The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of A Quiet Place.
How did you get on this project? How did it come to you?
John Krasinski: So I was about to start pre-production on Jack Ryan, and some of the producers on Jack Ryan were Platinum Dunes, and they said, “Would you ever act in a genre movie?” And I said, “Oh no, I can’t do that, I don’t do horror movies.” And they said, “Well the one-liner is about a family that has to remain quiet, and you have to figure out why.” And then I said, “That’s a really good one-liner.” So I said I’d read the script, and when I read the script it was scary, and a genre movie, and all those things that they’d said but to me it was much more than that. I immediately connected to a completely different experience of the script which was this family story— the story of parenthood. Truth be told, I was holding my three week old daughter while I was reading that script. To read a script about parents and families that would do anything for their kids, I was certainly very emotional about that. When i called the producers back, I said I definitely would star in it, but I’d really like to rewrite and direct it. The reason why is because I wanted to bring that experience. I wanted to bring the specificity of this family allegory. The writers had created an amazing sandbox, and I just wanted to play in it more. It was an early draft of theirs so I’m sure they would have gone farther and farther with the idea too, but to me it was that now you have the idea of remaining quiet… how far can we go with it? So that’s when all these details, probably in the first thirty six hours, I had most of the movie in my head mapped out and how I wanted to rewrite it, from the sand path to the lights and so forth. All that stuff just started coming very fast. I’ve never had that experience as a writer, that it all comes in a vision that fast.
“This is a huge career risk because I knew that if I didn’t pull it off, why would anybody let me direct again?”
Emily Blunt is amazing in this movie. How did she get the role?
JK: She got the role by me being a completely spineless person. The truth of the matter is, as I was rewriting, she’s the only person I had in mind. Yes, she was very busy with Mary Poppins, and yes, we had just had our second child, so that was probably the beginning of my doubt. The biggest thing for me was that I didn’t want her to say no because I knew that would be really awkward for us! Even more so, the thing that would have been heartbreaking is if she said, “Yes, I’ll do it… for you.” The reason why I didn’t ask her is because I didn’t want to put her in that position. I have been witness to the intelligence, the class level, and the unbelievable dedication she has at making the choices she has. She has one of the best resumes of anyone I’ve ever seen. I did not want her doing anything other than what she has always done, which is because she loves something. So we were flying to L.A., I was going to pitch the studio my vision on the directing side of it, and she said, “Now that you’re pitching it, can I read it?” So we’re on the plane, I was going to meet another actress the next week actually, one that Emily had recommended, and she just finished the script, turned to me, and I thought she was going to be sick. Legitimately, she looked weird, so I reached for my barf bag, and she said, “You can’t let anyone else do this role.” And that was vague enough that she sounded likes was proposing to me so I was like “are you saying what I think you’re saying?” And she said, “Will you let me do the role?” And I think I screamed out “YES!” on a commercial flight.
How did you find the two main children?
JK: I was so intent on casting these kids as perfectly as I could, and then it sort of unfolded way too easily, if I’m really honest. We were at the SAG awards and we were moving from the award ceremony into the next room, and this agent that I had known from years ran up to me and said, “You have to cast Noah Jupe in A Quiet Place.” And I said, “I just finished this script three weeks ago… how could you possibly know about it?” And he says, “I don’t! I know nothing about it, but he can do anything!” And I was like, “You are a very good agent.” I started researching Noah and I loved him on The Night Manager and I emailed George Clooney who had just worked with him on Suburbicon. And the email I got back from George was, “This is not only the best child actor I’ve ever worked with, but he’s also the greatest kid and the greatest experience you’ll have.” The last thing he said was, “P.S. However much time you have left in your schedule every day, knock an hour off, ’cause he’s gonna save you that much time.” And with Millie, we had known that they did a pretty wide search on Wonderstruck for a deaf actress. It was non-negotiable for me to cast a deaf actress, so I called the casting director of Wonderstruck, and I said, “I imagine you cast a very wide net.” She said, “We really did. I don’t think you need to meet any of them. You need to meet one. You need to meet Millie.” And so I wrote to Todd [Haynes] and he said the exact same thing that George said about about Noah, and just that on top of all that, he said “I will tell you it’s the most magical experience as a person.” We had her do no-dialogue scenes. The first one was from Kramer vs Kramer where the little boy takes out the ice cream. I just wanted to see her emote without words. And she did that. It was amazing. I knew that she’d be great. What I didn’t realize was how lucky we would be to get that presence. Legitimately Emily and I feel that she’s not from here. She’s some angel that you just really get the pleasure to meet. She’s special. She’s different. We all became better people by being around her.
For the bathtub scene, Emily did that in one take, correct?
JK: Yeah, it’s true. The story about that I’ll never forget was the week before we started shooting, I went to go look for an editing bay and we found this great place down the road, and who happened to be heading there but Rob Marshall, the director of Mary Poppins. He said “When do you shoot?” I said, “Next week.” He said “Oh, you’re going to see.” And I said “I know I love her so much.” And he said, “No, you’re going to see.” I said, “I know, I’m her biggest fan.” And he said, “No. Until you’re in the room and she does what she does you’ll never know why she’s such a great actress.” I thought, “Wow that’s such a nice thing to say. But also how dare you, sir!” I think it was day two or three, we we doing that scene and I told Emily we should just jump into it and get it done. Everything that Rob said was manifested in front of me. She was so unbelievably powerful. Now obviously there’s footage of that scene in different takes just to get geography and things, but the actual moment is only one take. And there’s just dead silence as we take, and at the end, you hear me say “That’s lunch?” The air had left the room. I mean truly every crew member was totally stunned. I literally was leaning back, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. She is the best actress I’ve been around, by far. And then to top it all off here she’s doing this intense thing of pain, anguish, fear, pregnancy, the whole thing, she stops, I call cut, and she says, “By the way, do they have chicken for lunch today?” So yes she’s as good as it gets.
What were some influences and movies that you looked at for the creatures? How did you come up with that?
JK: It’s funny, I had such a detailed backstory for the family and what happened to the world— All those headlines we all the backstory for all that stuff. So I wanted the backstory for the creature to be as airtight in my head. And so what I didn’t want to do is design anything yet. Because I was so unfamiliar with the genre, I just went on pure nerdy research which was: “On another planet humans don’t exist. What happens in evolutionary terms?” Basically every creature gets better and better than the creatures before, so this would be the last creature on its planet. There’s no light, so they don’t need eyes, and they hunt by sound. They’re also completely bulletproof. And the reason why they are bulletproof is because if they could survive a meteor crash, they must have the ability to protect themselves from anything. Then, you take all these weird psycho musings and introduce them to the people at ILM, and they just take your dreams and make them come true. I met Scott Farrar, one of the original people at ILM. I said, “These are my ideas, but I don’t know, I’ve never done this before, so will you help me?” And it was this sort of X-factor of real love. It’s almost like we were just in a relationship with this thing. We were really these dance partners and it was so much fun moving forward. Not saying it’s not like that for everyone, but I was really blown away at the end of the process where they said that this is one of the most special movies they’ve ever done. I think it’s because they felt like they were parents and that we really sort of built this thing together. It was one of the more exceptional experiences in my career.
So the film is a mix of sci-fi, horror, western etc. Were there influences looked at in those genres?
JK: A billion percent. The idea was definitely to do a Western. To take the beauty of what this landscape was. There’s a little bit of The Searchers in there. This is sort of a throwback horror movie. I wanted it to feel more like Hitchcock or Jaws or Alien or Rosemary’s Baby, rather than some of the new modern stuff. And then there was a lot of Terrence Malick in there. I was watching a lot of The Thin Red Line before we started shooting. There’s something about the idea of not dealing with dialogue. Many directors have done it in smaller doses, and the two we watched all the time were There Will Be Blood, for the first twenty minutes, and No Country for Old Men, for how the Coen brothers dealt with isolation. These huge landscapes were making this man feel very small. And as he got information the landscape got smaller and smaller with him and you became in his perspective. Those those are, in my opinion, the best modern day Westerns.
What was the process for sound designing the film?
JK: So sound design is something we always knew would be a major character. It’s also the thing that I was most scared of. It’s like a high wire act. If you make it across, you look awesome, and if you don’t, really bad things happen. We started to pay attention to that, but I will say it has been some of the best experiences that I’ve had in my career. So for instance, just walking in the woods, there was this thing where when we paid attention to the sound, our brains started to calibrate, recalibrate in a way that we hadn’t expected. It sounds nerdy but its really true. If you asked me for ten sounds you hear in the forest I’d probably be able to name two. But when you’re sitting there and you’re walking through and being that silent, and the actors are quiet and the crew is quiet, you start to realize in a pretty heady existential way that the world is so beautiful around us. So you start paying attention to sound differently. You watch the actors, and on day two or three, their behavior — like how they walked — started changing. So that was the tangible thing that we were getting really excited about. And I didn’t want to lose that tangible, organic, weird evolution that we were going through with sound when I met these incredible, magical people named Ethan and Eric, who just designed the hell out of this thing. As I sat with them, I talked about how I had ideas, I had thoughts, and I had through-lines that I wanted to keep going with. They were nodding and I was like, “Oh my god they’re not going to do this job.” And at the end of it they said, “Is there any way we could just go back to work?” They had to go back to work because they were about to explode with the options and possibilities that they had in their head. It was the most fun to start developing it. So the sound design was incredible because of them and because of going back and forth and we were just on the same page. But then the real fun began with how loud wanted stuff and how much to take away. And it was really exciting, and a little bit like I want to throw up in my mouth. I was scared because you make a decision like the Millie thing, and at some point you go no sound whatsoever. We always knew that we wanted to try it, but we really had to think over and over and over again, “Is this a threshold that we’re crossing that people won’t come with us?” And thank god people came with us.
What is it like both acting and directing a big project like this? If you were able to talk to yourself before embarking on this project, what advice would you give?
JK: When you look at that list of things I did on paper [writing, directing, acting, producing], it just looks like you’re insane. And it almost was like being a control freak. You start thinking to yourself, “Why did you do this? This probably looks bad and how am I going to do all these things?” It’s because I’m a little bit insane in that I want to do everything to the best of my ability and not say things like, “Well because I’m the director, I have to be a producer.” No, I only want to be a producer if I’m actually doing the job of being in the budget meetings and being there every every step of the way. I’m really honest this is the most personal experience I’ve ever had in my career. I’m all in on this. This is a huge career risk because I knew that if I didn’t pull it off, why would anybody let me direct again? There’s a lot of cards on the table there, but I didn’t care at all about that. I cared so much about the fact that this was a love letter to my kids, and I wanted my kids see this movie and understand why I did this movie. And so I was so personally invested that all of a sudden those four jobs became the perfect way to protect my movie. The thing I was most afraid of became my strength, which is these four jobs that I thought I was crazy to do, I was able to protect the movie on all sides and be involved in every decision so that nothing was ever taken away from me which is a very rare thing and I knew I was likely to do it. So that’s how that happened. As far as directing and acting, it’s the weirdest thing. There’s something very magical about people acting without dialogue. We were nervous about it. I was so lucky to not be the disembodied head behind the monitors, yelling cut, and interrupting whatever flow or membrane or envelope that these characters were creating. I got to be there with them and give them a little whisper-note, or not cut and go again, or things like that where I felt like we were doing a play. It almost felt like theater. I was able to maintain this same spot for them, and then when I called it they all knew I called cut because we had it or we were going to do another angle or something like that. So it was it was actually a huge benefit for me.
Did you have someone you trusted when you were on set acting, to call cut when it felt right?
JK: Yeah. One of the things about being an actor for so long and then directing is that you realize how talented everybody is around you. As an actor, when they say it’s going to be an hour and a half to reset lighting, I was the nerdy guy who watched them relight. And you’d how lucky you are to be in the circus. And I had ideas and I knew what the scares would be for me. But having Platinum Dunes there, who had been the architects of a lot of different genre stuff. So those were really the people I relied on, and then luckily I had my ace in the whole, which is that my wife was usually there on the scene that she wasn’t shooting. It really became like a summer camp where we wrap her and she’d stick around, and she’d love to watch what was happening.
How did you shoot the corn silo scene?
JK: That was probably the hardest thing we had to shoot. We actually built the silo on location. That farm had everything except for that tall sixty five foot silo. There was a lot of power of that distance and that sort of sick feeling you get from being that high on top of it. We designed the whole thing also as a beacon. We connected the silo to as many of the shots that we could so you always knew the geography and that you knew that would be the end of the father’s life. We were not allowed to put kids up there. So we made a smaller version that was probably ten or twelve feet high, just of the top part, for the kids. And then we designed a third silo at the bottom which was just a stunt rig, which was like a giant kiddie pool with corn. But, as we were shooting that yes we were on a stage, yes we were all safe, but it was probably the biggest stunt we had. And as a father and just as a human being, when you’re putting kids in corn it was terrifying and if we didn’t have these kids we would have been in trouble. We had these warrior kids. I swear, from the beginning I didn’t have to explain the thing that I thought I would have to explain so much: the depth of darkness, the depth of loss, the depth the depression, the depth of fear, of depth of needing each other in moments. These kids have never lived through things of that level and yet they got it. So they were in that corn, and literally Noah said, “This is one of the most important scenes of the movie. We’ve got to get this right.” And so they were in there, sadly, for probably two days straight. And it was intense but my god it was one of my favorite sequences.