I won't deny it: Craig Robinson is one of my favorite people to talk to and watch as an actor. And right now, he happens to be one of the busiest men in show business. With "The Office" wrapping up its run next week and three movies coming out before the end of the summer, you're going to be seeing a lot of him. On top of that, right after "The Office" wrapped up, he took many of the crew members and shot a pilot for a new show starring him (we'll get into that later) that he hopes to get onto the fall schedule.
What's been interesting about watching Robinson's character Darryl on "The Office" is that as Darryl's role in his the company has gotten larger, Robinson's career has grown at about the same pace, from funny bit parts in KNOCKED UP and WALK HARD to larger roles in ZACK & MIRI MAKE A PORNO, THE GOODS, "Eastbound & Down," and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE.
This Friday, Robinson stars in PEEPLES, in which he plays Wade Walker, a guy who writes and performs songs to help kids deal with semi-traumatic events in their life (like peeing the bed), who forces himself into the lives of his girlfriend's (Kerry Washington) family and its patriarch, a judge played by David Alan Grier. The blows that Robinson and Grier come to are sometimes very funny, and it's fun watching two different generations of comic actors play off each other
In June, Robinson is set to star in not one, but two end-of-the-world comedies--one as the perpetrator of said Apocalypse (RAPTURE-PALOOZA), in which he plays the devil; and THIS IS THE END, in which he plays "Craig Robinson" (or at least a guy who looks and acts mostly like Robinson), in which the world is ending around six actors played by Seth Rogen (who also co-directed with Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and Danny McBride. Please enjoy my talk with the very funny Craig Robinson…
CR: Capizzi!! How're you doing?
Capone: It’s good to see you again.
CR: You too, brother. What’s going on?
Capone: Not much. How are you?
CR: I’m awesome.
Capone: I think the last time I saw you was in New Orleans last year on the set of whatever it was called then.
CR: THIS IS THE END? Back then, it was CATACYSM or THE END OF THE WORLD, I think it was called.
Capone: I think you’re right, which I do want to talk about a little bit, but let’s talk a little bit about the new movie first. What does it mean when you’re working on a film that’s produced by Tyler Perry that he’s not directing? Is he hands on or does he let the director he's chosen take the reigns completely?
CR: There is a difference. He came by the set and he was like a fan almost, like “Oh my god, you all have got this.” So he has chosen to produce and put his light on Tina [Gordon Chism, writer-director of PEEPLES] being a first-time director and long time writer and lifting this up with his name. We couldn’t be more honored or humbled.
Capone: Tina is known more as a writer [of DRUMLINE and ATL], but this is her first time as a filmmaker. What do you need to know about a filmmaker the first time out in order for you to say, “Yeah, I’ll work with you.”
CR: The passion and the project were important for me. Tina actually lived this story where she had dated someone who had all of these secrets, the family had all of these secrets, so it just kind of unravelled before her very eyes. So that was her inspiration. I look for somebody who is smart and who I want to listen to. If you’re directing, then I’m going to have to pay attention, and I’ve got to trust your sensibilities, I’ve got to trust your humor, I’ve got to trust all of that. So those things play a part, and Tina passed with flying colors. She knew what she wanted and she’s fun and personable and brilliant and awesome.
Capone: I’ve got to imagine that coming up in comedy when you did that working with David Alan Grier had to be just the most magnificent thing that you could think of.
CR: You hit the nail on the head. I’ve copied him many times and before I got to meet him. I didn’t meet him just through the movie; we met through the comedy circuit, so there was a respect there and love, and then once I got to work with him, that was a dream come true. It challenged me as an actor, because I have to go “Okay, you're here now. You can't go 'Oh, there's David Alan Grier.' Get your head in the game, son.” So that was the challenge.
Capone: What did you learn from him just about doing comedy?
CR: Watching him just in a room…well, when I copied him, I would do some of his bits and my mother could not not laugh. She always laughs at this one bit--and it's so stupid [laughs]--where he was introducing people like “My name is Charles. Would you give it up for me?” So I always do that; I would do that in church just to make my mama laugh. Watching him now, all his cylinders are working. He’s not practicing or in the process of finding out his comedy or who he is; he is always there, so even that is the goal for me.
Capone: The confidence.
Capone: Then to have in the supporting cast. I almost fell out of my seat when I saw Melvin Van Peebles in the movie. That guy is the real deal. I was really shocked to see him and Diahann Carroll, who I haven’t seen in a long time. That’s royalty there.
CR: Royalty. Exactly and for them to put their stamp on it and come in. Diahann Carroll gave a speech on the way to the set the very first day of filming, and she was humbled and honored to be a part of this experience with us, and we were like, “Oh my god, you’re Diahann Carroll. What are you talking about?” She doesn’t take a lot of roles, so it gave us this tremendous boost going into the very first scene of filming.
Capone: What about Melvin? What was he like?
CR: Melvin is cool. He’s got some fun, dirty jokes and he was cool. They both hung out; they went out with us after filming. Surreal is a word I've used a lot that experience.
Capone: There’s a lot of singing in the film, which I know you’re a fan of, and it’s always been part of your comedy routine. I don’t think you’ve ever really missed an opportunity to lay down a few lines. Was that always part of the script, or was that something that was added when you were cast?
CR: No. Wade was a child therapist, and then once I got attached, he became a therapist through music.
Capone: Who wrote the song then?
CR: Stephen Bray. He has worked with Madonna and all of the big ones. He came and did this movie. Stephanie Allain-Brey, his wife, is producing the movie, and so Stephen did composing.
Capone: So he did that song, then? The one song we hear?
CR: “Speak It, Don’t Leak It”? Yeah.
Capone: Then I also noticed in the trailers that we’ve seen for RAPTURE-PALOOZA that you’re also singing a little bit in that one, too.
CR: I wrote those.
Capone: Those are yours?
CR: Those are the ones I wrote, yeah. Once things get risque…
Capone: It looks like it might get dirty.
CR: I had a hand in that.
Capone: Was it just dumb luck that you happen to have these two movies out this summer that are both abouat the end of the world.
CR: Exactly. Yeah, one I’m the Anti-Christ, and one I’m Craig Robinson. But yeah, these two Lionsgate movies, the release dates got moved around for both of them, so we are glad to have them all coming out, and it’s just dumb luck that they’re all three in a row. So we will see what happens. I’ll be competing against myself at some point.
Capone: With THIS IS THE END, I got the gist of what you guys were up to from the day I spent there because Seth and Evan showed us about 20 minutes or so of footage-- some were cut-together scenes and some were sizzle-reel stuff. This version of you, wwhat is the most different thing about you and this guy that you play?
CR: There’s this scene where I confess to murder, so I’m going to have to go with that. [laughs]
Capone: The day we were there was the day that you guys were drawing matches to see who goes out on the rope, which is you. It led to some of the funniest improv I have ever heard. Because you’ve worked with Seth before so many times, and he knows you, can he sort of tailor the script and tailor certain jokes to your strengths?
CR: It was a ton of improv on there, and to answer that question, yes. They know my voice, so that’s what they wrote to. They wrote these parts with us in mind and put our names on it. As a matter of fact, even the wardrobe… They found the t-shirt company I use and just took all of my wardrobe and made copies of it. It was like if you went into work, took off what you're wearing and then put it back on.
Capone: I remember the t-shirt you had.
CR: “Take Your Panties Off.” That's my catch phrase.
Capone: That’s the one. I wrote it down, but you had mentioned that that was a shirt that you had on one day, they saw and they said, “Let’s get six of those.”
CR: So they saw it at a party once and were like, “We want you to wear that shirt in the movie,” and there was the whole thing, because I own “Take Your Panties Off,” and so somebody was like “What? He wants to own that?” Then it was like “It’s like Michael Jackson wearing the glove. It’s Craig's stuff.” so it was cool that they were able to get that in there.
Capone: How do you manage with six of you just throwing things out at random sometimes not to step on each other's jokes?
CR: Get in where you fit in. Some people improv way more than others, but once you’ve got the rhythm… You know, I’m a musician, so for me I can accompany and I can take the lead. When the force felt strong, it was like “Here I go,” otherwise I could lay back.
Capone: I guess comedy is a lot like that, like music, just finding the rhythm or finding where you drop your solo in. CR: Now you got it.
Capone: Is playing yourself the hardest or the easiest acting that you've ever done?
CR: Easiest, because no matter what, you can get away with it, like “I would say that” or “I wouldn’t say that.” “I said it, so now I say it.” I thought it was cool, especially with the wardrobe. It was just as comfortable as it could be; it wasn’t a stretch.
Capone: Do you take more of an ownership of the character when it’s you?
CR: I think so, absolutely. At the same time, it’s a heightened version, so you just hope people can tell what’s real and what’s not. What are you going to do?
Capone: I know a lot of times in the film that people are taking hits about some of their past work. Did you take any substantial blows?
CR: I took a blow. Someone said, “The elephant in the room,” and Seth goes, “Hey, don’t talk about Craig like that,” and then later on in the scene I said something, and Seth said, “The elephant’s right.” So I got a couple of fact jokes in there, but I don’t think they got my work.
Capone: When you were getting let out on the rope and then the rope gets yanked away, I remember somebody saying, “I don’t think Craig can run that fast.” [Both laugh] I’ve got to ask quick about the end of "The Office"
CR: We are wrapped. We have one last "Office" party, and that is in Scranton, Pennsylvania, this Saturday.
Capone: How was that last day for you?
CR: It was bittersweet. I’ll miss those guys. I didn’t cry like a lot of those cats did, but I’ll miss those like spontaneous… you know somebody messes up and we all have a good laugh. Each laugh is bonding.
Capone: I was talking to somebody last night about Darryl and saying, “He has maybe the greatest arc of any of the characters on that show.” He rose up through the ranks. He was the guy who always sort of knew everybody’s secrets in the beginning, then he moved up in the upper echelon.
CR: Yeah, but did he find love? That’s what it’s all about.
Capone: That’s what I don’t know. Is that answered?
CR: [Said coyly] I don’t know, maybe. He definitely had a great life on the show. It’s opened so many doors, and I never knew what was going to happen. I never had any input. Sometimes you would just pass by a writer, and then they would think to add a line for you. So it’s odd how it all goes down when it goes down, but I was always pleasantly surprised to see Darryl included.
Capone: And your own career has sort of paralleled his in that as the show has gone on, you've been doing all of these roles on other shows, certainly in movies, and your parts are getting bigger and bigger with leading roles now. That’s kind of a weirdly similar track.
CR: It is similar. I go in lanes, like you start here and go here, go a little bit further, and things get opened up to me. There are people who will still have me just play a bouncer…
Capone: It’s one of your greatest roles [in KNOCKED UP].
CR: It is, so why go back and try to redo it, unless it’s like a KNOCKED UP situation. But sometimes people only see you in a certain light, so it’s up to you to break out of that, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Capone: You shot a pilot now?
CR: It’s done. It’s locked. It’s into NBC now.
Capone: Can you say anything about it?
CR: Yeah, it’s called "Mr Robinson." It centers on me as a funk band leader where I don’t get paid a lot of cash, so I’ve got to substitute teach on the side, which I’m not too invested in. One day, they put me in a music class, and that changes everything. To the dismay of the principal, I actually try to teach. So then it follows that. It’s very exciting. I remember auditioning years ago and seeing something like Untitled Jim Breuer Project," and one day I was like, “One day my name is going to be there: 'Untitled Craig Robinson Project,'" and lo and behold.
Capone: On IMDB, that’s what it still says, I believe.
CR: Exactly, so we'll see if it gets picked up. If it does, hallelujah. It not, hallelujah. We're just going to keep on going.
Capone: First time we talked on the phone, I think it was of ZACK AND MIRI, we spent way too long talking about DRAGON WARS, which I think made you happy, secretly.
CR: [laughs] It’s a rare occurrence when somebody mentions DRAGON WARS.
Capone: I saw it in the theater even. What can I say?
CR: [barely contained laughter] We came in #5 that week, so that was good.