Away She Goes: John Krasinski Talks to Maya Rudolph

“We wrote the script with Maya and John in mind,” says writer and editor Vendela Vida, who, alongside her husband, Pulitzer Prize finalist Dave Eggers, created the screenplay for director Sam Mendes’ Away We Go, a quietly soulful meditation on love and family. “Still, it was sort of surreal when they were actually cast.” The film’s stars, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph, weren’t exactly obvious choices to play Burt and Verona, a young, indivisible couple who travel the country in search of a place to raise their unborn baby. Krasinski is best known as Jim Halpert, the loveable cynic on Greg Daniels’ hit sitcom The Office. Rudolph, after nearly a decade spent lampooning celebrities on Saturday Night Live, has become inseparable from her over-the-top Donatella Versace and Oprah Winfrey impersonations.

“Maya added a pensiveness that I wasn’t fully expecting. You just look at Verona’s face in the film and see that she’s experiencing the full emotional weight of becoming a mother when she herself is motherless,” says Vida of Rudolph’s performance, a challenging role for the actress, whose mother, the late soul legend Minnie Riperton, passed away when she was still a child. “With John,” Eggers adds, “You’re definitely seeing a depth that he hasn’t been able to show in the vehicles he’s been in.”

Of the off-brand casting choices, Eggers points to Adam Sandler’s heralded performance in Punch-Drunk Love, a film directed by five-time Academy Award nominated writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, Rudolph’s partner and the father of their young daughter, Pearl. (Days after this interview, Rudolph announced that she is pregnant with her second child). “It’s been said many times, but funny people have to know pain pretty well,” says Eggers. “It’s the source of the humor, bending rage or despair into some kind of happy balloon animal. That’s comedy, right?”

JOHN KRASINSKI: I’m going to kind of improvize this one. BLACKBOOK: That’s perfect. And if there’s ever any lull, I’ll jump in with questions.

JK: You’re not going to highjack this goddamn interview, goddammit. MAYA RUDOLPH: This is how we do [Sings Montell Jordan’s hit single from 1995.] This is how we do it.

JK: Hi, BlackBook. I’m here with Maya Rudolph. MR: Who?

JK: Now, Maya … First of all, I’d like to start from the beginning … MR: This is weird.

JK: By the way, I’m using all of James Lipton’s quotes. [laughter] And I’ve got a stack of cue cards in front of me. Before we get to the movie, could you please give us a brief insight into your relationship with SNL and what it meant to you before you were on the show? MR: Good question, John.

JK: How do you like that, BlackBook? MR: I fell in love with Saturday Night Live when I was a little girl — and I don’t know how old I was, but we didn’t have a VCR, so I must have been old enough to sneak into my parents’ bedroom when they were watching it. They were in bed watching it, and I remember coming in and saying, “I have a tummy ache!” The “Landshark” [skit] was on, I do remember that. When I was old enough to understand that I was watching the same actors in different costumes and wigs, I gravitated toward [Gilda Radner’s recurring character] Roseanne Roseannadanna, because I liked doing impressions. I started impersonating her and then people started laughing, like my aunts and neighbors. I enjoyed the buzz.

JK: Most people would say that getting a job like that would be a dream come true. But there must be a more complex answer than that. MR: It was the only dream I’ve ever really, truly had, other than being a mother. I used to say, One day, I’m going to grow up, and I’m going to work there with those people. I just really wanted that to be my life. And I wanted to have this thing where it was like some weird, natural extension of some fucked-up aspects of my personality — but in a positive way, via my job. Once I found people like me who did it, too, that’s when I started to feel normal for once. And you can tell I’m normal now, so that’s really been working really well for me.

BB: What was it like for you, immediately prior to your first performance on the show? MR: The first show was a hard one, because I started with only three episodes left in the 25th season. I was thrown in, which was probably a great way to do it, but also really intimidating and terrifying. The first show I ever did, I played Ananda Lewis, who, at the time, was a VJ on MTV. I remember I was wearing a leather bikini and a trench coat — which was great when my grandma and I got to talk about it. And I remember I was holding a microphone because I was VJ-ing — I swear, it’s not a dirty word — and my hands were tight and my knuckles were white because I was holding the microphone so tightly, while concentrating on the cue cards … and I broke my SNL cherry that night.

JK: Do you have any other questions or can I go again? BB: No, please, go ahead.

JK: Bitch! Whose show is this? MR: You’re railroading it, goddammit!

JK: Here’s something you’ve probably heard a lot, but I love talking about this: what is your theory on comedy acting versus dramatic acting? Because I always find it weird when people are like, “Don’t you want to do dramatic acting?” It’s like, Yeah, of course I would like to do that. MR: It’s like there’s this line that people feel you’ve crossed, like, “Oh, you’ve left the Comedy State? And now you’re in a Drama State? Welcome. Welcome to the Drama State.” I think I had always hoped to make a movie like this, but I thought I’d be super-old by that point, as I’ve heard you say about yourself, like, you know, in my Meryl Streep years — which is weird, because I’m not Meryl Streep, so we’ve got a problem. But I like that it’s taken people off-guard.

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JK: In Away We Go, you and I are pregnant. And, throughout the movie, our characters wonder what it’ll be like to have a baby. How did you incorporate your own pregnancy into this part of the movie? MR: Good question, John. Thanks for asking. I definitely drew upon my life before I had a child, and having absolutely no fucking clue what’s coming next, and those moments of, “Holy shit, I’ve got to get my life together. Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I having this baby?” But for me, it was actually kind of a sweet relief. I got to enjoy this really, wonderfully delicious, selfish time when I didn’t have a kid, so I wasn’t really responsible for anything, like feeding another human being. Remembering what my life was like was fun, and it made me actually feel a hell of a lot younger. The love I’ve experienced as a mother kind of hits me all the time, and, obviously, there is a love between our characters, Burt and Verona, which isn’t a child-and mother kind of love, but it’s just a very real and honest and unapologetic love. And I almost feel like my heart got a little bit … bigger.

JK: I’m going to cry! One of my favorite parts in the movie is when we’re in bed in the hotel room and you roll over and you’re visibly upset, because you’re so confused and befuddled at how two people can love each other so much. And using what I’ve heard about pregnancy, because I’ve never been pregnant — MR: It would be weird if you had been.

JK: Did you set out thinking that you’d be a specific type of mother to Pearl? MR: There’s definitely this fantasy that’s like, “I’m not going to be a mother, I’m going to be Mother-fucking-Theresa.” And then you realize that you’re still the same person, the same things still bother you, you’re not perfect, but you can still be someone’s parent, someone’s mother, and it can still be okay. There’s no question that you want to give them everything and you want their lives to be perfect. Has any human achieved that? No, probably not.

JK: Once Pearl was born, was she just as you imagined she’d be? MR: We didn’t know if she was going to be a boy or a girl, and, when she finally came out, there was a really quick snip and suddenly, she was resting on my chest, staring at me. And her eyes were super-black. She looked like Marlon Brando in The Island of Doctor Moreau, because she was covered in all of these white blankets staring at me. I remember, in that moment, thinking, Yes, this is my baby. I’d always tried to picture what my baby would look like, and in that second, I was like, Yes, this is the baby I’ve been expecting. And then the doctor said, “Oops, we forgot to see what it was.” I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, but I knew it was my baby — you spend so much time being pregnant, not knowing who the hell is coming.

JK: It’s like leaving the door open for Elijah. MR: And when he comes to your house, you sure hope he doesn’t take all your shit.

JK: Having met Pearl, and bestowing upon her the honor of Coolest Girl I’ve Ever Met, I’m wondering how it’s been for you to watch a person forming her own world, using you as her mothership and then going off on her own. MR: I appreciate the mothership reference. There’s no question: you get that proud mom grin sometimes, when it’s like, Check it out. That’s my kid. But, yeah, she is who I thought she’d be in a lot of ways. Let’s put it this way: If she had come out as a total wallflower, and said stuff like, “I hate reading and I don’t like to perform,” then I’d be like, That’s not my kid. So it doesn’t really surprise me that she’s like, “Hey, I’m funny and I like to hang out.”

JK: One of my favorite things and least favorite things about this movie is the same thing. MR: The first scene?

JK: No, it’s this: You would have been the kid I hated in high school who was like, “Oh my God, I totally just failed that test.” And then you’d get it back and get an A, and you’d be like, “Oh my God, I got an A!” Meanwhile, I always thought I’d get a C, and, yep, I got a C. MR: See, you’re saying that, but I’m the one who thinks they’re going to get a C, and gets a C.

JK: When we were doing the movie, almost every day you’d say, “I’m lying, I’m not an actor.” And I thought that was so incredibly insane because only the best actors can hack it on SNL. And then I thought I was going to lose my job because you had been turning in such an incredible performance. How do you feel about that now, honestly, and at what point in the movie did you break through and give yourself the credit you deserve? MR: First of all, if I were you, I’d shoot me because that sounds so obnoxious. I don’t know why I psyched myself out so hard; I was doing fine. I think I was really saying, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, and I hope that’s okay. But having a partner like you, John, emphasized the fact that I wasn’t acting in front of my mirror with a soap-ona-rope microphone. Within our weird little bubble, it was okay. I’ve done movies before, but they’ve never been my movies; I’ve never shared a movie with anybody in this way

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Photography by Melodie McDaniel Styling by Penny Lovell
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