Paying homage to the late David Foster Wallace’s legacy as a writer and teacher, actor-director John Krasinski spoke to a crowd of 200 Pomona College students Tuesday night at the first Los Angeles-area screening of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
A longtime fan of Wallace’s work, Krasinski—who rose to fame as Jim Halpert in NBC’s “The Office”—said he was honored to share the film with the Pomona community after attending Wallace’s moving memorial service last September.
“David’s memorial service was probably one of the greatest tributes I’ve ever seen—and it blew me away,” Krasinski said to a packed Rose Hills Theater. “I really wanted to come here and show the film to you.”
The event was sponsored by the English and Media Studies departments, and hosted by Professor of English Kevin Dettmar and Associate Professor of Media Studies Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a friend of the author.
“[Krasinski] seemed really to care about David’s work, so when we found out that the film was coming out, we just thought it would just be a really good idea to be able to do that for David’s work here,” Fitzpatrick said. “The movie was just an amazing interpretation of what David was doing.”
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men marks Krasinski’s directorial debut and the first time that Wallace’s work has been adapted for the big screen. Remaining faithful to the original text, the film attempts to mesh a series of fictional interview transcripts into a coherent whole. According to Krasinski, Wallace’s nuanced writing style posed a major challenge in writing the screenplay, making a number of Hollywood directors wary of taking on the project.
“I never wanted to be a director, never wanted to write,” Krasinski said. “I started writing it because I wanted to get it out in any way I could.”
Krasinski credited the book for inspiring him to pursue an acting career after participating in a student production of the piece at Brown University.
“This book affected me a great deal,” he said. “It was so incredibly honest in a way that I hadn’t seen.”
Although it took some time and legal maneuvering, Krasinski received Wallace’s blessing and some preliminary guidance on the script. He recalled a telephone call three weeks before the film started shooting in which Wallace explained that all of the stories revolved around an unseen narrator—a character that would come to form the centerpiece of Krasinski’s on-screen adaptation.
In what Krasinski called “one of the most incredible moments of my career,” Wallace also praised the director for adding an interesting subplot to the film that he said tied the stories together.
Following the screening, Krasinski fielded questions from audience members about the film and the artistic choices that he made.
“To be so invested in a work like this, it clearly meant a lot to [Krasinski],” said Lukas Martinick PO ’10. “I think that came across in John’s answers.”
While the film served as an introduction to Wallace’s work for many, a number of students in the audience studied the material in Fitzpatrick’s class on the author last spring.
“I don’t know if all his answers were satisfying,” said Tammy Zhu PO ’10, Fitzpatrick’s former student. “But it was a way to deliver David’s message to a broader audience, and I think that message really came through.”
More than box office success or audience approval, Krasinski hopes the film will introduce moviegoers to Wallace’s work.
“Whether you like the movie or not really doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “All I wanted to do was to make a movie that you would take in because that is what David asked of every reader.”