A Brief Interview With The Makers Of 'Hideous Men'

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Host Liane Hansen talks to actors John Krasinski and Dominic Cooper about their performances in Brief Interviews of Hideous Men. Krasinski wrote and directed the film adaptation of the late David Foster Wallace's short story collection of the same name.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

You've seen Dominic Cooper on screen. He appeared in "The History Boys." He was the love interest groom in "Mama Mia" and he currently appears in a new movie opening this weekend, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." The movie screenplay was written by John Krasinski from "The Office"; he also directed the film. And Dominic Cooper plays George; he is the student of the main character, Sarah. Dominic Cooper is in the studio.

And I neglected to mention in introducing you as a movie star this weekend that you're at the Washington Shakespeare Theater, playing in Racine's "Phaedra" opposite Helen Mirren.

Mr. DOMINIC COOPER (Actor): I am. I block it out until the evening.

HANSEN: Absolutely. But I'd like to talk to you about the film and the character that you play in it. Your character basically says that anyone who is abused grows stronger because of it, and you actually horrify your teacher. She's a researcher and she's basically using personal experience to find out what men think about women. Why is that moment so pivotal?

Mr. COOPER: Well, I think, it finally makes her question the interviews which have been taking place. And I think she's been getting answers which she in a way expects. This comes from a totally different place that she can't comprehend.

(Soundbite of film "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men")

Mr. COOPER: (As Daniel) Existence and life break people in all kinds of awful (bleeped) ways all the time. Trust me, I know. I've been there. This is the big difference, you and me here, because this isn't about politics or feminism or whatever. For you this is just ideas. You've never been there.

HANSEN: When were you filming this movie?

Mr. COOPER: I met John while I was doing a play called "The History Boys" in New York, which he came to see. And then that was the first time we spoke about it. That's now three or four years ago.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COOPER: And I was fascinated by it and the character. So I literally - the first day's filming was almost two or three years ago. And I think a year later we went to do some reshoots, which was kind of a fantastic experience, as well, to come back to a piece of work.

HANSEN: We have a guest in New York that I'd like to bring in. And our audience must know actor John Krasinski from his role as Jim Halpert on the NBC series "The Office." He's also appeared in feature films, most recently in "Leatherheads" starring George Clooney and "Away We Go" with Myer Rudolph.

But John has added writing and directing to his credits. He directed and wrote the screenplay for the movie "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men." He also stars in the film, which is based on a book by David Foster Wallace, the late David Foster Wallace. And, John, are you there in New York?

Mr. JOHN KRASINSKI (Actor, Director): I am. I'm here in New York.

HANSEN: Welcome to the program.

Mr. KRASINSKI: Thank you very much for having me.

HANSEN: You know who's sitting in here with me?

Mr. KRASINSKI: This is The Dominic Cooper, I hear.

HANSEN: The Dominic Cooper, who is one of your actors in the movie. I bet you didn't expect to run into him after the film was edited.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: I absolutely didn't. I did not expect that at all.

Mr. COOPER: Lovely to hear you in my ears this...

Mr. KRASINSKI: Oh, my God. It's like Internet dating without the Internet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Tell me a little bit, John, because you encountered the material when were in school at Brown University?

Mr. KRASINSKI: Yes, that's correct.

HANSEN: And you put on a show with it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: That sounds really funny that I put on a show because it makes me think that we all dressed up and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: ...put on a kid show. We did do it, actually. A friend of mine was putting on a staged reading of the book. I was desperately hoping that I'd be a part of this and I'm glad I was. It was one of those things that was, you know, without being overly sentimental, the thing that made me want to be an actor.

HANSEN: So you had the idea that this would be something that you'd want to work with again, even before you were cast in "The Office" or came into the public eye.

Mr. KRASINSKI: Yes, I thought I would illegally put it on as a play in New York.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: And then went and tried to dig around for these things called rights. And before I actually got the rights to the book, I had started writing the script, which is a very ignorant thing to do. Don't do that, anybody who's trying to be a first-time director.

HANSEN: You shoot it documentary-style, mostly.

Mr. KRASINSKI: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: One thing that immediately came out of "The Office" is that whole idea of the camera being inside the office and doing documentary-type interview...

Mr. KRASINSKI: Right.

HANSEN: ...with the characters. Did you learn something doing that TV show that helped you do this film?

Mr. KRASINSKI: Probably on the subconscious I learned a great many things. I think watching the directors that we have on the show, there's something about the way we shoot the show that is very, you know, gives the show the feeling that you're stumbling upon all these moments. And that's definitely what I wanted from this movie, as well. I didn't want them to come across as pieces that had been worked on but rather that they were bit off-the-cuff.

HANSEN: John, I want to bring one of your stars, Dominic Cooper, back in, who plays…

Mr. KRASINSKI: All right.

HANSEN: …Sara's student George.

Mr. KRASINSKI: We'll get to you in a second, Dominic. Hold on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: There's other things I want to say.

HANSEN: Well, one of the things that you are quoted as saying is that his scenes as George are a pivotal point in the film.

Mr. KRASINSKI: To me, that interview is the key, the beating heart of the whole thing. I think that the character is so incredibly offensive, so incredibly off-putting for so many reasons, and then gradually through revealing insecurities and vulnerabilities turns out to be just this scared guy who has basically found no way to protect himself from the world.

Honestly, Dominic, what he did in the movie - it's so weird because he's right there listening.

Mr. COOPER: Keep going, just keep going.

Mr. KRASINSKI: But what he did in the movie, in my opinion, is some of the best acting I've seen in a really, really long time. I think it was really courageous, really brave and something that I think is very difficult to tackle when you're reading it on the page to, first of all, sign on to do something like that and then to give it a commitment level that he did was incredible. And I owe him greatly for it.

HANSEN: Dominic, were you aware of all of this when you said, yeah, sure, I'll be in your movie?

Mr. COOPER: When I first spoke to John about the project, it was kind of the passion and how inspired he was about the project and about that character that really drew me to it.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. COOPER: So, with John's help, it was actually much easier than he's making out. It was actually, I mean, had an extremely enjoyable time. And to play a role like that, you know, yeah, it may be difficult with that extremely dense language and what he was trying to get across. But actually, that's why we do it and that makes it more enjoyable to perform.

HANSEN: John, how was it to direct your own scenes, particularly - well, there's one in bed - but there's also a major monologue at the end and there were tears.

Mr. KRASINSKI: The actor was an incredible diva, but once we had moved past that, we really got to some good work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KRASINSKI: You know, the truth is I never was intending to be in the movie, but we actually had a scheduling conflict with an actor, unbeknownst to the production or the actor himself. So, it was a real bummer to have that person drop out so late in the game. But with two weeks left, it's very difficult to say to an actor: here's a 38-page monologue; become familiar with it. Also, you'll be sticking the proverbial landing of this whole movie, so good luck.

(Soundbite of movie, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men")

Mr. KRASINSKI: (As Ryan) Well, I know I'm not telling you anything that you haven't already decided that you know. I can see you forming judgments with that chilly smile. You're not the only one who can read people, you know?

And I got to say it is definitely the most terrifying performance I've ever done because after being the director and watching on the monitors all these awe-inspiring performances one after the other and then literally being the last person to go, that was terrible, because I just didn't want to let anybody down.

HANSEN: The audience finally realizes that Sara is actually involved with one of the men that is confessing.

Mr. KRASINSKI: Right.

HANSEN: Did you talk to the late writer about your own interpretation?

Mr. KRASINSKI: He was very hesitant to hear about the screenplay because the type of writer he is is one who writes books, and once he's written them they're on the shelves because that's where they belong - which I thought was a great line.

So, we later did talk a little bit about it and he said, well, I think maybe the best thing to do would be to explain what I was trying to do with the book. And what he said was that he was trying to write a book about a character that you neither see nor hear from, but due to the characters around her you can get all the information you need.

And, you know, the only thing I did was tie her into one of the interviews. And there was a pause and he just laughed and he said, you know, maybe you've gone farther than I was going with the book as far as how to connect them all. And he said because he considered the book "Brief Interviews" to be a failed experiment - which I thought was just the greatest term - to know that we were on the right path at all was a huge honor.

HANSEN: John Krasinski is the writer/director and one of the stars of the new movie, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men." He joined us from New York. John, thank you very much and good luck to you.

Mr. KRASINSKI: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

HANSEN: And one of the stars of "Brief"...

Mr. KRASINSKI: And the most devilishly handsome man on earth.

HANSEN: ...there you go - right from the director's mouth - Dominic Cooper graciously came into the studio in Washington. It's nice to meet you. Thank you.

Mr. COOPER: Lovely to meet you. Thank you very much.

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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