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Can John Krasinski Break Free of Jim Halpert?

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Feb 01, 2012 | 11:42am EST

John KrasinskiSmirk knowingly. Mutter something clever. Look at the camera. These three steps are what we like to call the "Krasinski Method"—an acting technique developed by film and television actor John Krasinki for his iconic role as The Office’s Jim Halpert.

From the get-go, Krasinski was thoroughly charming on his NBC sitcom. Through the series’ strong years and its more recent weaker ones, Krasinski has maintained a “saving grace” position that keeps many of us watching despite faltering interests with other, more worn out characters and storylines. And playing a well-received character for such a long time has an effect on an actor’s image: he and the character will, more often than not, become one and the same. It happens to television actors all the time: Seinfeld, Friends, Policewoman—and as the Jim Halpert-type is demanded of him in a large percentage of the movies in which he stars, not excluding this Friday’s Big Miracle, it looks like it is happening to Krasinski.

Past years have seen Krasinski break out into film roles. Most of his movies land safely in the comedy realm, and many of which bear at least an element of romance—naturally, as the Jim thing is a perfect fit for the genre: Krasinski plays wholesomely charismatic, even-tempered and quick-witted in supporting roles in films like It’s Complicated and The Holiday, and leading ones in films like License to Wed and Something Borrowed. Considering his movie roles of this sort, you might think that Krasinski is a one-trick pony. Only capable of playing pleasant. But the thing is, this is quite a long leap from the truth.

Krasinski has had other roles—roles that stray significantly from the Jim Halpert style. Krasinski played a serious, sexually repressed patient of the title character in the biopic Kinsey. He played a socially inept nerd in the bizarre comedy Smiley Face. And, in the most un-Halpert move of his career, Krasinski directed and played a memorable role in Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, in which he delivered a dark, angry monologue that resonates as one of the movie’s greatest scenes. So why then, if the actor is so capable of this variety of characters, do we seem to be stuck with this pervasive typecasting?

The answer to that: Edward R. Murrow.

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Edward R. Murrow was a broadcast journalist during the Cold War, and an outspoken critic of the practices of Joseph McCarthy. Murrow, though nationally renowned throughout his career, is a fragment of a sort of sophisticated piece of cultural history that The Office seems to think only the upper echelon are privy to. In a Season 2 episode of the sitcom, Dunder Mifflin employees celebrate “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” In an effort to impress the lot, Michael Scott shows a personal video of himself appearing on an old Sesame Street-like children’s show that featured a “cat reporter” puppet named Edward R. Meow. The camera pans to Jim to let us know—with agonizing fury—that Jim is one of the only people in the office who gets this reference.

And this is not an isolated incident. The Office has taken countless efforts to remind us that we are supposed to like Jim, not excluding an out-of-the-blue trademark handshakes with “cool warehouse worker” Darryl, with whom Jim had never before been shown to have any real interaction. Every once in a while, the show decides to beat us over the head with the idea that it was mandatory that we love this character. He’s smarter than everyone else. He’s calmer than everyone else. The show even removed him rapidly from his managerial position after a backlash from the viewing public. No one is allowed to dislike Jim Halpert.

ALTSomewhere along the line, the line was blurred between Jim and John. We already knew we weren’t allowed to dislike the Scranton-based paper salesman. But we eventually got it into our heads that we weren’t allowed to dislike the man who plays him and Hollywood has been pushing that maxim persistently. We haven’t seen Krasinski play a villain, a fool, a weirdo—nothing too far out of the realm of “smart, low maintenance nice guy,” in any major productions. Not because he’s not capable of the task—Krasinski is an adept performer who, I do believe, would fare quite well with a role outside of his usual type—but because we don’t think we’re allowed to associate the man with anything unpleasant.

And perhaps this stems from our comfort with what Jim, and now Krasinski, represents. He’s smart, but not ambitious. He’s happy, but constantly allocating flaws in everything around him. He’s sweet, but sarcastic. Jim is easy. He doesn’t challenge anything or anyone, least of all himself. He’d rather make jokes about the world around him than work to rectify the things that he thinks warrant mockery. Jim would not be a difficult person to work toward becoming—and maybe we all want a hero who isn’t too far off from something we can be. He’s an easy goal. And to keep him constantly pleasant is to convince ourselves that he is a worthwhile goal. In conclusion: let’s all be like Jim. Everybody likes Jim. And it doesn’t look too hard. The slacker movement lives on.

But Krasinski is worth more than this. He’s a talented actor who deserves to extend beyond some happy framework for some feasible hero for those of us who want to be satisfied without having to work too hard for it. So how can Krasinski combat this? Simply, by going for broke. Do what John Lithgow did: impress the world by proving his comedic prowess is nothing compared to his skills with the dramatic. Play a jackass, a criminal, a murderer. You owe it to yourself, Krasinski, to be the great, hard-working, risk-taking actor you are meant to be. And, in some bizarre way, you might even owe it to the world. Remind everyone that there are better things to be than Jim.

…Like great actors! Not murderers. I want to make sure I stress that.

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