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‘Leatherheads’ was a day in the office for Krasinski

Times Staff Writer

Actor John Krasinski, best known as the sardonic sales rep Jim Halpert on NBC’s “The Office,” says sports “always have been a major part of my life.” In “Leatherheads,” a George Clooney-directed, 1920s-era screwball comedy opening Friday, the 28-year-old former high school basketball player and distance runner from Newton, Mass., plays a World War I hero and college football star who is recruited to play on a struggling professional team. The film also stars Clooney as the team’s aging star and Renee Zellweger as a journalist pursued by both men.

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Question: Did your athletic background come into play in making this movie or in helping you land the role?

I don’t know if it helped me land the role. I would assume that George probably figured that if I played any sort of sport that I’d at least be athletic enough to look like I knew how to play. That’s the actor’s thing: We all look like we can do whatever we’re doing, and we probably don’t have the first clue. As far as helping me with the role, I’ve played pickup football my whole life with family and friends and, believe it or not, that’s actually more like how the game was played back then than putting on pads and actually playing organized football.

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Did you play organized football?

I played one year -- in seventh grade -- and it was pretty clear that I was better at playing for fun. I could never really get past the facemask. I could never catch the ball with the facemask on. So, with this movie, problem solved.

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Clooney, nearly 20 years older and a few inches shorter than you, says he won a $2,000 bet by outscoring you in a one-on-one basketball game. True?

Yes, it is. I’m going to be the bigger man and admit it. All I’ll say is, I thought I had him and then, all of a sudden, he throws that “People’s Sexiest Man” smile on you and you’re stunned for just long enough for him to run by you.

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You’d like a rematch?

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Oh my God, I’ve tried to yell it from the rooftops, so if you want to print that, we’ll do this in Vegas. We can charge money, all proceeds to charity.

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Renee Zellweger has attended Lakers games and starred in “Jerry Maguire” and “Cinderella Man” and now “Leatherheads.” Is she a sports fan?

Yeah, I think absolutely. She’s definitely an athletic girl; she runs every day. And as far as being a sports fan, when you’re from Texas I’m pretty sure that football is literally in your blood; they give you a shot when you’re young. So, when we talked about doing the football scenes, she actually knew what she was talking about.

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As a moviegoer and sports fan, what do you like about sports movies?

What I love about sports movies is when they’re able to capture the nostalgia that everybody experiences and wants to continue experiencing with sports, whether you’re playing or just watching. You never really remember the days where you had a mediocre game or when your team won by 30; you always remember the one that was down to the final tick of the clock. And I think there’s something awesome about capturing that feeling. Movies like “Hoosiers” did that for me. That’s probably my No. 1 sports movie. And “Leatherheads” is definitely a similar type of vibe. It’s shot like an older-time movie. It’s from the golden era of film, so as much as it is a sports movie, football is the backdrop for all these characters to come together.

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The Super Bowl must have been a downer for you, obviously, but has there ever been a better time to be a New England sports fan?

Absolutely not. I think all Boston fans probably feel like this is the dawn of a new era. We’re ecstatic to be in this position we’re in now, as far as fans go, but I think we’re all shocked. I don’t think any Boston fan can believably say, “Yeah, we knew this was coming.” To be not only competitive but dominant in almost all the sports, it’s a day that I don’t think we ever even dreamed of.

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Is Jim Halpert an ex-jock?

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Yeah, definitely. I think he probably played basketball at the University of Scranton, or in high school. Very similarly to me, he didn’t get a chance to excel at it all the way. It wasn’t really in the cards.

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You live in L.A. now, so who do you root for if the Lakers and Celtics meet in the NBA Finals?

Without a doubt, the Celtics. Not only am I Celtics fan, but I’ve got to say, I went to a game over Thanksgiving with my family and there’s an energy in the Garden now that I haven’t seen since I was really little. I remember going when Larry Bird was playing and they were incredible, but I remember going when I was in high school in the ‘90s and it was the most quiet I’ve ever seen a basketball game.

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Do you go to Lakers games?

I actually don’t. I think I made a promise to a bunch of Boston fans that I would try not to be caught dead in Lakers Stadium.

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jerome.crowe@latimes.com


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