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There are some strong messages at play in Ken Kwapis’ Big Miracle. The film tells the story of a family of whales that is trapped under a patch of Alaskan ice and is unable to make it out into open water. There are, of course, comments on environmentalism, but also the media, oil drilling, political/military action and the importance of respecting cultural differences. With that much at play there is a substantial risk of becoming overly preachy, but as stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski recently explained in an interview, the key is to speak from the heart and hide the agenda.
I was recently invited to participate in a roundtable interview with the two stars of Big Miracle in which they spilled their guts about filming their new movie. Check out the interview below in which they discuss the film’s messages as well as what it was like working with Ken Kwapis on such a different project, the true story that the movie is based on, and what they enjoyed about working together.
Were you guys aware of the story the film is based on before the script came together? Was it news to you or do you remember hearing it?
John Krasinski: I remember hearing about it. I remember definitely knowing something about it, probably was too young to be at all involved in it and wasn’t necessarily the most current events guy at age whatever-I-was…nine, I guess? Ten? But no, I mean, when you read the script I remember I read the script and I thought it was really great, I thought it was really sweet. My concern was that it was like, I said to Ken [Kwapis], “Yeah, it’s really good, but we have to cut back a little bit of this stuff. Some of this stuff is a little unbelievable.” And he’s like, “Nah, it’s all true.” And I was like, “Alright, Ken. I don’t know how long you’ve been in Hollywood, but none of this is real.” And he was like, “No, these people got married and…
What part seemed the most unbelievable to you?
JK: I think that the press secretary and the national guard pilot falling in love and getting married after being so adversarial on the phone is insane. That is insane! And then when you see the picture at the end of the movie it’s so moving. I think it’s just a great, great movie, especially at this point in time to believe in the power of unity and getting together for a cause or really for anything, especially with social media. I think this is the time where not only can you have a voice, but your voice can be the catalyst for something massive.
Ted Danson was talking about while you were shooting Shell was trying to drill, did you get at all involved with that?
JK: Yeah, I remember that night when he went. He was nervous. He said, “Those guys are real.”
Drew Barrymore: I think it was great for him because he was playing J.W. who is this oil man, but no, that was really his cause.
DB: Yeah, I definitely think these are the kind of… I just think that sort of seeing this story and living in it, you just appreciate that everybody kind of put their agendas aside for a second to work on the same thing and sort of peeling away the layers of maybe…I liked when I got to say to his character in the film, “You’re not as hard to hate as I thought.” I always just liked that moment and thought what it would actually be like if you were stuck and got to know the people that you thought you were so different from or really had fundamentally different morals and beliefs. And yeah, I think galvanizing and trying to fight for something that you believe in is always inspiring. So I’m glad it inspired him. He’s the best.
Did you work with or speak with people at Greenpeace at all?
DB: I did! I met with the head of Greenpeace and spent some time with him. They’re actually coming in DC for the screening. And I went and studied whales up in Seattle with Paul Watson, who did Whale Wars. And then I spent a lot of time with Cindy Lowry, who is the woman that I play in the film. And she’s just rad and a total badass and super cool and we really actually connected, which is the way you hope it will be, but maybe it will, maybe it won’t. But we were like two peas in a pod, it was great.
Both of you have had previous experience working with Ken Kwapis, but this movie is obviously very different from anything you’ve done previously. From your perspective, how did his approach change for this project?
JK: He was, in a good way, very stressed, and I say in a good way because I think he understood the difference in the level he was trying to achieve in this movie versus the movie that I did with him and the movie you [Drew] did with him and certainly The Office. That’s a little more low-rent than this movie. So I think he wanted to make it really, really fantastic and I think he knew immediately that the visual spectacle would be an essential part of the movie and, I think, he’s very aware that he, at this point, wasn’t known as the visual spectacle guy and he knew he could do it and he wanted to do it right. And I remember his shot selection and his preparation and going over the script he was so dedicated and it was amazing to see him do it because the movie I had done and especially on The Office, he’s so performance-based, and he still was on this movie, but to see him be able to be performance-based and do these incredible crane shots, I was just so incredibly proud of him.
DB: I think it’s also making it very personal rather than just soapbox-y, which I think this film is, I hope it achieves or is as good at in that way. It’s amazing how it touches on so many things that could be different today if they were different back then, but it doesn’t do it in a preachy, in your face kind of way. So I think the more you do speak from the heart, rather than thumping the agenda, I just think that’s what people listen or relate or open themselves up to more. That’s one of the things I really loved about that scene.
JK: Yeah, and I think that you did such a great job in that scene too, because I think that agenda-based movements in any sort of way, though incredibly powerful and worthy, I think that sometimes you get lost in the white noise of people’s anger and being super adamant on one side or the other and what fails to happen is that you actually aren’t disseminating the information that you want to get across to these people, which is whether it be any sort of major issue, what you fail to do is tell them the basics and the details of how long these whales need to live and how this is scary and all that very human, emotional stuff that will connect with people rather than having them at home feeling like, “Oh, this is too big an issue, I can’t get involved, I don’t know how to get involved, there’s no way to get involved, someone else will take care of this…” And when you bring it to a small level and sort of make it easy to access, which you did, I think it’s the most powerful part of the movie.
Everybody still does have a lot of agendas going on throughout the movie, but you’re the kind of person that’s allowed to be…
JK: I get stepped on early on in the movie [laughs]. No, no I totally agree as far as the media thing. His whole thing is that he wanted the glamour of being in the national news spotlight and as soon as people came they sort of pushed him aside so he had to become, really, an assistant to get his voice back with these people. I also love the idea that, I’ve always loved those movies where somebody thinks they want something and then they realize that the thing they really want is right in front of them, and that glamorous life of what it is to be a news man or be in the lower 48 or in New York or whatever it is, I love that he discovers the real truth of life, which is as long as you’re doing what you love and you’re around people that you love you’re doing something right. So I think that was sort of the undertone of my character was kind of keeping that thing in check versus all of the other people who had a specific political agenda.
JK: He’s so good though, isn’t he? He’s so good. Mal is definitely one of the coolest kids. If they ever did like an MTV or something on him they would be like, “Oh my god, this is like the coolest kid ever.” He’s like this handsome, cool, fun, really funny kid. He brought a couple of his friends from school and they were blown away, more blown away that he got to miss school for this [laughs]. But it was really, really fun and he’s so good and it’s one of those things that it’s frustrating to see how natural it was to him. He wasn’t sitting in his trailer really figuring out the scene. He was like, “Yeah, I get it,” and he just understood the whole thing, it was really amazing.
Did the Walkman freak him out?
JK: “What’s that, grandpa?” [laughs] It was pretty wild, that whole thing with batteries, and he played that so well! Especially a kid who I think had a Wii and an Xbox and all that stuff. And he was like, “Wow, a Walkman!” And I was like, “That’s pretty good acting, because these things are ancient.”
Did you have to explain the bands to him or did he know Guns ‘N Roses and all of them?
JK: He did know Guns ‘N Roses and he really liked Guns ‘N Roses. I think when we got into Def Leopard and stuff he was like, “All right there.” But he was really fantastic and a great energy to have on set. He was always really excited to be there and, you know, those scenes where I am alone with him are really amazing. I feel like one of the great relationships in the movie is mine and his relationship only because it bonds the Iñupiat tribe with the outside world and to be the only guy that understands that grandfather when even he is like, “My grandfather doesn’t understand anything that’s going on.” It was just really nice to be the character that sort of pulled everybody together and sort of really fun because I got to work with everybody, which was fun. I got to be in a scene with everybody.
JK: I really appreciated – and she’s going to say “No” and blush and all that – but I really appreciated how professional she was. I don’t think anybody really fully understands what it’s like to be at the level that she’s at and the amount of responsibility that it is, and I think that I’m one of the people that feels very, very lucky to be there, but I’ve only been doing it for a certain amount of time, she’s been doing it for longer and achieving so much more than any of us could even hope to do and to stay so incredibly positive and so incredibly normal…you’d be surprised how much the sway of the day really wants to go to the negative, whether it’s too cold or lunch wasn’t good or whatever it is, there’s always a reason to be grumpy, and the entire crew will go with whatever the vibe is. And they all look to one person and usually it’s the biggest head-honcho on set and that was usually her and she was always so positive and it set the tone for the whole rest of the shoot. [Drew starts to blush] There she goes!
DB: Thank you, thank you. I was so excited because Ken told me that maybe this could happen, there was a schedule conflict with The Office, which was a little bit terrifying, it may or may not happen. He called me in the San Francisco airport and I started running up and down the halls I was so happy and so excited, because I really…
JK: She was like, “Steve Carell’s going to be in our movie!?” [laughs]
DB: I do love him, but I was so excited about you! I was! And I was like, “Oh good, I just think that Adam and Rachel, I just hoped that they would be just these certain kinds of people while he was struggling with where he wanted to his life to and she was doing the things that she wanted to do, I just wanted them to be good people and exude a good energy. And so I was so excited about doing this with John because I love his acting and I just think that he’s a good person, and you believe in that. And it’s true. So I was like, “Oh please, this is ideal.” This is how this film would be, that this story could get told.
JK: I just have to get over that kicking puppies habit and I’d be…
DB: Oh no! [laughs] We both had our dogs up there too, and our dogs love each other, it’s so cute.
John, can you talk about the project that you were working on with Matt Damon and now Gus Van Sant is going to direct it.
JK: Absolutely, as far as my brain has been able to process it. It’s a pretty incredibly exciting thing. Yeah, I had this idea for a script and I worked on it with David Eggers, who came up with me on the story and actually came up with a first draft of a script with me, and I brought it to Matt who wanted to direct immediately. The script sort of fell apart because of an issue that was happening at the time, which wasn’t sort of going to be a strong enough issue later on. So we had to sort of rewrite the script and he’s been an incredible friend and collaborator on the whole thing, and then, just before Christmas, he realized that it’s very similar to doing three or four movies over five years and then having them all come out in the same year. Everyone believes that you shot them all last year, and it’s the same thing with booking movies. I would assume that I’ve never been that in demand, but with Matt Damon it’s like there’s a lot of things that he had agreed to all of a sudden everybody was calling him and saying, “The only time we can do it is here and the only time we can do this…” and all of a sudden he looked at his schedule and there was just no way to do everything. And he’s a very, very talented guy and incredibly smart guy, and he didn’t want his first opportunity to direct, he takes it very seriously, and he didn’t want to be hindered in any way, shape or form
And so it really was purely scheduling. He’s doing Liberace in June so he would have had to shot our movie, go shoot another movie, and then go back and edit, and that’s just not the way you want to do your first movie. And so I was incredibly bummed, to say the least. It was a very hard night, he called me around 7:30 and I remember at 1:30 the next day he called again and said, “So, Gus Van Sant’s doing our movie?” And I flipped out. I think that Gus is one of the most talented directors there is or ever has been. He’s an incredible storyteller and for our movie in particular he’s going to be unbelievable. So I’m thrilled. I’m really, really thrilled and to be able to, you know, it’s my first script – my first original script, I adapted a screenplay, which is very, very different because that was all David Foster Wallace – but this is the first script, so to have this experience, I should just call it quits after this.
JK: It’s going to go in April.
DB: I’m so happy for you! It’s exciting.
Drew, can you talk about not getting jaded with this whole Hollywood system?
JK: Yeah, how do you not do that? I’m already jaded [laughs].
DB: I mean, it’s just a choice, I suppose. I don’t know. I think that if you feel lucky all the time and you don’t take things for granted – and I’ve also experienced in life that it really can all go away, so that was a really wonderful thing to experience, because then you really do appreciate what you have and so I’ve experienced a bit of both, which is really such a blessing and it always confirms to you that you really are lucky to have what you have and you have to work to keep it going, but you really need to appreciate it as much as work for it. The two work hand in hand. So I feel really lucky, I genuinely do. It’s no B.S.
John, would you be interested in directing again?
JK: Yeah, at some point. I had the best time, but I was also surrounded by the most amazing people. John Bailey, who actually shot this movie, shot my movie. He did a couple tiny movies like Ordinary People and he won the Oscar for As Good As It Gets. So when you have a great team around you to make you look really, really good, if I could ever assemble that group of people and harness that sort of courage that would be fantastic, but it’s a little like walking down a street with landmines and then before the end of it people are like, “You know there are landmines all down that,” and you’re like “What?!” And now that I’ve seen it I’ll be looking out for them and that’s a lot more difficult than just blindly running down the street thinking that it’s really, really…not easy in any way, but it was really, really fun. I had a blast directing…
You might have scared off Damon.
JK: Yeah, exactly. I told him it was the worst decision of his career. Ha, no. But I want this one [points to Drew] to direct really soon. Whip It was amazing.
DB: Thank you!
JK: I hope she does it again soon.
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