Watching John Krasinski ply his trade can be an enjoyable if somewhat unnerving experience. As good-hearted but mischievous Jim Halpert on "The Office," you know he'd never harm anyone, but neither can you be quite sure about how far he'll go in pulling pranks on Rainn Wilson's hapless Dwight.
It's all in Krasinski's eyes, which can twinkle slyly or go wide in joyous surprise.
"You see him on the series, and it's a lot of playing reaction," says Robin Williams, who stars with Krasinski in the new comedy "License to Wed." "John gets most of his laughs on the series from reactions, which is a great thing."
In the film, Krasinski plays nice guy Ben Murphy, who meets, falls for and proposes to Mandy Moore's character, Sadie Jones. But before they wed, they must take -- and pass -- a special two-week compatibility course designed by Williams' irreverent Reverend Frank.
The film's director, Ken Kwapis, who directed the pilot of "The Office," as well as this past season's premier and final episodes, is well aware of Krasinski's comedic talents, but he wanted him as the romantic lead for other reasons.
"I will say that from the moment I did John's audition for 'The Office,' I knew that he was a very rare specimen," Kwapis said. "Someone who was incredibly attractive, very much a potential leading man, and also someone who was funny. But I also remember his stature, his look, the way he carried himself.
"He really does remind me of much more of a kind of an actor from a different era. I really do think about the Gary Coopers and the James Stewarts of the world when I'm hanging out with John. He's seems to partake in that kind of classic value."
Krasinski, 27, never gave much thought to acting till, in his senior year in high school, in the Boston suburb of Newton, another student there asked him to be in a show he had just written. That was B.J. Novak, who now writes for and portrays Ryan Howard on "The Office."
"I decided not to play a sport that spring," recalls Krasinski, "and B.J. asked if I'd be in this show that was a parody of all the teachers in the school. That was the first acting thing I did. He offered me the lead, which I'm pretty sure he was insane for doing. We knew each other, but we didn't know each other long enough for him to cast me in anything. He was like, "I just think you're right for this role." I was like, "What does that mean?" So that was my introduction to acting, other than doing Daddy Warbucks in sixth grade, which was smashing."
He's done plenty of acting since then, with small parts in films including "Kinsey," "Jarhead" and "Dreamgirls." He'll soon be seen in the comedy "Smiley Face" and opposite George Clooney and Renee Zellweger in "Leatherheads." To top it off, he recently finished writing, directing and costarring in "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," based on the short story collection by David Foster Wallace.
"I was extremely lucky to get that project," he says excitedly. "It was one of those things that I worked on in college. A friend of mine asked me to do a stage reading of that book, and I was just completely blown away. I fell in love with the book, and I've always wanted to do something with it and then fought to get the rights which was an incredible experience in itself, and then writing and directing just sort of fell into my lap."
But Krasinski freely admits none of this was part of his plans.
"I planned on being an English teacher," he says. "But I think that it's really fun to have an outlet. For me, acting and writing is really just an outlet. Putting together this movie was a passion project for sure, but really nothing more than that because I'm not trying to be the triple threat guy. I'm still working on this one threat: acting."
As far as Williams is concerned, Krasinski is already there.
"He's doing a series where he's really funny," he says with admiration. "John's got great chops, plus he's also directed his own movie. It's like the dude is so far ahead of me in terms of what he's done, so there's no advice I can give him, just in many ways learn from him and be open to it. He's got great physical timing and physical comedy combined with a really wonderful mind."
Yet everyone around Krasinski mentions that, even with so much success spinning around him, he's managed to stay grounded.
He smiles when he's told that. It's a big smile that makes use of his whole rubbery face.
"I've got a great family and, honestly, I attribute a lot of it to that," he says. "What makes all of this really fun is having special people to share it with, and my family's the best to call and say, 'I'm in a movie with Robin Williams,' and they're like, 'That's ridiculous.' And I'm like, 'Good, as long as you think that, too.' Because as soon as you say, 'I deserve this,' it's over."
"License to Wed" opens on July 3.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.