When John Krasinski took to the stage after the world premiere of his movie "A Quiet Place" last month at the South by Southwest Film Festival, he seemed startled and surprised not only by the intensity of the audience's response but also, perhaps, even by the movie itself. "Who made that film and why?" he exhorted the crowd.
Nothing on Krasinski's resume would make him an obvious choice to direct, co-write and co-star in a horror thriller that has audiences screaming with gleeful terror and hiding their eyes with panicked delight. And he might even have agreed with that notion, as he himself hadn't particularly liked scary movies.
"I definitely am a horror fan now. I'm late to the party but I want to stay forever," Krasinski said in a recent interview. "It's such an amazing genre storytelling-wise that I've been so ignorant to stay away from up until now. In the last few years there have been some of the best movies period with these amazing, elevated horror movies."
Krasinski cited "Get Out," "The Witch," "Don't Breathe" and "The Babadook" as those that helped change his thinking about the genre. But for his own film, he also set out to evoke a retro vibe along the lines of New Hollywood classics like Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" or Ridley Scott's "Alien."
Audiences seem to like his creation, as "A Quiet Place" outpaced expectations and opened to a strong box office estimate of $50 million. Adding to the praise was no less than renowned horror writer Stephen King, who wrote an approving message on Twitter, calling the movie "an extraordinary piece of work."
"A Quiet Place" is set in a post-apocalyptic near future where mysterious creatures hunt humans based on the slightest of sounds. Krasinski and Emily Blunt play a couple struggling to defend their family while also seeking some sliver of normalcy on their remote farm. When Blunt's character becomes pregnant, they must prepare for the toughest battle yet. Young actors Noah Jupe ("The Night Manager") and Millicent Simmonds ("Wonderstruck") star as the couple's children.
The film's premise means that long stretches of the movie occur with little to no spoken dialogue — the family often communicates via sign language — and even the score is used sparingly. Simmonds' character is deaf, as is the powerful young actress who plays her. ("It was non-negotiable for me to cast a deaf actor in the role," Krasinski said.)
Krasinski's filmography has been unpredictable. A stalwart and likable screen presence as an actor, behind the camera he has written and directed the David Foster Wallace adaptation "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" and the family dramedy "The Hollars." He also worked with Matt Damon on the script for Gus Van Sant's farmland drama "Promised Land," in which they both starred.
Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller, under their Platinum Dunes banner with Michael Bay, acquired the first version of "A Quiet Place," written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck. Form and Fuller worked with Krasinski when he starred in Bay's "13 Hours" and were working with the actor again on the upcoming "Jack Ryan" series for Amazon when they brought him "A Quiet Place."
They had been thinking of Krasinski only as an actor, so they were pleased but surprised when he so strongly expressed a desire to rewrite the script and direct.
"I mean, I saw 'The Hollars' and there is no way I'd have ever thought, 'Let's go to John Krasinski and have him direct this movie,'" Fuller said. "That's not the normal way that you think about something like this. We would have not had the idea if he hadn't brought it up."
They were impressed by Krasinski's specific take on the story and how detailed his vision for the film was right from their very first conversations.
"We've made a lot of scary movies, and the focus is rarely on the relationships amongst the characters in those movies," Form said. "And for John, this is all about those characters, so it's the family dynamic first, those people first, and then the scares."
Krasinski and Blunt are married in real life, having had their second child together just before Krasinski was first handed the "A Quiet Place" script. In bringing together the movie's onscreen family, Fuller and Form never brought up the idea of casting Blunt, so it was another surprise when their director told them he wanted as their lead the actress who had played formidable women in movies such as "Edge of Tomorrow," "Looper" and "Sicario" and will be seen later this year in "Mary Poppins Returns."
"Really when I started writing, she was the only person I had in mind," Krasinski said. "But to be honest, I was just too scared to ask her.
"I genuinely would have gone to another actor," he said. "She even recommended a couple of other actresses, but the fact is that she read this script randomly when we were both flying on a plane back to L.A. and then after finishing it said, 'No one else can play this role.' It was almost like she was proposing to me. I said, 'Are you saying what I think you're saying?' And she said, 'Would you let me play the role?' It was the perfect way to go into this."
Krasinski and Blunt had never appeared in a film together. She responded to the script in much the same way Krasinski initially had, connecting to her own anxious feelings as a parent, in particular one with an infant.
"I think we both realized how much our own life experience as a couple with children could be mirrored in this," said Blunt in a separate interview. "So we could just bring an authenticity to this family that actually, in many ways as much as we had run away from the fact that we didn't want to work together, I think the fact that we're married lent itself to this particular film."
Another sign of Krasinski's unusual commitment to the project is the fact that for some scenes he actually played one of the movie's creatures on set, putting on a motion-capture suit for the effects team to work from in post-production. He had specific ideas about how the creature should move and react, so it was simpler for him to just show people by doing it himself.
While finishing the film, Krasinski said, watching footage of himself performing the role of the creature was sometimes difficult. An early test screening audience seeing the movie without finished special effects burst out laughing when he appeared onscreen in the motion capture suit.
For Simmonds, seeing her director and co-star go the extra mile by playing the creature cemented her feelings about working with Krasinski.
"Sometimes it was so funny to see him crawl around on the floor, but it also showed me how serious he was about this and how involved he wanted to be with everything," Simmonds said in an email. "It was quite cool to see John's ideas of this movie come to life."
Especially now that "A Quiet Place" has proven to be a hit with both audiences and critics (earning a 97% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes), Krasinski has shown a new side of himself by creating a fearsome genre entertainment with an emotional core.
"For me as much as I love hearing people say this movie is scary, for me this movie is as much about family," Krasinski said. "Even when I did my rewrite of the movie, I just drilled down even more on that metaphor of parenthood, what extremes would you go to to protect your kids. It was very powerful."