Imaginary Friends – The incredible power of a child’s imagination

Since 2018, John Krasinski has distinguished himself as a filmmaker to be reckoned with by writing, directing, and starring opposite his wife Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place and A Quiet Place Part II, a pair of post-apocalyptic thrillers that have become global box office record-breakers and critical darlings. Following the success of those film, Krasinski has made a deft about-face with his latest, Imaginary Friends is a magical big screen adventure for the whole family. Steeped in wonder and filled with humor, opening a door on a fairytale world full of imaginary friends (or “IFs”).

The inspiration for this enchanting journey was Krasinski’s own children, he says. “I’ve always wanted to make a movie for them. Emily says that the Quiet Place movies are PG-40 for them, so they won’t see those for a long time. During the early days of the pandemic, I got to spend a lot of time around my then-8-year-old and 6-year-old daughters and see the power of their imaginations. But as the pandemic wore on, I started seeing their lights dwindle. They had been so full of energy and excitement, but they were becoming more cautious about everything.”

As Krasinski points out, from early childhood we are enthralled by fairytales that transport us to another world. “I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could bring all of that magic into your own real life?” he says. “If there’s one thing I want people to leave this movie with, it’s that believing in something bigger and more beautiful can actually get you through another day. That’s the kind of story I have always wanted to tell.”

Producer Allyson Seeger, and partner at Krasinski’s company, Sunday Night, remembers one of their first conversations about Imaginary Friends. “John said, ‘What if, instead of making a movie about imagination, we make imagination a character in the movie?’ Adulthood and real life can often temper the imagination right out of you, but the movie explores the question – what if it’s never too late to reconnect with that? To be a kid again, even for a moment.”

Imaginary Friends tells of a girl who discovers that she can see everyone’s imaginary friends — and what she does with that superpower — as she embarks on a magical adventure to reconnect forgotten IFs with their kids.

The kernel of the idea began to revolve around a 12-year-old precocious girl named Bea, who’s had to grow up a little too fast. On the cusp of her teen years, ready to leave what it means to be a kid behind, one summer night while visiting her grandmother in Brooklyn, Bea discovers that she has a unique superpower: She can see everyone’s imaginary friend.

“We tell this story through the eyes of a girl who, like my kids, is trying to deal with how changed their world is,” says Krasinski. “In doing that, we are able to capture the idea that imagination is not only a powerful tool to have fun with, but also an enormous coping mechanism that helps us make sense of things that might be too difficult otherwise.”

Before he began to write the screenplay, Krasinski decided to run the idea past a good friend ¾ actor Ryan Reynolds. “Ryan is, in my opinion, one of the most talented people out there,” says Krasinski. “He knows comedy, he knows drama. We had been talking about doing a film together forever. I explained that I was developing a film about children and their imaginary friends. Would he want to be a part of it? He said, ‘Yes, definitely.’”

Ryan Reynolds and Cailey Fleming star in Paramount Pictures’ “IF.” Photo Credit: Jonny Cournoyer /

Krasinski began bouncing ideas off the actor, who responded with his own thoughts. “We were kind of banging back and forth,” says Reynolds. “We were interested in shooting something that feels like a live-action Pixar film. And that’s really what John put on the page.”

Reynolds, who also came on board as a producer of Imaginary Friends describes the screenplay as heartfelt and full of fun. “It ebbs and flows,” he says. “It’s got that classic Mary Pickford thing — make ’em laugh, make ’em cry and then bring them back to laughter.”

Ryan Reynolds, left, and Director John Krasinski on the set of Paramount Pictures’ “IF.”
Photo Credit: Jonny Cournoyer / © 2024 PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Krasinski sat down to write the film’s screenplay during the winter of 2020-21. He conjured a legion of the colorful, fantastical creatures of all shapes and sizes that populate children’s dreams to comfort, entertain and protect them. “He had a desire to rediscover joy in the world,” explains Seeger. “And this movie does that in spades.”

The filmmaker admits to having had several imaginary friends of his own ¾ as well as a couple of enemies. “I did have a wild imagination,” he says. “Our home was very close to a video store and I was allowed to walk there by myself at night. It would take me a half hour to get home, because I would pretend that all these different creatures were after me and I had to hide in my neighbor’s bushes to escape.”

Krasinski began to see IFs not simply as playmates but, as he puts it, “time capsules for our hopes, dreams, ambitions.” “They are created in the moment that you had the biggest dreams,” he continues. “They could be the version of you that you dreamed of becoming. What if they never really went away? What if they’re always standing behind you and all you have to do one day is look back and see them and it all comes flooding back to you?”   

Producer Andrew Form was one of the first to read Krasinski’s family-ready script. “It was a chance for us to make a movie that would resonate with every demographic,” recalls Form. “Whether you’ve had an imaginary friend or not, you can still relate to what the characters are going through.”

While the Quiet Place films are hair-raising, world-ending thrillers, Imaginary Friends is also a portrait of another family facing a difficult time, but this one also provides plenty of laughs, says Seeger. “A Quiet Place was a metaphor about parenthood and about how far you’ll go to protect your kids,” she says. “I think Imaginary Friends is a movie for kids, parents, for every generation. It’s a coming-of-age story for everyone.”

Ryan Reynolds, whose irreverent portrayal as wisecracking superhero Deadpool made him a comic icon, brings his signature high-energy, cheeky humor to the character Cal. A role tailored for Reynolds, Cal is the only person other than Bea who sees the IFs. His mission is to provide each of the forgotten IFs with a new kid to play with, entertain and protect, but his best efforts have proved fruitless. When he and Bea join forces, however, that begins to change.

Reynolds describes Imaginary Friends as the story of a child who uses make-believe as a form of resilience. “The concept of imaginary friends is provocative and interesting,” he says. “IFs are usually created out of necessity. It’s an adaptive coping mechanism for kids who realize that they can’t rely exclusively on their parents for a sense of well-being. They have to find other ways to manage. They seek it by creating their own imaginary friends.”

Reynolds himself had an imaginary friend named Pookie. “He looked like a teddy bear,” the actor recalls. “My brother Jeff and I shared this imaginary friend back and forth. It was a kind of weird bond we had. It’s something we still talk about today.”

The myriad shapes that Imaginary Friends‘ imaginary friends take are as boundless as a child’s imagination. Each of Krasinski’s endearing creations came into the world with a specific purpose that is reflected in the form they take. “John gave a lot of thought to why a person would create their specific IF,” notes Seeger. “So each one of them has a story behind it.”

For Krasinski, those back stories had to be as real as those of the human characters. “They live every day with a purpose,” he says. “Each one is a projection of real things in a kid’s life. He or she might invent a big imaginary friend to keep them safe or a really funny character to help them through sad times.”

Krasinski cast Steve Carell, with whom the director worked in the beloved comedy series “The Office,” to give voice to Blue, the lovable, extra-large, and notably purple imaginary friend. “Everyone calls him Blue, but he is purple,” says Form. “John decided that the child who invented him was color-blind. Blue is very lovable, and like all IFs, just wants to get back to the kid who created him and reclaim that life.”

Another of the instantly appealing IFs is Blossom, a beautiful, ballet-dancing butterfly the size of a child. “She’s little and she’s gorgeous,” according to Fleming. “She’s also very calm and cool, which makes her the most level-headed IF.”

Blossom, who bears a resemblance to 1930s animated “It Girl” Betty Boop, is voiced by English actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator, and star of the award-winning television series “Fleabag.” “It’s really fun to see Blossom come to life through Phoebe, who’s charming, warm and funny but can also be wryly witty,” Seeger says.

Krasinski was writing the character while he and his family were living in London. He says he arranged to meet Waller-Bridge there because he is a huge fan. “When Phoebe asked me what I was doing next, I told her I was doing a movie about imaginary friends,” he shares. “As I started writing, only weeks later I called her and asked, ‘Would you ever want to be in the movie because now all I can do is write for your voice. And she said yes.’”

To give voice to Lewis, the elderly, human-sized teddy bear and leader of the IFs, Krasinski cast Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. “Lewis is the heart and soul of the movie,” Seeger explains. “He takes us deep into the world of the IFs. And to capture the singular voice and spirit of Louis Gossett Jr., who bestows this life experience and knowledge on Bea, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Amongst the dream cast, Bradley Cooper voices an ice cube in a half-filled glass of water. Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco gives voice to Magician Mouse, the overworked partner to a little boy who loved performing magic tricks. Sam Rockwell plays superhero Guardian Dog, who fears that no one is watching over Poughkeepsie, which was once his jurisdiction. Christopher Meloni, of “Law & Order” fame, provides the voice of Cosmo, the Cold War superspy IF. Two-time Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins plays the art teacher in the IF retirement home, and Matt Damon steps into the role of a walking, talking flower. Other voices include Awkwafina as Bubble, Jon Stewart as Robot, George Clooney as Spaceman, Keegan-Michael Key as Slime, Matthew Rhys as Ghost, Amy Schumer as Gummy Bear, among others. “One of my kids’ favorites is Octopuss (voiced by Blake Lively), the only cat not afraid of water,” Krasinski shares. “She actually identifies more as an octopus and dresses up like one every day.”

Krasinski’s daughters originated two of the other animated characters: Ally, a pink alligator, was an imaginary friend that lived under their bed, voiced in the film by the hilarious Maya Rudolph, and one of IF’s more unusual characters, Marshmallow, who Krasinski actually voices. And, just to keep it all in the family, there’s a unicorn IF that is voiced by Emily Blunt.

With a long list of fantastical creatures on the page, Krasinski and his team were facing the question of how to bring them to life on screen. After initially considering puppets for the roles, Krasinski viewed a trailer for Christopher Robin, a film that combined live action with animation to bring author A.A. Milne’s beloved characters to life. After learning the effects were created by London-based Framestore, the filmmakers contacted the three-time Academy Award-winning visual effects house.

Filming for Imaginary Friendsbegan in September 2022 and shot for 50 days entirely in New York City, primarily in Brooklyn. Growing up in Boston, says Krasinski, his idea of the city came from some of his favorite films, from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York to Midnight Cowboy. While he and his family now live in New York, it still holds the same magic for him. “So many movies I grew up watching that became an integral part of my film experience were shot there. When I was a kid, I’d wish I could experience New York the same way that Macaulay Culkin did.”

He remembers his mother telling him that, to her, a good movie introduced her to interesting characters in a place she’d like to visit. “I tried to abide by that advice in Imaginary Friends” he says. “We have this wonderful girl in New York City, where she hasn’t been in a really long time, and we discover the city with her. To be able to shoot on those streets has always felt like an unattainable dream, especially seeing it through the eyes of a kid. There is so much wonder in New York, from Rockefeller Center to Coney Island to the amazing Sesame Street-like streets in Brooklyn.”

Imaginary Friends marks the first time Krasinski has worked with Kamiński, the two-time Academy Award-winning director of photography known for his longtime collaboration with Steven Spielberg. A fan of Krasinski’s acclaimed Quiet Place films, Kamiński says he was attracted to the simplicity of the story. “It’s a very sweet movie in a sense, but it plays on all kinds of different emotions. Knowing John was going to direct, I felt this could be a very interesting adventure. Imagination is one of the most important aspects of being human. Along with art, it is one of the two elements that make us different from other creatures.”

John Krasinski’s vision for Imaginary Friendspermeates every aspect of the film, from the visual effects to the music, the cinematography, and, of course, the performances. He says he hopes audiences come away from the movie with the idea that imagination is not just for children. “It is something that we all have within us, but we forget to tap into it. It’s the reason we love music, the reason we love movies, the reason we love telling jokes — because there is a child inside all of us.” He continues, “I think we were all convinced at a young age that we had to be adults faster than we were supposed to. And the truth is, you can bring the child inside of you out at any age you are.”

His goal for Imaginary Friends is that kids run out laughing and wanting to pick up a stuffed animal version of an imaginary friend, and that adults are inspired to remember their inner child. “Adults will not only get to see the world through the eyes of a child, they will realize that this time capsule full of hopes, dreams, and ambitions never goes away. That imaginary friend has been standing right there inspiring you to live your life with joy. So I think this movie is certainly not just a kid’s movie. It’s a movie for everyone.”

Seeger sees the film as a story of healing through the limitless power of the imagination. “If nothing else, the desire is that when everybody walks out of the movie, they’re all the more hopeful that they can be whoever they want, and whoever they dreamed they could be,” she concludes.

As with the uplifting YouTube series “Some Good News” that Krasinski created during the pandemic, he made Imaginary Friends with the same intention: To make people feel good. “You step into that theatre with whatever was on your back during the day and this movie will not only transport you to a magical place where you can experience something that you’ve never experienced before, but that it will also allow you to look at the world in a different way – with more hope.”

JOHN KRASINSKI has established himself as one of the most exciting talents as an actor, writer, and director, engaging audiences on the big and small screen. 

Krasinski co-wrote, directed, and starred in the 2019 Academy Award®-nominated A Quiet Place, which was also nominated for a PGA Award, WGA Award for Krasinski for Screenplay, and won star Emily Blunt the SAG® Award for Best Supporting Actress, and was named one of AFI’s Top 10 Films of the Year. In 2016, Krasinski directed and starred in The Hollars with Richard Jenkins and Anna Kendrick. Krasinski made his directorial debut by adapting and directing the David Foster Wallace book Brief Interviews with Hideous Men which premiered at Sundance and was released by IFC. Most recently, Krasinski released A Quiet Place: Part II, which he wrote and directed. The film had the biggest opening weekend of any film during the pandemic and was nominated for multiple awards, including a BAFTA. 

Krasinski formed his award-winning independent production company, Sunday Night, in 2013 with Allyson Seeger. Upcoming, they will produce the psychological horror Apartment 7A starring Julia Garner with Natalie Erika James directing. As a continuation of the A Quiet Place series, Krasinski will produce the spin-off prequel A Quiet Place: Day One, with Michael Sarnoski directing. Krasinski also created and hosted the massively successful web series “Some Good News.” The series’ episodes have amassed over 75 million views.

Krasinski notably starred on NBC’s Emmy®-winning smash hit “The Office” for nine seasons, where he portrayed Jim Halpert. He most recently starred in the highly acclaimed hit thriller “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”for Amazon which premiered its fourth and final season in 2023. 

His film credits include the Gus Van Sant directed Promise Land, which he also wrote with Matt Damon; he lent his voice in Disney Pixar’s Monsters University and DC League of Super-Pets; legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film The Wind Rises; and Cameron Crowe’s Aloha; Michael Bay’s Benghazi thriller 13 Hours; the uplifting family film Big Miracle; Something Borrowed; Nancy Meyers’ It’s Complicated; Sam Mendes’ Away We Go; the animated smash hits Monsters Vs. Aliens and Shrek the Third;  George Clooney’s Leatherheads; Ken Kwapis’ License to Wed; Christopher Guest’s For Your Consideration; Bill Condon’s Kinsey; and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.