The two actors discuss working for George Clooney in this depression era football odyssey

For his third directorial effort, producer and star George Clooney is tackling depression era football in this week's Leatherheads. The film stars Clooney as Dodge Connolly, a man attempting to bring his pro-football league to the forefront of America's attention. This fast-paced romantic comedy also stars The Office's John Krasinski as college star quarterback Carter Rutherford and Oscar winning actress Renee Zellweger as hot to trot journalist Lexi Littleton.

We recently caught up with John and Renee for a quick chat about their latest film. They were more than eager to tell us about working with their friend, director, and co-star George Clooney. Here is our conversation:

John, was it challenging for you to find a role that was different from your role on The Office?

John Krasinski: Do you mean, was it tough doing a character in Leatherheads that's different than Jim? Yeah. I'm not a good actor. Good night! No, seriously, this was a lot of fun. I was given an amazing opportunity on the show, which is to play a character that is sometimes funny and sometimes dramatic. I think that's the best gift you can get as an actor. Especially for a first role. It's definitely how people see you. That allowed George to see me as a potential person for this role. Someone that could play a romantic character. And be funny. I always say that The Office is the first place and the only place for me. I definitely owe everything to that show. But, that said, playing this character was a blast. I liked dressing up in actual costumes rather than a shirt and tie every day. Having a haircut for the first time was a big change for me. It really helped my acting I think.

Renee, how did you handle being in this boys' club?

Renee Zellweger: It was terrible, but somebody had to do it! Seriously, I had a great time. Are you kidding me? Those guys are fantastic. Sure, it was a boys' club. It's funny that you say that. It really was. Most of this group worked together for years and years and years. Clooney's had the same friends for over twenty years, at least. So it was really nice to be a part of that big, extended family. I had a great time at work with them. So, who are we kidding?

How was shooting in North Carolina?

John Krasinski: There were a lot of sports fans there. A lot of ribs. We had a blast down there. I've got to say that it's a totally different experience being down in the South. Everybody was extremely kind and really open to having a movie crew come and basically infiltrate their small town. Both South Carolina and North Carolina. It was fun to see a different way of life. I've got to say that the girls are very pretty down there. It was funny. The reason George decided to go down there was because of the baseball stadiums. They looked completely, totally period. You actually feel like you are back when sports were really fun rather than being more of a business. Back then you went there to see your heroes play out on the field rather than the most expensive team playing out on the field.

Renee Zellweger: We had a great time down there. It's sort of like a pre-requisite in that region of the country that you be polite. Everybody that we experienced was so generous. I mean, seriously. In the towns that we ended up in, they were seriously polite. People are just generous and fun. There were warm welcomes everywhere we went. They were truly generous, hospitable hosts. I had a great time. A great five months. Wherever it was that we were running around in that region, wherever we ended up. The food was good, too. Oh, man!

How different was it to work with George Clooney the actor as opposed to George Clooney the director?

John Krasinski: Clooney the actor is way nicer. In both arenas, the similarities are that he's incredibly focused and just so good at what he does. He's very well composed. He's very confident. It was funny watching Clooney the actor being directed by Clooney the director. One of the biggest differences, which he would hate, but I loved, was when he had to do a football scene where he got hit really hard. Then he runs back to the screen to look at it. While he's looking at it, he's praying that it looks good so he doesn't have to do it again. But he did. He had to go back into the throng of it just like all of us.

Renee Zellweger: I'd say they're equally impossible. It was just torture all the way around. You know, that was a tough job. That's a really, really tough gig to have, because you have to be in completely the polar opposite place simultaneously in order to achieve what you're trying to do. In that you have to be cognizant of what's happening as the director watching, and you have to disappear and not pay attention in order to be part of this alternate reality you're trying to create. So good luck. But he did a great job. He is very focused and good at what he does. He's prepared. He knows what he's trying to achieve so he doesn't waste time. He's not indulgent. He's not insecure about it. So we have to try everything 600,000 different ways in order to cover whatever it might be that he's forgetting. I don't know that I'd be able to separate one from the other.

John, how much protection do those leather helmets actually give you?

John Krasinski: Zero. It's just on set to be decoration. They really don't give you any protection. Just to show you how little protection they give you, if you see the movie again, you'll notice that Keith Loneker who plays Big Gus, has sweat coming through the leather in almost all the shots. That's his real sweat. We did not use an effect. It's funny, the game was very different back then. It was more like wrestling so you didn't actually hit each other. You sort of ran with each other, then next to each other and slowly you grabbed the other guy down in more of a wrestling move so you didn't need protection.

Renee, did you get to play any football with the guys in-between takes?

Renee Zellweger: Oh, I got in trouble! At one point we were throwing the ball outside of the set. I guess it was the first big practice day where the crowd shows up to see them practice for the first time. And I had my stupid little heels on and my hat, and George had to come out and say, "Put that thing down! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" He was really mad that I was playing with the ball, "What am I going to do with you miss?"

Did you guys have to study any of the older films that this is paying an homage to, or any special techniques, to get the rapid-fire dialogue down?

John Krasinski: Yeah. George gave us a list of things to see and, to be honest, that was the biggest background work that I did. Not that I'm that big of a background guy. But watching those movies, you really do get a sense of two things. One is the acting style and how different it is. The Howard Hawks and Preston Sturgess movies are so punchy. George refers to it as being on your front foot when you're acting rather than on your back foot. This type of acting style is being ready for the words, and you almost respond before the other person says their lines. The other thing these films showed you was the type of film that George was making. Which is my favorite part about this film. When my dad talks about movies that he's seen, his eyes will turn and he'll get nostalgic about the moment that he saw that movie. Back then it was entertaining and a whole new place. You got to transport to a different place. Now there's political movies and action movies. There's a lot of cutting and it's very manipulative, whether in a good way or a bad way. But back then it was a real sweet movie and you felt a sense of joy. There's this overpowering Americana thing behind it, which I think this movie has. Every scene, the music, and the way it looks gets you happy no matter what. Or maybe that's just me.

Renee Zellweger: For me, it was hard. My character is so confident and quick. She's so witty and funny and spot-on. She doesn't miss a beat! And it's hard to play that when you're terrified that you're going to be the person who destroys your friend's movie. You go to work and you're thinking, "Okay, don't suck. Just don't suck." And it's this added pressure of not wanting to disappoint your friend who has put so much faith in you. That made it hard. But there was a lot of homework. You should do your homework, you know? Whatever it takes. You stay up and you get it done, and show up and be ready to go. Because it was essential. That's what I loved about her. I loved how quick she was!

Leatherheads opens this Friday, April 4th, 2008.

Cinemark Movie Club
B. Alan Orange