Though they started dating a decade ago, John Krasinski & Emily Blunt had never worked together before this year, when the Krasinski-directed A Quiet Place cast them as husband and wife and tapped into the unspoken language they’ve come to share. Krasinski was nervous to approach Blunt to star, but on screen, as they navigate a world in which the slightest sound could mean instant death, it’s that real-life connection that telegraphs everything another movie might wrap up in dialogue. The film has been the runaway horror hit of the year, and Kransinki is already at work writing a sequel.
A Quiet Place has had an extraordinary life in the nine months since its release. Could you have predicted this?
Emily Blunt: Has it been nine months? My god!
John Krasinski: We’re ancient. I’ll speak for myself when I say it’s completely and totally surreal. I genuinely don’t know if I’ve processed it yet. We treated it like a neat little indie movie; it felt like an indie movie. We thought it was really special, really unique, and really different, but we were pretty sure we wouldn’t get much more than four or five high-fives from friends. And turns out we have a lot more friends that we didn’t even know about.
Blunt: It has been overwhelmingly exciting for me to see people watch this film and have their hair blown backwards by it. I always thought we would get here. I remember John showed me one little bit of one scene in the early stages of the edit, while he was trying to find the first cut. It was when the basement is flooded with water. I flipped out. I remember saying, “John, this is so cool!” And as he knows, we Brits don’t enthuse too readily, unless we really mean it, so I think he knew I meant it.
People who hate genre movies loved this movie. People who had never seen a horror movie before loved this movie. It has been universal. The afterlife that it has had, it’s not something either of us really know how to contend with, but it’s wonderful.
The movie gives away very little of the backstory on the world, but you had all that information in your head, John. Were you surprised by the questions that came?
Krasinski: I love the idea that people are putting the puzzle pieces together and coming up with theories. I love getting challenged about it. Like, why don’t they just live by the waterfall? I get that question on Twitter all the time. How would they build a house? How would they break ground? People are like, “Oh. Yeah, I guess.”
Blunt: Just live in the waterfall!
Krasinski: Exactly. [laughs] But it was always one of the things Emily and I loved from the very beginning, this idea that if you know more than the family does, the tension goes out of the room. It was a way to bond you to the family quicker. If you feel there’s an answer to all this, you don’t care.
What were the questions that surprised you—that made you think, ‘Damn, I didn’t consider that”?
Krasinski: Well, I was surprised the waterfall question even came up.
Blunt: “How do you fart?” “How do you burp?” “What happens if you have diarrhea?” They’ve been the fun questions for me to watch John get.
Krasinski: I actually had an idea for dealing with that, but I was like, “No, I don’t really want to think about it.”
You had a young boy on set. I can’t believe he didn’t ask those kinds of questions.
Krasinski: You know, it’s interesting you say that, because Noah Jupe was definitely the one with the most questions. In the beginning, he was the one saying, “Can you tell me why this and why that?” He really made me explain, and he was actually really helpful. He was kind of like a temp audience. He said, “I’m not quite sure about this,” and I’d explain to him how we were going to shoot it and he was like, “OK cool, that’ll be cool, I just didn’t know how that happened.”
Emily, John once told me he was nervous to ask you to be in the movie, until you read the script on the plane and insisted on playing the part. But that he’d always wanted it to be you.
Blunt: I’ll be very honest—he never gave me that indication. I was going headfirst into Mary Poppins 2, which was going to be an entire year of my life. I think he knew that I wasn’t in the headspace to sign on to another job right after that. I was already feeling a bit overwhelmed about doing Poppins and we had a brand new baby. For practical, domestic reasons, I think he probably didn’t think I would be into it. I’d actually suggested a friend of mine instead.
We’ve also always been very protective about working together, and I think I probably felt even more protective of not being in this one initially, because I knew it was such a big swing for him. I also knew it could potentially reveal everything that I know about him, and the measure of his talent. I just didn’t want the idea of playing his wife in the movie and being his wife in real life to overwhelm the narrative of what I wanted this moment to be for him.
And then I read the script, and I was like, “Well, I now have to do this movie because it’s so spectacular.” I think all of my protection went out the window because I realized that, of all the projects we’ve been sent to do together—and there’ve been many—it would really serve this film that we were married in real life. I think we have that secret language, and literally everything is unspoken in the film, so you can really feel the weight of that relationship and believe it as soon as you see us on screen.
Krasinski: You always try to write with your dream actor in mind, because it helps you see the performance in your head, and not to mince words, but I think Emily is the best actress we have. Also, I’ve been there firsthand when she has been the very representation of strength and motherhood and fertility; she has superpowers that I will never be able to comprehend. As I wrote the character, it was all filtered through her. So when she said she’d do it, I thought, OK, this movie just got a whole lot easier.
How much does your parenthood spill into these performances?
Blunt: I think to an immeasurable degree. This part was the most personal to me, because everything that she feels about her children, I feel about mine. The line between myself and the character became very blurry for me. I found it a very emotional experience, playing her.
Krasinski: I mean, I think it’s the reason why I did the movie. I’ve talked about it before, but I couldn’t watch a horror movie, let alone make one. The thing with this was the truly overwhelming sense of clarity that hit me, that the movie would be the perfect metaphor for parenthood. Yes, it would be scary. Yes, it would have tension and all those things. But it would also be like writing a love letter for my kids. In every word I wrote, or every shot I directed, and all through the performance.
When we first started talking about it, Emily said it would be the scariest role she’d ever played. I asked her why. She said, “Up until now, every performance has been pretending. Professional pretending. This is the first time I’ve had the same fears as my character.” Not that monsters would come out of the woods to eat the kids, but that thought of, what if I wasn’t there in my kids’ moment of need? It was our biggest fear.
When you’re on set, playing these traumas out, did it help that you had each other?
Krasinski: Without a doubt. It was unilaterally helpful for me, because I had everything going for me with her. I had someone who could deliver a performance when we were running out of time, running out of budget. She would hit her mark, and hit her performance every single time. I had that.
I also had someone that, after she did her scenes, would stay around, and not only be there for me, but be there for the entire cast and crew. These movies become giant energy balls, and you have to feel supported and loved, because that energy is so important. She was my best collaborator. So anytime I felt stuck, or anytime I felt like I had an idea that was just so crazy it might work, it was always nice to run it by someone of this level of taste and dedication, and basically have them say, “Yes, go for it.” I had my best cheerleader beside me the whole time.
Blunt: I feel the same. I think that we do collaborate really well. It turns out we do work really well together. There were scenes that were certainly traumatic to do—like the whole bathtub sequence, and the sequence of the child we lose at the beginning of the film—and you can’t help but be upset by some of those scenes when you’re doing them. They creep under your skin before you know it. But I do feel that John and I are able to find levity in most places, and we certainly drank a lot of whiskey when we got home at night. The drives to work and from work were really amazing times, where we listened to music, and we talked about the day, and downloaded. So there was that ability to escape, certainly in a vat of Macallan Whisky when we got home as well, to decompress.
Krasinski: This movie was sponsored by Macallan Whisky.
Are you trying to get free whisky right now?
Blunt: Oh yes. Macallan 12, please. [laughs]
Krasinski: It has to be Macallan 12.
You’ve been together a while at this point, but was it challenging to find the collaborative language when you first got to set?
Blunt: We did have to, kind of, learn a new way of working together, because we’d always talked to each other about our respective projects, and so this was the first time we were on board with the same thing. And I’m different when I’m at work, but I do feel that John allowed for that in me, because he sees me at home, in the life of domesticity. I asked him if I was different at work, and he said, “You just have a different way about you. There’s something a bit more focused about your personality.”
I think we learned each other’s tics when we were at work. But I also think we very much allowed for them, knowing that we had to offer each other the same diplomacy you’d offer any co-star or director that you’re working with. And there was also a shorthand, which accelerated the process in a beautiful way. I know how alike we think, and I think it’s incredibly helpful to know that we’re very like-minded on so many things. He had very good notes for me. So what was I going to do? Say no just because he’s my husband?
Krasinski: It was the embodiment of a trust exercise. From the moment we started dating we’ve been playing that same trust exercise, and we didn’t work together until we’d known each other for a decade. All those buttons that you know you shouldn’t press right before going out to dinner together, you avoid those same buttons on set. I know all her pressure points, so let’s avoid those at all costs.
We really did treat this movie like our marriage. Honesty at all costs, and compassion and being gentle. That’s what a relationship is. I think there are things that you can really avoid on set, knowing that certain things are coming. She knows my tics, for sure. There will be days where I’m thinking about the budget or something and instead of trying to jump in and change the subject to whatever scenes we’re doing, she knows to just let me think about something for two or three minutes.
One mistake I kept making during the writing process was, I would pitch her scenes that I would get so excited about, and I would say the words, “You’re going to love this.” I would come to realize that Brits immediately retract from a phrase like that. In her head, I could see her saying, “This is actually going to be my least favorite thing.”
Blunt: Joe, you’re British, you can attest to that, right?
Of course. Brits take a phrase like that as though it’s a challenge.
Blunt: Exactly. It’s a challenge. [laughs] It’s so true.
Completing the ensemble are these two young actors. No disrespect to both of you, but the kids really make the movie.
Krasinski: It’s true. And that’s just pure luck, to be honest with you. We were so lucky to get these kids that, in my opinion, are not only two of the greatest actors I’ve ever worked with, but such exceptional humans. The fact that these kids were not only nice enough and sweet enough to portray this, but they were deep enough. They were so smart. I mean, here I was explaining—overly explaining—to a 13-year-old girl [Millicent Simmonds] about feelings of loss, feelings of being an outsider, feelings of being a failure and all these things. She just looked at me with a sense of, I wouldn’t say it was hate, but certainly patience. And then I said, “Do you have a question?” And she said, “No, I know what I’m going to do, I’m ready.” It was the first take of her walking across the bridge. And the way she walks across the bridge, you’re like, “OK, that was dumb, I shouldn’t have talked to her at all.” She had it already. I said, “How did you do that?” And she said, “I read the script.”
How did Millie’s deafness inform the film?
Krasinski: We knew sound was not only going to be a character, but the main character in the film. One of the things I learned a long time ago as an actor, that you get to apply as a director, is you need to leave room for organic moments to happen. You can plan and plan and plan and have everything mapped out, but if you don’t leave a little breathing room for something magical to happen, then it won’t.
So I was open to ideas and moments, and I was watching Millie talk to her mom and I saw that her mom was speaking as she was signing to Millie. I went up to her when Millie walked away and I said, “I saw you speaking, can she hear anything?” And she said, “No, she can’t hear me speak. She’s basically completely deaf except for a low-level rumble.” I remember she called it a rumble. Almost like an ambient sound. So if you crash something behind her, she would hear it, but she’d also feel it and that’s the extent of what she can hear.
I brought this idea of a low-level rumble to my sound designers and I said, “We should create a POV shot; a perspective of Millie’s character that, when you’re with her, all you get is the rumble.” They loved that idea. We called it the “envelope”, and we kept working, working, working on it.
Just before we premiered at SXSW, I pulled Millie’s mom aside and said, “We’ve done something based on what you told us. Can you let us know if we got it right?” That night was a transformative moment for me anyway, but certainly one of the best moments of this whole experience will be Millie’s mom coming up to me sobbing—not even crying, but sobbing—and saying, “You don’t understand. My entire life, the only thing I’ve ever wished was to understand my daughter’s experience every day, and you just gave that to me.”
John, you’re writing the sequel right now. Safe to say you won’t be returning to the front of the camera…
Krasinski: It’s a pretty good promise that I won’t be coming back. Unless I do the Hamlet thing; just sort of float around.
Blunt: Definitely do the Hamlet thing.
Krasinski: People love that, right? I’ll be honest with you: I really didn’t want to do the sequel. It was never built to launch sequels, which we all knew, and the studio knew too. But also, I’m a realist. I know that when you have a success like this, everyone wants to make another one. I told them to go find another filmmaker and writer, and they said, “But don’t you have an idea?” I said, “Yeah, I have a tiny idea,” so they said, “OK, while we’re talking to other people, keep thinking about it. They basically mind-tricked me into wanting to write it.
But the idea for it is pretty simple. I’m writing now—I don’t have it fleshed out—but the thought that occurred to me, that really excited me about it, was that most sequels are about the return of a hero or a villain. You take this character that people loved once and you bring them back, and you have to create a new world around them. We have the exact opposite setup. We have the world, and you can drop whoever you want into that world and everyone feels connected to it. The reason I decided to go back, in the end, was this world is so rich, and it’s so much fun to explore. There are so many different things to see now. Everyone else in the world is experiencing this, so I’m curious to see what that looks like from another perspective.
Meanwhile, Emily, Mary Poppins Returns came out before Christmas. We all have fond memories of that first movie. How do you not lose your mind when you’re asked to reprise a character made so famous by Julie Andrews?
Blunt: I won’t say my trepidation to play her was instantly overwhelmed by the delight of playing her, but I did feel that very strongly. I heard the resounding gasps from all of my friends when I said I was taking on Mary Poppins, which is a thought that can only fill you with dread. You’re taking on something iconic, and you shouldn’t be meddling with such a treasured character. But once I’d decided to do it, I dove in headfirst, because as I was receiving David Magee’s rather exquisite scraps of screenplay, I discovered a whole different version of her that I really couldn’t wait to play. She is rather different in the books, and I just knew that if I were going to take her on, I couldn’t impersonate Julie Andrews’ iconic performance. I had to try and make it something else, because otherwise, why bother?
I really have to credit Rob Marshall with maintaining an atmosphere of such intimacy on set. He kept it so pleasant and collaborative, and it was almost like the gasps became white noise, and I was able to approach her like any other character.
The songs are all so different. Did each of them require a completely different language?
Blunt: They did, and it started with the songwriting. I was lucky enough to be brought into the fold very early on, in 2015. I was workshopping the songs with the amazing Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, from a very early stage. When you talk about pressure, when I did the first song, we had waited 54 years to hear her sing again. They wrote three or four different songs, and actually, that one didn’t end up being the chosen one. It wasn’t until we arrived at “Can You Imagine That?”, which is a really special song that really represents who she is, because she connects so deeply and takes you into this world of fantasia and depth, and yet she sort of pretends it isn’t really happening. She’s rather offhand about the whole song, and so it was emblematic not just of the character, but of how I was going to approach her.
And that came from just being able to sit and collaborate with the songwriters about how I saw her, and the qualities that we wanted to represent in her through the music. I did feel it was just a beautiful approach, because I thought the songs were like tailormade suits for me and my choices, all before we arrived on set.
That was the approach for the whole adventure. Rob and I talked at great length about where we’d see the cracks in her. Where do we see behind the sternness; that idea of her being a sort of adrenaline junkie? She absolutely loves these adventures; she lives for them. They’re her outlet. You got to see her sense of childlike wonder in those moments. And you got to see who she really is in these private moments. Where’s the humanity in this superhuman?
So each adventure had a sense of abandon that was so exciting for the kids and that had a very deep message for them, and for Michael Banks, but also that she really enjoyed. It was a fabulous approach to creating a deep message for the audience, too. To do it through magic and fantasia is really exciting.
Have your kids seen the original, or Mary Poppins Returns?
Blunt: So we all watched the original after I wrapped. Of course I saw it as a child, but I chose not to watch it again right before shooting. We watched it as soon as I wrapped, and we were all just completely spellbound. It all came flooding back to me; everything that film had meant to me as a child.
[My daughter] Hazel’s four, and she absolutely adored it. And now my younger one is old enough to watch it too, so actually they both watched it again—like a couple of little traitors—the other night. They love Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins! [laughs]
They did see my version of it at Thanksgiving. We did a little screening for John’s family, and Hazel came to see it and she absolutely loved it. She just thought it was incredible, and she talks about it all the time. She now asks me to do the Mary Poppins voice for her, which is the most surreal thing in the world, to be honest.
Isn’t that every parent’s dream? To be cool in the eyes of their children?
Blunt: Well it won’t last long. I feel like once they’re in their teen years, they’ll immediately sink John and I to the very rock bottom of cool. So I’m going to enjoy it while I can, for the next 10 years.