Costarring with George Clooney in ''Leatherheads,'' gearing up for his directorial debut, and headlining a Sam Mendes flick...can our Dunder Mifflin man hold on to his Jim-ness?
John Krasinski
Credit: Noe DeWitt/Corbis Outline

You told yourself this wasn’t going to happen. You weren’t falling for all the hype. John Krasinski — ridiculously nice guy? Crazy easy to talk to? Witty? Self-effacing? Dead ringer for his Office alter ego, Jim Halpert? Yeah, we’ll see about that.

And yet here you are in a tony Beverly Hills hotel lobby, lapping it up as the man in the unzipped sweatshirt insists that he’s ”his parents’ son first,” and that the moment ”you start thinking you’re important because you’re on TV, you’re done.” You marvel at his subtle ability to outcharm you every time the waitress comes over, and at his flagrant inability to accept a compliment. When he departs with a hey this was actually fun we should do it again handshake, you practically have to restrain yourself from shouting after him, ”Soooo…call me?” Last you checked, you were straight.

America, if you haven’t been Krasinski’d yet, watch out: Dude’s stepping up his game. He returns this week with new episodes of The Office on NBC and Leatherheads, a screwballsy comedy directed by George Clooney about pro football’s origins. Playing a hotshot war hero tapped to help launch the nascent sport, the 28-year-old got to go head-to-muddy-head with Clooney; the career mentoring wasn’t a bad throw-in. ”It’s like having the best coach on your side,” he reports, ”when you’re playing the biggest game of your life.”

Krasinski has been looking pretty good in his warm-up drills. The Newton, Mass., native had thoughts of becoming an English teacher, but upon graduating from Brown his Hollywood hopes prevailed. A few TV guest spots later, he was waiting tables when he landed in The Office, where he’s made half a name for himself in ”Jam,” i.e., the Jim-Pam romance. Bit-parting wisely (Jarhead, Dreamgirls), he stumbled only with 2007’s License to Wed, the romantic-comedy clunker he anchored with Robin Williams and Mandy Moore. ”For people to come down so hard on it was a new experience for me,” he says. ”It’s like making a big to-do about a Little League game. Let’s all understand what we’re talking about here!”

NEXT PAGE: Summing up the essence of Jim Halpert: ”I wear a messenger bag. And my hair’s weird.”

His upcoming projects aren’t mere child’s play: He’s editing Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, a movie that he directed and adapted from the David Foster Wallace short-story collection. (”This isn’t me declaring to the world that I’m George or Zach Braff,” he says of his venture into multi-hyphenation. ”It was a passion project, plain and simple.”) This month, he and Maya Rudolph begin shooting an untitled comedy — directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and co-written by novelist Dave Eggers — about a road-tripping expectant couple searching for a place to settle down. ”It was the first role I’ve ever been offered where [someone] called and was like, ‘I just have you in mind — would you want to do this movie?”’ Krasinski recounts. ”That was insane.” And don’t worry, he’ll remain happily tied down to his desk at Dunder Mifflin. ”That show has taken such great care of me that I don’t want to leave,” he says emphatically. ”I’ll be there as long as they’ll have me.”

Despite his rise, this single guy swears — no, really — that he hasn’t been singled out by phone-number-wielding female fans. ”The character of Jim doesn’t really bleed ‘I will take you out of this bar and we will go to the nicest hotel and have a night that you won’t forget!’ He plays more like [shrugs], ‘I wear a messenger bag. And my hair’s weird. I’m your buddy.’ Not very threatening.”

There’s got to be a way to drop this nice-guy image. Any ideas, John? ”I will light this entire hotel on fire,” he deadpans. ”I’m going to yell out, ‘I’m going to burn this mother to the ground!!!!’ and then do it. And it’ll be weird, because I’ll blow right past diva status and go right into, like, arsonist. I want to be a diva for a split second, and then forever a criminal.” He’s grinning now. ”That’s how big I want to go.”

Class Act
John Krasinksi imagines his alternate-universe life as a teacher

I go by Mr. K. I’m teaching English at a prep school in rural Connecticut. In my class, homework is not homework, it’s preparation for the next day. I love teaching books that have been pigeonholed as ”epics,” and my big thing is discovering for yourself why you like them. I’d have a lot of stuff written in some cryptic way on the whiteboard where you can’t understand it until we start talking about the book. I’d throw desk supplies off bridges… I’ve gone out on several dates with the bio teacher. Her name is Sarah, and she’s just a really great girl. I’m more gregarious than she is; she brings me into the underground indie-world stuff and I bring her sonnets. It’s weird because the kids are talking about this new show called The Office and they’re like, ”You guys are so much like Pam and Jim!” and I’m like, ”I don’t have a TV. Sorry, I’m not into pop culture stuff.”