Q & A: John Krasinski Talks the End of ‘The Office’, His Audition, Past Commercials and More
On May 16th, The Office will be closing its doors. After an eight-year run, Jim Pam, Dwight and the rest of the gang will be moving on to bigger and better things (hopefully). I’ve watched every episode of the long running series and I’ll definitely be sad to see the show go.
Before getting the role of Jim, John Krasinski was like almost every other actor in New York. He’d work his job as a waiter during the week then run off to an audition when he could. He had booked a few things but “not anything that would allow me to claim that I was a working actor and didn’t need another job,” he said during a conference call. Booking The Office was like winning the lottery, “except with a winning lottery ticket you just get money, and with this you get a whole change of your life.”
If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll love this interview. And honestly, even if you’re not, there’s some great stuff in here about what it’s like to go from hustling for auditions to becoming a star on a major network show. In this interview, John and Executive Producer/Writer Greg Daniels talk about the end of The Office, John’s audition, his past commercials and more. It’s a long one but it’s really great.
The Office airs on Thursdays at 9 on NBC – for only 2 more weeks!
I know fans got pretty nervous when Jim and Pam started experiencing marital problems after several seasons of bliss. Greg, what made you decide to explore that route in the final season, and John, what was that like to play?
Greg Daniels: Well, this – for this one, I want to compliment and share credit with John and the cast, who were – the cast who became producers this year, John and Jenna [Fischer] and Rainn [Wilson] and Ed [Helms]. And this was something that, you know we wanted to do, but the bones of it came a lot out of something from his brother. Do you want to tell the story?
John Krasinski: Yeah. I – you know my favorite thing about the show has always been how, especially with the Jim and Pam story, how real the writers have always been to a relationship in that yes, they’re incredibly blissful times, like you were saying. But, there’s also times where, you know the world around them can stall out and feel like it’s not enough or that it is enough, or feel bland or more exciting from time-to-time.
And so, you know my whole pitch to Greg was that, you know we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, you know after marriage and kids there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do. And the idea of Jim’s ambition was always one of my favorite things from the early seasons that it seemed like between, you know Australia and trying to being the boss at corporate and NYC. And, you know I think that all those things for me were really exciting that Jim always felt like there was something that he could be doing more of, and then I wanted to explore that.
And the idea of him going to another city came from my brother actually. In his work at the beginning of his job, he was traveling a lot all over the country for all his different clients and, you know it was definitely a strain on the family in a very new way. Obviously, not a strain that was as dramatic as what we did on the show, but it was a thing where sort of seemingly simple things like basic spending time with your children and in the same city was becoming more and more difficult, and putting a strain on – you know just harder to do and – mentally.
And so for me, it was can you have this perfect relationship go through a split and keep it the same, which of course you can’t. And I just thought – I said to Greg, “It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.” You – I think the exciting thing was to know that the audience would sort of take a guess at what Jim would do and what Pam would do, and so to run those numbers on this relationship was really, really interesting to me. Rather than like, you know, introducing a – you know an affair or something like that, which I think, you know and a huge credit to Greg and the writers. They’ve never gone the easy route. They’ve always gone the very realistic route and I’ve always really, really admired that.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, and I was just very attracted to the idea of doing something that would matter, and that – where there – where people would feel very involved, and I think that there are a number of moments this year where, you know you really become involved in what’s happening. And in order to get that feeling of involvement there, you know, you need some ups and downs.
Can you talk a little bit about how things play out over the last few episodes for Jim and Pam?
John Krasinski: Yeah. I mean, I think the last episode for me, the one that just aired, you know I remember Greg saying very smartly, you know we have to give the audience something, as far as, you know trying to see light at the end of the tunnel, but I don’t think it necessarily answers all the questions as to how they’ll solve it. I think that there’s a romantic, as always with Jim and Pam, there’s a romantic hope that everything will be okay at the end of that episode.
And now, there’s going to have to be a little bit of – a little bit more brass tact, if you will, as far as getting to understand how this will work, because you know Jim needs to figure out what he wants to do with Billy and Pam needs to figure out how she feels about Jim doing this for her. And so, it’s an interesting thing that I think Greg was really smart to say, like we can’t just, you know hold this out to the last episode and have people almost getting terrified to the point where they wouldn’t enjoy the Finale.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, because we have – you know we’re going to end up with 203 or 204 episodes, and it feels like all these characters and storylines, you know my hope is that people will treat the last several episodes as the Finale and not, you know force us to do everything in the last episode. So, you know, yeah, we didn’t want there to be such anxiety over Jim and Pam that you could think of nothing else during the last episode.
John Krasinski: I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t laugh though, thinking about people being so terrified that they just sort of blacked out for the first part of the premier – or the Finale rather.
The log line for the Finale says it takes place a few months after the documentary has aired, was that idea influenced at all by the – by Ricky’s office Christmas special where it sort of looked at David Brent and what he was trying to do afterward?
Greg Daniels: Well, probably. The – it – we didn’t start off with that as the Finale. This year, the plan was to air the documentary in Episode 17, and as we got closer and closer to that point the, you know writers and I would have furious debates and got – you know we ended up having promos air for the documentary at that point. And we kind of, I think, got the best of what we were looking for, in terms of the characters seeing old footage and everything.
But, we thought it would be difficult to have a bunch of episodes afterwards after it had aired, and so we kind of ended up pushing it off and off, and then it ended up being more close to the British show, which goes to show again how brilliantly they can (unintelligible) of it all, you know in advance in a much more compressed time period, and after attempting to beat that ending a number of different ways. I think we kind of ended up very similarly.
John, what you’re going to miss most about playing Jim?
John Krasinski: Wow, big question. You’re trying to get tears and I appreciate it. I’m saving my tears for Barbara Walters. But, I mean, there’s so much to miss. I mean, for me, and I think probably more than the other cast members, I mean I was a waiter before this show, so what I miss most about this character is way too complexly entwined in my real life. So to me, this was a winning lottery ticket, except with a winning lottery ticket you just get money, and with this you get a whole change of your life. And everything about my life has changed and become better, and I feel so lucky to be where I am.
So, it’s hard to separate the two, because I’m so sort of meshed in the experience. But for sure, you know I will say, and I don’t know if this a good answer or a bad answer, but I will say I think the thing I’ll miss most is playing a character that people believe in so much and attach themselves to in various degrees. There are some people who think they are Jim. There’s some people who are looking for Jim. And, you know I think to me, and I know to Jenna playing the Jim/Pam relationship and realizing how important it became to so many people was such a incredible honor that Temple-Inland think that there was a small part of my brain that really didn’t want to let anyone down every single week.
And that was actually really exciting. I felt like I was given a tremendous responsibility, and that responsibility I really will miss because it’s just so much fun to play a character that people are watching and rooting for and loving. So, I really appreciate that.
John, how much you’re going to miss being able to look at the camera, since Jim was really one of the characters that utilized that throughout the show?
John Krasinski: I wish I could say I was professional enough to never look at a camera again on another job, but that’s already been blown several times. And bizarrely, on movie sets they don’t really dig it when you look in the camera, which is a bizarre fact.
I will miss it very much. I think that I – you know going back to the other question, I think one of the best things about Jim is that, you know he’s one of those characters, and there are a few others in different television shows, or I guess movies too, but you know I remember talking to Greg in the first week about how he saw Jim as the window for the audience into this office that everyone could watch this office. But, they needed someone to tell them that it was okay to laugh at everything, and to see everything as a little bit ridiculous, and to me that was so much fun to play.
And I remember the first time reading the script that I had to look in the camera. I – you know that’s very stressful, because you don’t want to blow it and overdo it. And, you know I always joke that there’s a number. You know, my favorite thing was our DP, Matt Sohn, was like, “So, on this scene when you look to Jenna, give me the number four.” And I always loved thinking that I had somehow got it down to a catalog of different looks.
So, I will miss it very, very much, and hopefully can leave it on The Office set and not blow any other professional opportunity by looking down the lens.
Greg Daniels: I was watching this morning, there’s going to be this NBC news special, I think, on the night of our Finale, and they requested footage from the cast auditions. And I was watching John’s audition this morning and – in New York.
John Krasinski: Oh, my God.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, it’s really interesting. It’s fun. And I asked you to do some improv about your favorite fruit so that we – do we – we kind of went off the – you know the script and you were talking about Pomegranates being your favorite fruit, because you know you only get them once a year or something. And I kept saying, “Be more sarcastic about it.” And then, you tagged it with this amazing look right into the camera of the – you know the audition camera, and you know it was so funny. It just made people laugh. And so, John was just the absolute best Bugs Bunny at getting those looks across.
John Krasinski: I’ve never been compared to Bugs Bunny, and that’s amazing. Thank you. By the way, it should be noted that that audition tape you were watching today was right after I told, what I thought was a nameless person, who asked me if I was nervous to be auditioning. I said, “I’m not nervous for the audition, because you either get these things or you don’t. But, I am nervous for the people making it, because we have a tendency in America to screw up all the good shows that come over from England, and I don’t see how you’re going to make this work.” And he said, “Hi, I’m Greg Daniels,” and I threw up in my mouth.
So, the video that Greg was watching this morning was probably seven minutes…
Greg Daniels: Yes, exactly. That was only ten minutes after that you brushed your teeth.
John, you did have some credits before you got the show. You were still a waiter at the time you got the show. So, you weren’t completely – like you weren’t totally out of the business, but tell us kind of how your career was going at that time? Were you waiting because you were good at it, or were you waiting because you still didn’t have enough work to get by at that point, or what?
John Krasinski: I definitely had fun being a waiter. I can’t say for sure that I was a good waiter. I think that I made people have a good time. I probably couldn’t tell you what was in any of the plates I was serving, so probably not great for the house.
But no, I was – by being a waiter 100%, I think I was a lot like any other actor in New York, I had credits because, you know I’d work, you know lunches during the week, and then on a Wednesday would go be lucky enough to be in a movie like Kinsey and go shoot for a day and come back. So, it was one of those things where I definitely was lucky enough to have a few jobs and few commercials. But no, not anything that would allow me to claim that I was a working actor and didn’t need another job.
Greg, as you said, Jim is the window for the audience, and you gave it to a guy with very, very few credits, but turned out to be perfect casting. What was it at the time that made you realize this was the guy? And also, what was your reaction when he told you, “I didn’t know how it was going to work,” before he knew who you were?
John Krasinski: What he’s asking, Greg, is what the hell were you thinking?
Greg Daniels: Yeah. I mean, I remember that happening. It didn’t – you know he wasn’t the only person saying that, so it didn’t hit me with the same force. You know, I was used to getting that all over the place. But, you know I had seen with John a series of commercials that he did for like, I think, ESPN or something. Do you remember that, John?
John Krasinski: Oh, NASCAR. It was NASCAR.
Greg Daniels: NASCAR, yeah. They were very funny. Yeah, he was a completely – I think they were completely improvisational and he was going to – doing Man on the Street interviews for NASCAR.
But yeah, I mean, it’s a hard role to cast. I – you know there’s – very infrequently, I think, do you find an actor who is very, very good at comedy and extremely sincere and vulnerable, and capable of being like a masculine leading man. And, you know I really felt that this – you know when all the different people came through it was very clear that John was the best.
And then, we also had these long – these three days of screen tests. After the auditioning process we brought the leading contenders to Los Angeles and shot in the style of the show with our Director, Ken Kwapis, for days, which was, you know an – kind of an amazingly audacious thing to ask for an actor to do without paying them. But, in addition to, you know being very funny in the talking heads and having a great chemistry with Jenna, one of the aspects of the role was to be able to have this relationship with Dwight.
And in the improvs between John and Rainn, John was, you know the only person who could stand up to Rainn really and kind of throw it back – throw Rainn back on his feet. And so, he kind of hit all the marks and, you know it wasn’t a hard choice.
John, speaking of commercials, you were in one for Kodak.
John Krasinski: Oh, my God. Oh, I know it very well.
You ended up with a shaved eyebrow or something?
John Krasinski: I ended up with a shaved – a Fohawk, which is reverse Mohawk, and the other guy had to shave his eyebrow. And weirdly, I remember the night before I got cast calling my dad, who’s a doctor, and just saying, “Eyebrows grow back, right?” And he’s like, “There’s no way to tell, so hopefully you’re the Fohawk guy.” And so, I was terrified until I got the Mohawk.
Could you talk about The Office fan base in general and what it’s meant to you over the years?
John Krasinski: Well, I can jump in on that one. I mean, I think there’s a lot of shows and – that can say, you know they owe it all to their fans. But, we actually technically can say that we owe everything to the fans, because I for one think that, you know our show is so fan-driven in such a specific way, as evidenced by iTunes. I mean, I think that when we first came out the only reason, in my opinion, that we made it past just, you know these pickups that Greg and I were talking about is because people actually decided they liked the show so much, and it was such a small group at the beginning, that they would pay money to see the show, rather than just wait for it on Tuesday or Thursday, whatever time it was back then.
And I remember that was life-changing for me to see, because you know to be part of something like that was incredible. I was walking down the streets of New York and someone would just stop on their way to work and say, “Oh, my God, you’re on my iPod.” And I was like two things, “What’s an iPod? Also, what are you talking about?” And they just held up this thing.
So, you know I – that – I also think that during the early speculation of what our show would be when people were, you know obviously being really hard on the show without seeing it, because everybody thought that it was going to be terrible because the English one was so good, as soon as that first – I remember Diversity Day hitting and just every other person on the street would come up to me and say, “The show is awesome. The show is awesome.”
And so, you had this group of people who almost started like a grass roots political campaign for our show. And so, I don’t know how Greg feels, but I think we owe absolutely everything to the fans.
On the last few days of filming, were there any emotional moments, were there tears?
John Krasinski: I don’t think there were any tears, right? There was just celebration that this thing was finally over, right Greg?
No, we – again, I think for so many people this wasn’t just a job, and there’s no way it could be just a job. This was a huge incredibly emotional family and connection that we all had. I mean, to say it was emotional would be a complete understatement. I think that, you know knowing what that we’ll see these people still in our lives, and it was still that emotional, it says a lot about how much we are all defined by this show and how much we honor how defined we are by the show.
And I just think that we know that this will – I think no matter what any of us go on to do, I think that this show will probably be, you know what we’re most known for, and that’s incredible. And I think for people to feel so good about that and feel that they were a part of something so special, not only in the television world, but in their personal lives, was massive.
So, you know I’m not giving anything away. We randomly chose a – or we chose a random theme where everyone’s exiting the office for the last shot that we ever did, and I’m so glad we did. It was a very sort of mundane walking out of the office. It wasn’t big and dramatic or anything, and I think it was at the beginning of the show or something, so it’s not like it’s the last shot.
And we were all – I’ll never forget, we were all joking around. I was, as per usual, crying laughing as we exited the – I’m a crier laugher, which is a bummer, but I was crying laughing with Craig and we were all joking around waiting in the hall every time we exited. And then, one of the times we came back, instead of saying, “Going again,” Greg randomly appeared and just said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of The Office.” And it was – it really was, I mean even talking about it now, it’s – you know it was a gut punch.
It’s a life-changing event and there’s just no way to describe it. It’s not like ending college. It’s not like anything, really. It’s a part of your life that defined you, and to have it go away is so incredibly bittersweet. I think the only thing that helped us all is that we’re so proud of the work, and that we’re so proud that we got to have a Series Finale. You know, I think that we – you know that’s a very rare thing. And growing up I remember the Cheers Finale and, you know M*A*S*H, and all these amazing Finales, and I remember them being very, very important.
And so, for us to be a show that even got there is incredible, and I think that we’re just all so proud of the work. And that’s, I think, the only thing that prevented us all from just having a complete meltdown.
Greg Daniels: There’s – the lot that we shot it in is all by itself in Van Nuys, and we had lunch with each other every day and there was nobody here who didn’t work on the show on this little lot, and so we did get very close.
And one of the hard parts about the Finale, I think, is that, you know you have to be professional and you have to act and you have to, you know try and keep the tone a certain way when you’re on the set and everything, in terms of like writing and directing. And it’s very difficult if – it also means that, you know you’re going to say goodbye to everybody you’ve been hanging out with for eight years, and you’re – you know you’re going to have to find a different place to have an office in. And so, there is like a lot of weird overlap between the end of your personal work experience and, you know what’s going on on screen, so it was very sad.
John Krasinski: It was very sad. Yeah.
If you had to recall, what was your favorite episode from Season 1 up until now, one that just sticks out with you?
John Krasinski: Wow… That’s a really hard question. It – to me, it’s like saying, what’s your favorite movie? You’ve got to have more of like a top ten and whichever one’s get named get named. But, you know for me the – for so many different reasons, again personally and professionally, I think that there’s so many important moments, some having to do with my characters and others not.
I think the first moment that I can remember the most was shooting the first day of Diversity Day, because the pilot was pretty much word for word the British show, which I know we weren’t all super excited about, but we could understand why we had to do it to see how it stacked up against the other show. And then, our first sort of running at our own pace was Diversity Day and I actually remember people looking around the room at each other, you know as if you do when you saw something incredibly special and important. We all knew that something very, very special was happening, and that this show tonally and from a writing perspective was just really, really incredible. And I remember that moment feeling like that just, you know set the tone for what this show is.
And then, of course, personally for me, two episodes that I’ll never forget is, you know Casino Night, I think just I had never been a part of anything like that. You know, I remember shooting that last scene and Greg had the set cleared and the lights were low and, you know it was – it – there was like an importance put on this, and you realize that it wasn’t an importance because of us, like you know that the actors needed it necessarily. It was more like, “We’ve got to get this right for the people that are watching.” People, like Greg was saying earlier, are so invested in a way that you never thought people would watch TV and be so invested that you can’t just at the end of the episode say, “I love you,” and kiss. It has to be very real and very special and exactly how they think the characters would do it, and that was amazing. That was an amazing night.
And then, the other thing that I remember defining the show was – Booze Cruise will always be one of my favorite episodes on many levels. I think it’s hilarious and one of my favorite episodes. But, going up on the top of that boat and Greg – you know I remember the sun was almost coming up. We were shooting all night. It was the last thing we shot. I think we only had like 15 minutes or something, Greg, if you remember, and Greg just said …“You know, you’re here to say I love you to her. Just, you know I don’t know that would go, just do it.” And I got up and there and just stared at Jenna and had absolutely no idea what to do or how to say it.
And when it aired, I remember it was like 20-something seconds of silence, and I remember watching that episode and saying, “You know, I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen a show commit to the characters and the story above, you know what would be good for ratings or, you know what the audience would see as very dramatic. It was just like, “No, this is two people who are trying to figure out how to love each other.” And I just thought that that was really incredible.
John, the show is going away after eight years, this great show that you got started in. You wrote and starred in Promised Land. So, it must be like leaving high school. You’re leaving all your old friends behind, and now you’re going to go off to go do other great things. Is it really emotional for you to do this?
John Krasinski: Yeah, 100%. I mean, again, I don’t think there’s any way to describe it, other than, you know if – I would imagine, you know back – a long time back in olden days as they say, you know when you had to leave your family behind. You know, it’s for something, whether it was, you know going – moving somewhere else or going to war or something like that. I think leaving – this is a part of me that has, like you stated, it’s defined me.
But I mean to say that this show gave me everything would be the biggest understatement ever, as you just pointed out. I think that not only every single opportunity, and I mean every single opportunity has come from this show, and people who have watched this show and have given me a chance because of it.
But also, every sort of creative impulse and desire of trying new things and wanting to experiment with new mediums and writing and things like that, has all come from the show because of the enthusiasm I have for it. That, you know instead of being some sort of soul crushing job, it was the exact opposite, which is this job that made you just feel like a super hero, and that you were in the one family that’s never loved a child more than – in the history of the world, and that’s how I felt leaving this show.
So, it’s incredibly hard to leave, but at the same time I know in my heart that it’s given me everything that I have and has defined me, and hopefully given me every single strength and talent that I have to go on and do other things, but I will always use that as a touchstone going forward.
A lot of times people go into the arts to sort of avoid the corporate world, but I was just wondering, because the show is so really realistic to that world do you feel that you got an idea of what it’s like to be part of the corporate world, and an appreciation of that kind of lifestyle?
John Krasinski: That’s really funny. I definitely remember Rainn Wilson in some of the scenes were we were doing background work where you had to just pretend to do paperwork.
He was like, “Oh, my God, this is exhausting. How would you ever do a 9:00 to 5:00 job?” And I remember laughing really, really hard. I mean, I think that this is the – there were definitely tastes of it here and there. But yeah, when you’re surrounded by it, it does feel like you’re just working in an office, and that you’re not on a TV show. I think the number one comment, I’m sure Greg can agree, the number one comment of people who visited the set was, “Oh, my God, it looks just like an office,” which I loved. I don’t know what they expected, that it would be, you know huge CGI walls and, you know places for us to wire work and stunts. I don’t know what they thought, but it was really funny that everybody was like, “Oh, my God, it looks just like an office.”
Greg Daniels: I was just saying the experience was not very Hollywood, compared to so many. You know, the – you know we were in this little industrial street in the corner of Van Nuys surrounded by, you know stone cutting businesses, and you know – you know and I – we looked at the set when it was – when we wrapped. I walked the set trying to think of what I would take as a memento, and there was nothing that out of context was very special. It was only special all together on the set.
But, you know all the decorations were motivational posters that, you know like – (that inspire) and a picture of a sailboat, and you know the same things that are in any office anywhere. And if you just – if you took it and put it on your wall at home and said, “Oh, this is from the office,” you would go, “Yeah. Okay, I guess.” I could be. It could’ve been – you could have just gotten it from the insurance agent’s office down the hall.