Six years ago, before John Krasinski was John Krasinski, his crazy dream of filming the story collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men was little more than just that.
Today he's at Sundance, showing off the David Foster Wallace adaptation he wrote and directed with the late author's blessing. And it's actually pretty strong, densely packed with an Altmanesque ensemble comprising Timothy Hutton, Chris Meloni, Will Arnett, Dominic Cooper, Bobby Cannavale (as a sexy amputee!) and at least a half-dozen others, all sharing their insights and inadequacies on tape with recently jilted college professor Sarah (Julianne Nicholson). It's a sprawling, gender-reversed sex, lies, and videotape, as much a postfeminist time capsule as a sort of date movie for sadists.
Krasinski is fine with whatever you want to call it, if his comments following this morning's screening are to be believed; he's just happy to a) have made it and b) have anyone talking about it at all. The book changed his life during college, where he said a staged reading inspired him to take up acting. And it remained with him during his lean early years, when a lack of jobs didn't keep him from pestering Wallace for the opportunity to someday film his book.
"I just couldn't live in a world where more people didn't know about him," Krasinski said, despite the slightly minor technicalities that awaited him. "I didn't know all this stuff about rights back then. My manager said, 'We probably ought to get the rights.' I was like, 'What? That's a bummer.' And being 23 and waiting tables isn't the most enticing resume to have when you're trying to get the rights to a book. But I basically promised his agent that there would be no car crashes, no explosions, and no gratuitous sex scenes. And she said, 'Oh. So you basically understand the book.' "
Krasinski went on, explaining his aversion to a literal take on Wallace's work; he didn't want 17 guys talking to the camera, but any time he felt the urge to get "more creative" in his adaptation, he checked himself: "This isn't the book." Nicholson's lead absorbs the confessionals with blank-faced reticence, reflecting both the wonder and horror of her subjects' candor. Only with ex-lover Krasinski — identified simply as Subject #20 — do her motivations leak out, and even then just partially.
Which may or may not have something to do with Krasinski's awkward, climactic ultimatum, a broadside lifted almost verbatim from the book, and not so naturally or convincingly. But he has an excuse!
"I wasn't supposed to be in the film, actually," he said. "Then we had an actor fall out late in the process — very late — and, like a true indie film, didn't have the budget or the time to go around casting people. My producer said, 'Well, you've read this book 700 times; you might as well do it.' So I jumped in and did it, and I'm glad I did. It was a fantastic experience. But I have to say: It was the most nervous I had ever been in a performance. I'd just spent three weeks directing some of the best performances I had ever seen."
Fair enough. Next time, though? Stick with the sexy amputee. If Wallace's prose here taught us anything, it's that no one can stay mad at an amputee.