LOS ANGELES — Forget the fancy hotel and Hollywood heat. When Matt Damon and John Krasinski get going, they’re just guys who grew up with similar hometown references despite a decade’s difference in age.
There’s Aerosmith, of course. And Bobby Orr. Krasinski, 33, says his mother’s favorite photo of him is with the Bruins legend, who retired the year before he was born. Damon, 42, laughs knowingly at the mention of another former Bruin, Cam Neely. Regional accent, chowdah, Faneuil Hall, they’ve both got Boston in their makeup. They even share the same favorite movie: the 1982 courtroom drama “The Verdict,” set — where else but where they grew up?
That’s the same familiarity that infused their writing partnership and resulted in the fracking film, “Promised Land,” opening Friday in Boston. Still, the two didn’t run into each other at some gala of locals made good in Hollywood. Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, introduced them when she was starring alongside Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau.” Krasinski raised his idea for a movie about the new American identity and soon the two were immersed in research on natural gas drilling.
Damon, who grew up in Cambridge to Krasinski’s Newton, goes so far as to liken their scripting chemistry to his with best buddy Ben Affleck, who lives on the same block in Pacific Palisades where Damon is moving his family. That chemistry, as most every moviegoer knows, produced 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” directed by Gus Van Sant, who also took the helm of “Promised Land” when Damon had to hand off his intended directorial debut because it conflicted with another project.
“Writing with somebody,’’ Damon said, “the most important thing is a similar sensibility, if you look at things the same way, if you find the same things funny, if you find the same things moving . . . We didn’t spend any time trying to convince each other of something. We both knew what felt right. . . . You get to the solution a lot quicker when you don’t have to litigate every little point.”
It also helps to laugh along the way, and they’re still laughing now over a running gag about miniature stunted-looking horses that Damon and his corporate sales partner, played by Frances McDormand, can’t figure out.
“There has to be a lot of humor in this movie, or no one’s going to go see it,” Damon said. “The [horse jokes] made us laugh the second one of us blurted them out, and we knew we were on to something. “
“It’s definitely easier to tell a joke with someone,” Krasinski said.
Not missing a beat, Damon added, “It’s easier to write a joke with John Krasinski.”
Krasinksi, who made his name on the NBC sitcom “The Office,” now in its ninth and final season, smiled modestly. “That’s nice,” he said, and seems to mean it, unlike his sardonic TV alter-ego Jim Halpert.
There’s even deference in his voice. Damon and Krasinski are partners on paper but not quite equals in person. One, Damon, is an instantly recognizable Academy Award winner despite heavy old-school glasses and having shaved his head again for reshoots of Neill Blomkamp’s upcoming sci-fi film, “Elysium.” The other has played mostly supporting roles and hasn’t landed a hit when he has starred, although he has already directed a film, 2009’s “Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,” which he also wrote. He’s got the smaller part in “Promised Land,” too, but it’s one that could give casting agents another perspective on his laid-back persona.
In the $15 million movie, tiny by Hollywood standards, Damon plays Steve Butler, a salesman for a natural gas company who talks financially struggling farmers and small-town residents into selling drilling rights to their land. Krasinski is the aptly (and perhaps heavy-handedly) named Dustin Noble, a one-man environmental band who arrives to talk the locals out of taking the deal. In the interim they, and the audience, learn about fracking, the slang term for hydraulic fracturing, or the process of injecting water, chemicals, and other fluids into cracks in rocks to expand the openings, allowing oil and gas to flow out more easily. At issue is whether the process taints the water supply and land.
“It’s kind of the perfect backdrop because it’s like a game of high-stakes poker,” Krasinski said. “There’s so much potentially to lose and so much potentially to gain that these people have a very, very complex decision to make. No matter how much this country wants to make it out like you’re for [fracking] or against it, there’s so much more to it than that.”
The movie, based on a story by novelist Dave Eggers, whom Krasinski hired to write a first draft that he and Damon then revised, isn’t flattering to the oil and gas industry but isn’t an environmental polemic against fracking, either. Instead it attempts to captivate moviegoers with a story that Krasinski said was inspired by the stories his dad told him about growing up in a small Pennsylvania mill town, the tight-knit community, and the since-lost sense that tomorrow would be better than today. Both Krasinski and Damon were producers on “Promised Land,” a product of Damon and Affleck’s Pearl Street Films.
‘Writing with somebody, the most important thing is a similar sensibility. . . . We both knew what felt right.’
“There’s not a better backdrop to explore what happens when big money and regular people collide and how we make our decisions and what is community now and how are we going to live basically and stewardship and short-term thinking vs. long-term thinking,” Damon said in one enthusiastic run-on spurt before taking a breath. “I hope we made a pro-community, pro-democracy movie and people walk away with some sense of hope and it starts a discussion.”
The discussion between Damon and Krasinski is at a pretty high intellectual level, and includes a “60 Minutes” feature on fracking, The New York Times series “Drilling Down,” the book “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity” by Jeffrey D. Sachs, and the Boss. As it turns out, “Promised Land” mimics the arc of Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” according to Damon, who starts backtracking the moment the words come out of his mouth: “We went to a concert before we started shooting and we were listening to him play this album all the way through and we were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the script we just wrote — not to compare ourselves to Bruce Springsteen by any means.”
From there, discussion goes to the characters they play in the movie, and how out of character their roles are. There’s a plot twist not to give away, but it’s enough to say Damon’s flannel-wearing-to-fit-in Butler isn’t necessarily as cynical as he would seem to be after watching his own farm town wither when the local tractor plant closed. And Krasinski’s Noble might just have something up his aw-shucks sleeve.
In real life, though, they’re pretty much as expected.
Damon, stocky in rumpled jeans and a plaid shirt, beams when the subject of his wife, Lucy, and their four daughters comes up. When Krasinski says, “He’s got the best girls in the world,” Damon doesn’t feign modesty.
“It is high praise,” Damon said. “It’s also true.” He also claimed the paparazzi ignore his family in favor of Affleck’s because that’s a two movie-star couple to his one, since Affleck married actress Jennifer Garner and he married an Argentine former bartender he met in Miami. When the idea that the Affleck clan is courting attention as part of his childhood friend’s Oscar campaign for “Argo”comes up, Damon looks pained and says only, “Right, right.”
“I live on Ben’s street and they’re out in front of there because there are two of them, Ben and Jen, and people want to know, for whatever reason, what Jennifer dresses the kids in,” Damon said. “This was during the summer and they could have stopped by my house if they wanted to. There’s not a lot of sizzle to our story.”
There are however, lots of movies. Damon has three in the can, including “Behind the Candelabra,” in which he plays the gay lover of Michael Douglas’s Liberace, complete with kissing and nudity. Next up, he said, is “The Monuments Men,” a thriller about retrieving stolen art from Nazi Germany that his pal George Clooney is directing and starring in, along with Daniel Craig, Bill Murray, and Cate Blanchett.
For his part, the 6-foot-3 Krasinski shows up in a preppy navy cardigan, bright blue patterned shirt, striped tie, and khaki slacks. He oozes easygoing to Damon’s more intense gum chewing. He’s filming “The Office” until the end of March, and is waiting on what he tackles after.
“Luckily I just have time to focus on that because coming to the end of that show is going to be an emotional breakdown that I’m going to need a little second to navigate through,” he said.
Once that’s done, would they write together again? “If he’d have me,” Damon said, smirking only slightly. Said Krasinski, with no smirk at all, “I was going to say the same thing. . . . It seems like an almost sure-fire bet to have a good time again.”Lynda Gorov can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.