done so many huge noises, that it's great to have negative space, to take away all the sound, and just have all the ambient sound being what we're crafting."

But that's where the challenge of the initial concept really tested the love in this labor of love. "It's really nice to have rules when you're writing," Krasinski said, but when they got to the editing booth, "we were going through every single frame, going, 'Are they dead? Is that too loud?' It was so nerve-racking, but also really, really exciting."

The conceit also created a rare acting challenge. For Blunt, rather than taking a weapon from her creative arsenal, it was an opportunity to push her own performance. She said, "The unspoken stuff for me is the best stuff that you get to play, even in films that are more dialogue-heavy. The best scenes are the ones where you get to listen to somebody and you get to react without necessarily having to say the cleverest line in the world."

Krasinski described it as "almost this Zen thing. ... To look at another actor, and not be able to say the words – we do those exercises in theatre school, you know, 'pretend to be an animal' or 'try to communicate something to someone without saying anything.' The reason why you do that is because you hope it will make you a better actor. When you take [speech] away, it's all that you've got."

This added an extra layer of immediacy to a performance that could already be fraught, having cast Blunt as the female lead. She admitted there was some trepidation about changing their established roles, "hearing about each other's projects as a secondhand listening party. ... We both understand the insular quality of the life when you're doing a film, and you respect it and support it in each other." Acting together, she said, "You just don't know how your processes align, or whether they're going to crash heads."

“She’s incredibly loving and warm, and yet there’s a strength there, in the determination to make sure her family thrives in this hideous world.”
However, any concerns vaporized quickly. "We didn't realize how creatively on the same page we would be," Blunt said, "or how intensely we both saw the film, and it was all in the same direction. We challenged each other, and we didn't have that diplomacy that wastes so much time, of 'would you think if, maybe, we did this, how would you feel about that?' It was, 'that's not working for me,' and he'd say, 'tell me why,' and it was that kind of relationship, that sort of shorthand. It was incredibly special, and it was an incredibly bonding experience for us."

Instead of tension, their real-life relationship informed the relationship between the onscreen couple, especially in one memorable dance scene set to Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." "We did many takes," said Krasinski, "but the first take, I looked up, and Emily and I were crying at the exact same time. There was something insanely powerful, and the crew teared up. You think they'd tear up at the kids' stuff, or the more emotional stuff. No, they teared up at that, and they just said that they hadn't seen someone catch a moment in a movie that was just private, just alone. It represented so much, and told so much story in that moment, but really there's no story than these people need to continue this bright part of life."

"The crew were almost uncomfortable," said Blunt. "'I could never do that with my wife, what you guys just did.' It's so intimate that it makes people unsettled."

Both Blunt and Krasinski also brought their own parenting experiences to bear on their relationships with the three actors playing the younger members of the Abbott family. Blunt said, "Our kids in this film were so easy to love, they were just angelic, and I always loved that about this mother, that she is nurturing. She's incredibly loving and warm, and yet there's a strength there, in the determination to make sure her family thrives in this hideous world."

Yet the relationship between her onscreen and offscreen lives was not a two-way street, especially when it comes to their children – who Blunt said are not allowed to see A Quiet Place "until they're 40, at least. If ever. My eldest daughter came to one of my costume fittings, and she was 3 at the time, and she looked at me with that fake belly, and she couldn't quite understand. 'Mummy's pretending she's got a baby in her tummy,' you could tell she was like, 'If there's a another sibling coming ...' Poor thing. God knows what she thinks I do for a living, and I'm afraid to tell them. Their friends will probably explain it."

A Quiet Place is in theaters now. For review and showtimes, visit our film listings.

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SXSW, horror, SXSW Film 2018, Headliners, A Quiet Place, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt

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