Exclusive: Brief Interviews with Hideous Filmmakers

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Opening today in New York and on October 2 in Los Angeles is the rather unlikely adaptation of the late David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men. The word unlikely can be applied to both the film’s attempt at adapting the author’s work (a series of seemingly unrelated interview transcripts) as well as to the adaptation’s writer/director John Krasinski, best known for his acting work on “The Office.”

Krasinski, who went after the rights to “Brief Interviews” with his very first paycheck from “The Office” pilot (long before he knew it would be a hit), assembles a fascinating cast that includes Ben Shenkman, Timothy Hutton, Frankie Faison, Will Arnett and Will Forte, among many others as the subjects of grad student Julianne Nicolson’s psychologically probing questions.

The interviews in the original book are anonymous and the reader is never quite certain who is speaking or who is asking the questions. Even the questions themselves have been edited out (replaced by the letter “Q” to denote that something has, indeed, been asked) to give
full focus to the interviewee and creating a sort of monologue that Krasinksi embraces whole-heartedly in his film.

As part of the conclusion of a summer-long online book club (InfiniteSummer.org) reading of David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, “Infinite Jest,” Krasinksi appeared at Los Angeles’ Skylight books to celebrate the life of the author, reading passages from “Brief Interviews” and fielding questions from fans.

As the names have been removed in both interviews below, it should certainly not be assumed that Krasinski happily chatted with ComingSoon.net in a dark alley outside Skylight moments before his in-store appearance, nor can we confirm nor deny the voice in the second interview as belonging to leading lady Julianne Nicholson:

B.I. #1 09-09
Los Feliz, CA

Q.

That makes me nervous. Anybody who says they’re a David Foster Wallace fan makes me nervous. The big thing with this movie is just trying to bring his work to more people. It definitely wasn’t that wanting-to-be-a-director urge. It was just more for him and I hope I did him justice.

Q.

“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” I came across in college, actually. I was acting kind of just for fun. My buddies were doing it to stay with them and it was really fun. Then, basically at the end of Junior year, my friend said he wanted to do a staged reading of a book and it was this book. It was “Brief Interviews.” I remember thinking, “All the cool kids are doing it. All the cool actors are doing it. I want to be a part of it.” I actually got asked to do the RNA scene, which is the airport scene. I remember that we rehearsed all the interviews solo, by ourselves, and we only saw them all together the night of the event. I remember thinking that, when I was doing the rehearsal, that it was probably some of the best acting material that I’d ever read. I think that, probably without [DFW] even knowing, he had written some of the best acting material. But it wasn’t until I saw all the pieces put together and it all kind of come together as this one, big experience that one night in the theater that I realized how incredibly powerful this book is and, in bigger terms, how powerful his writing is. I remember that the thing that really did it for me was the reaction from the audience. I remember audiences being quite polarized, which I’m sure audiences will be when they see the movie, too if I did my job.

Q.

I remember that some people thought it was incredibly moving and they felt incredibly fulfilled after they had heard the readings. Some people felt conflicted and really kind of angry. Not angry at what we had done, but sort of conflicted inside and, internally, weren’t sure if they had processed it enough to enjoy it or if it was more an assault on their system. I remember thinking — and not to be “any reaction’s a good reaction” necessarily — but I remember thinking that that was so incredible. I think the highest compliment you can have as an artist — and I’m not saying me, I’m saying when we were there — is to have someone sort of internalize the work enough to make a real decision rather than write it off as, “ah, that movie stunk” or “oh man, that art is terrible” or “that band’s awful.” But to actually listen to it, take it in, live with it and then be able to give their opinion on it. I think that, other than just wanting to bring his work to more people, the only thing I’ve ever wanted is to create a conversation. If I can, I’d like to have people wait 15 or 20 minutes before they leave the movie and know what they think.

Q.

It’s really interesting because the only conversation I had with David, actually, was on a phone. He called very generously to give his blessing. I remember that he didn’t really want to talk about the screenplay at all. He didn’t know that we were so far along in the process that we were just weeks away from shooting and we had cast the whole thing and everything. He was kind of surprised by that because, I think, a lot of people had tried to do his books before and never really taken them all the way. By the end he was just, seemingly, over- tempted and wanted to hear more about it. He said, “Why don’t I tell you what I wanted to do with the book?” and then that he was trying to write a book about a character that you never hear from or see but, through all the characters around her, you understand everything that she’s going through. I remember immediately thinking, “Oh my god! I wrote a girl! I’m on the right path!” Then he said, “Why don’t you tell me what your screenplay is about?” and I said, “It’s about a girl who’s probably studying feminism in anthropology or psychology or something. She’s basically looking to discover the truth about the male psyche. She goes out on the his academic quest but, at the same time, is going on this personal journey. The one big cinematic liberty I’ve taken is that I’ve connected her to one of the men.” I remember that he paused and I was like, “Oh, god. This is him saying that we have ruined everything,” and he said, “Wow. I wonder if that’s the thing that I never got to do in the book.” He then just said, “Good luck. It sounds like you’re taking this farther down the road on the journey and I’m really interested to see how it goes.” He was actually quite enthusiastic and really interested in how that would affect the whole story. That was just pretty much the greatest feeling that I’ve ever had in my career. To have him not only give his blessing, which was very kind, obviously, with his legions of fans, but to actually encourage me that I was on to something that he was on to in even the most elemental of terms. Obviously his writing goes so much deeper than anything you could ever do in a movie. It will always be just a fraction of the imagination that is inspired by reading the book. Hopefully it’s just a doorway to all his other books.

Q.

Oh my god. The connection between “The Office” and “The Wire” — other than Idris Elba being on our show last year — is that everybody on “The Office” and everybody in the human race is a huge fan of “The Wire.” I think that it might be some of the best-written, best- acted TV ever. Especially since I was casting on the east coast, I would have had everyone from “The Wire” if I could. Every time one of those names came up, I got so excited, like a little kid. And I was lucky enough to get a couple of them in there.

B.I. #2 09-09
(Telephone Conversation)

Q.

Sure. I got a call from my agent saying that John had written this movie and that he’d love to meet with me to discuss it. When we met, he said that he had always had me in mind when he was writing it which was a huge compliment. It was maybe that first meeting when we met that made me want to do it.

Q.

I was familiar with his work, but I didn’t know it as well as I do now. I had read some of his essays and I had always thought he was really unique and really enjoyable writer. I find that, for me, he has these crazy die-hard fans and I get it because he has such a specific voice. For me, sometimes, some of the stories are harder to get into than others. When I can sort of get in there, I think his work is amazing.

Q.

I own [“Infinite Jest”] and it sits on my shelf. I’ve tried reading it twice. I know that I will read it one day. Reading it is tricky, isn’t it? I have two children now so I will maybe come back to that book in 18 years.

Q.

Yes. He’s got a lot of Massachusetts and New England. He’s got one of his essays, “Consider the Lobster,” about this lobster festival that he goes to in Maine with his girlfriend and, I think, his parents even. It’s hilarious. So yes, I do feel like there’s a particular Massachusetts thing there. Massachusetts people can always recognize each other. They like to support their own in Boston. In Beantown.

Q.

Gosh. I mean it starts from the page and you go from there. The great thing was that John had just spent so much time with the book and the project that he had very distinct ideas about who he thought she was and we talked about it. Between the two of us, that’s what we came up with.

Q.

I am actually about to start rehearsing a play in a week and a half. It’s a play called “This” by Melissa James Gibson which will be ready to start in November. So I’m both thrilled and terrified to be going on stage.

Q.

Not specifically. I should probably think about it more so that I can really go after it. When you’re sure exactly what they really are, it’s harder to get those things that you really want. Of course, there’s a million dream roles that I’ve read for where I haven’t always got the role. But there’s never been one, exciting character that sticks out to me that I really wish I could play.

Q.

I was there for some performances, but not all. When we first started filming, I was doing “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” also. In order to do the film, they had to do some of these interviews while I was at my day job. Then whenever I wasn’t working on that job, I would be there and be off-camera. I was amazing to get to watch all these different actors work. I felt very lucky to be able to do that. But it was also a lot of listening, which can get hard. Eight hours of off-camera. The ones that I was there for, I really wanted to be there for them to help them do the best that they could. That was sometimes more than a little challenging to keep alive when you’re — I hate to say “just — but just listening.

Q.

We were not in production when it happened, no. We did do re-shoots and I’m trying to remember if it was before or after reshoots and to be honest I just don’t remember. I know a bunch of us talked about it at Sundance. A bunch of us were together then and feeling very saddened by the idea that someone would be in a place where they wanted to do that and also saddened by the future books that will not be written by him.

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