This weekend, Big Miracle, the true story of the rescue of a family of California blue whales trapped in Alaska in 1988 opens in theaters. John Krasinski (The Office) plays the reporter who first discovers the plight of the whales while Drew Barrymore portrays his former girlfriend and the Greenpeace activist who champions the mission.
In order to successfully create a path through the ice where the creatures are trapped (so they may reach the ocean and continue with their winter migration) the pair must enlist the help of the media at large, an oil tycoon with access to a massive “ice-breaker,” the national guard, and both the US and Russian governments. The details of the tale read like a Hollywood script but the most outlandish aspects (like the US and the USSR cooperating in the midst of the cold-war as well as the love story that developed between a White House staffer and an Army National Guard colonel) all happen to be true.
The film reunited Barrymore and Krasinski with director Ken Kwapis who helmed He’s Just Not That Into You (which co-starred the former) as well as the pilot (and multiple episodes) of The Office.
We had the chance to sit down with the stars at the Los Angeles press day for the film to talk about the best way to have your voice heard, working with one another, and how to remain unjaded in Hollywood.
Were you guys aware of the story the film is based on before the script came together?
John Krasinski: “I remember hearing about it. I 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 9 or 10. When I read the script I remember I thought it was really sweet. My concern and what I said to Ken [Kwapis] was, ‘Yeah, it’s really good, but we have to cut back a little bit on this stuff. Some of this stuff is a little unbelievable.’ And he’s like, ‘Nah, it’s all true.'”
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! I think it’s just a great movie. Especially at this point in time where we can believe in the power of unity and getting together for a cause. With social media, this is the time where not only can you have a voice, but your voice can be the catalyst for something massive.”
Drew Barrymore: “I think that 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.”
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 to 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.”
The two of you share a great scene when you, John, are recording Drew’s appeal to the world on behalf of the whales, and you say, “Stop being so formal and rigid.” Can you talk about filming that and what it says about the best way to reach people?
DB: “I think it’s about making it very personal rather than just a soapbox. Which I think this film does. 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. I think the more you do speak from the heart, rather than thumping the agenda, 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: “She did such a great job in that scene too, because I think that agenda-based movements, though incredibly powerful and worthy, sometimes 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. 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 she did, I think it’s the most powerful part of the movie.”
Most of the characters still do have an agenda in the film. Whether it be the oil-tycoon doing it for PR, or the White House as an election year stunt, or the journalists hoping to advance their career. But your character John is the one person that stands in for the audience. He doesn’t really have an agenda, he’s just trying to do good work and live his life. He feels like he is coming from a relatable place.
JK: “His whole thing is that he wanted the glamor of being in the national news spotlight and 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. 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.”
Can you talk about what it was like working together on location in the cold and all the elements?
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. I’m one of the people that feels very, very lucky to be here, 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!”
How do you remain that way and not get jaded after working in Hollywood for so long?
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 you have to work to keep it going. The two work hand in hand. So I feel really lucky, I genuinely do. It’s not B.S.”
Big Miracle opens in theaters this weekend.
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