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Making 'The Hollars'

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Left to right: John Krasinski as John Hollar and Margo Martindale as Sally Hollar. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Opening in San Francisco this week is The Hollars, directed by John Krasinski (13 Hours) and written by Jim Strouse (The Winning Season). Krasinski, who initially signed onto the film as an actor, rounded out the all-star cast with Margo Martindale (The Americans), Richard Jenkins (Jack Reacher), Sharlto Copley (District 9) and Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect). The film focuses around John Hollar (Krasinski), a struggling artist and impending first-time father in New York City, who returns to his small town roots upon learning that his mother (played marvelously by Martindale) is in the hospital.

Krasinski, most notably known for his role as Jim Halpert on NBC’s The Office, and Martindale, who is currently nominated for an Emmy for her work on FX’s The Americans, were in the city recently to promote The Hollars, where they spoke with Academy Art U News about their experiences working on their film.

The script for The Hollars found its way to Krasinski about seven years ago, and not necessarily looking to be in a family film, the actor-director said he didn’t think he had signed onto a project quicker. “I read the script, and it was so specific, so incredibly honest, and genuine and organic in how it made me feel,” said Krasinski. “My family’s incredibly tight knit and close, and yet this dysfunctional family somehow felt like my family, so there was something universal about it for me.”

The Hollars is the second feature film Krasinski’s been in the director’s chair for, the first being the 2009 film adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Going into this project, Krasinski said he took everything that he learned from his first go at being behind the camera for a feature and applied it to The Hollars. “I’m always constantly learning, so being on The Office was like film school to me,” he shared. “Not only was it my first experience where everything was new, but I spent all my time that I could in the writers' room and watching the directors. And so then actually getting to direct my first movie, that was more of an art house cinematic experience kind of thing. This is my first linear movie storytelling deal, I guess. For me, it was about understanding how to ensure the environment was safe and empowering for these actors, because for the first movie, it was such a low budget movie, we were just running and gunning and going wherever we could. This was also a pretty low budget movie, but I realized that the only way the movie works is if it’s relatable, and the only way to make it relatable is to make it feel real, so we tried to.

“As a director, it was actually very helpful to be an actor, because I didn’t call cut that much. I got to be in the scenes and say to the actors, ‘What did you think? This is what I thought,’ and we’d just do another take and another take and another take, so I tried to almost make it feel like a play, rather than a film.”

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Margo Martindale as Sally Hollar. Photo by Jonny Cournoyer. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Martindale praised Krasinski and described his approach to directing as “seamless.” “[The film] didn’t feel like anything I had ever done before,” she said. “So that makes it something new and it was an incredible experience. But it was seamless. It didn’t feel like a movie, it didn’t feel like a play; it felt like a life.”

When asked about what helps an actor feel comfortable on set, Martindale explained that the “best thing a director can do is make you feel like you’re great.” Krasinski responded by saying that Martindale made his job very easy as she was great on set every day.

“I think, for me, in these acting performances, I remember asking Matt Damon a while ago about Clint Eastwood, and he said, ‘You know, the scariest thing about working with Clint Eastwood is you do one or two takes.’ And Matt finally asked him, ‘Can I do another one?’ and Clint said, ‘Yeah, you can do another one if you want, I mean, I hired you to be the actor I knew you could be,’” shared Krasinski. “And I took that to this movie, because I hired actors that I very rarely had to say anything about their performance. If anything, it was modulating where the story points were and just saying, ‘Hey, remember this is before this happened,’ and Margo was always great to say, ‘Oh my God, thanks for telling me that, of course that hasn’t happened here, etc.’ It’s an ongoing conversation, that’s what’s so nice about working with actors that are this good.”

The Hollars was shot in just 22 days, and according to Martindale, the actors came together as a family unit immediately. “We did a little short readthrough with Richard and Sharlto and John and me. It was there and then we started shooting the next day,” she said.

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Left to right: John Krasinski as John Hollar, Sharlto Copley as Ron Hollar and Josh Groban as Reverend Dan. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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Left to right: Richard Jenkins as Don Hollar, Sharlto Copley as Ron Hollar, John Krasinski as John Hollar. Photo by Jonny Cournoyer. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

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Left to right: Charlie Day as Jason, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Gwen and John Krasinski as John Hollar. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Krasinski agreed and added: “Usually when you cast people in a movie, they say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it, but I want to change this scene,’ or ‘I don’t find this believable,’ or ‘I want to change the ending,’ and every single actor in this movie came down and said, ‘I know what this is, let’s do it.’ And I think that really helped, because during that readthrough, during first day of shooting, people weren’t trying to figure out how to navigate through this other character, this other actor, who’s not really got it yet, everybody came totally ready to play these characters, and so we actually became the characters.”

The Hollars provides the audience with plenty of laughs, but also pulls no punches when it comes to pulling on our heartstrings. As Sally Hollar, the family matriarch and emotional epicenter, prepares for surgery, Martindale’s acting prowess is on full display. For these scenes, Martindale revealed that both she and Krasinski were very quiet before shooting, attributing this approach to the actors being “kind of on the same emotional page.” When the cameras were rolling, Martindale said, “We just did it. That’s really how it happened.”

“For emotional scenes, I think that idea of manipulation comes into play, because you try desperately to live through these scenarios as real people, but a lot of times as an actor, you know, you get caught up saying, ‘I know this is my emotional scene, I got to hit it. This joke I have to hit,’” Krasinski explained. “And on this set, it all happened where these emotional scenes, we were looking around at real family members. I feel like I had as deep conversations with Margo and Richard and Sharlto as I may have had with my own family. So I think that there was something very palpable on set, something very connected that felt magical, but also very emotional. So certainly the scenes [with Margo] before she goes into surgery … to me, I wasn’t acting there, I was just reacting to someone being so honest and open to start the scene.”

You can see John Krasinski and Margo Martindale in The Hollars, opening in San Francisco on Friday, September 2.