BEVERLY HILLS — John Krasinski used to sit at Matt Damon's kitchen table from breakfast to dinnertime every Saturday and Sunday, working on the script for “Promised Land” while kids romped all around them.
“He was actually shooting ‘We Bought a Zoo' in California at the time, and I was shooting my show,” Krasinski said of TV's long-running comedy “The Office.”
“So we were kind of moonlighting during the weekends,” he said. “(Damon) has four beautiful girls. That's why we always went to his house — he wins that by default. And between throwing in ‘The Little Mermaid' 17 times, and maybe lunch, I don't know how we got any work done, but we did. We worked really well together, we worked really fast. We have similar sensibilities and similar senses of humor, but at the end of the day I think we're both eternal optimists, so we wanted the same thing.”
What they wanted was a story about former country boy turned corporate salesman Steve Butler (Damon), who's sent by his big-energy employers to procure drilling rights from the residents of a small town that's suffering the effects of hard economic times.
But what seems like an easy sell for Butler and his sales partner Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) becomes complicated when respected schoolteacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) urges the townspeople to weigh the attractive prospects of financial relief against the distinct possibility of future environmental consequences.
The town soon becomes divided over whether or not to allow one of the largest energy corporations in the country to extract gas from shale formations underneath its community through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing known as “fracking.” There's the argument that the chemicals used in the process can contaminate groundwater and in turn be detrimental to life above ground.
In the film, Krasinski plays slick environmental activist Dustin Noble, who arrives in town to rally opposition to the leasing of drilling rights to a $9 billion company known as Global Crosspower Solutions.
But Damon and Krasinski insist the thrust of their story isn't intended to be pro- or anti-anything.
“We just talked about wanting it to be a pro-community movie, a pro-democracy movie, because the issue itself is polarizing, right?” Damon said during a press day hosted by Focus Features last month at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Despite the swanky surroundings, Damon was wearing much the same kind of plaid shirt and jeans he wore in the film, when his character was trying to dress like the locals. The wire-rimmed glasses perched on his nose had not been part of that on-screen costume.
“ ... And people feel very strongly on both sides,” Damon continued. “But we didn't want it to be a big downer. That's just not the way John and I are. We wanted people to leave with some sense of hope, that if we're thinking about where we've been and where we are, we wanted to end with the idea that where we're going we can all go together and it can be a better place.”
The emphasis of the story, he said, is supposed to be on “the power of community in America.”
Krasinski brought the original concept to novelist/screenwriter Dave Eggers, who molded the ideas into a screen story.
Meanwhile, Damon and Krasinski had met through the latter's wife, actress Emily Blunt, when she was filming “The Adjustment Bureau” with Damon. Everyone, including Damon's wife, Luciana, became fast friends and started “double dating.”
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We worked really well together, we worked really fast. We have similar sensibilities and similar senses of humor, but at the end of the day I think we're both eternal optimists, so we wanted the same thing.”
On writing the screenplay for “Promised Land” with Matt Damon