ZACK AND MIRI's Craig Robinson talks porn with Capone (plus a few tidbits about 'The Office')!!!
Published at: Oct. 28, 2008, 9:57 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
First of all, watch this:
That's Craig Robinson from his early stand-up days, funny as shit, and of course you know who Craig Robinson is. I like to refer to him as comedy's secret weapon, but after his co-starring role in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, I doubt he'll stay a secret for too much longer. The Chicago native worked his way up the stand-up circuit in my fair city, and when he decided he wanted to pursue acting, he honed his improv skills at Second City. After accumulating some solid one-off guest spots on shows like "The Bernie Mac Show," "Friends," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Arrested Development," Robinson landed his first real film role, in a classic bit of trash called DRAGON WARS (aka D-WAR). But after that auspicious beginning, he started getting noticed by the likes of Tyler Perry (who put Robinson in DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL) and Judd Apatow (Robinson's brief but unforgettable KNOCKED UP scene as the club doorman who won't allow Leslie Mann in his club is one of the greatest scenes ever. "You're old as fuck...for this club, not the world." We talk about this scene a great deal.
Since KNOCKED UP, Robinson's film career has spanned roles that are basically extended cameos (WALK HARD; FANBOYS) to major supporting parts (PINEAPPLE EXPRESS; ZACK AND MIRI). Of course, I haven't mentioned the TV show that brought Robinson his earliest fame, playing warehouse worker Darryl Philbin on "The Office." Darryl is the man behind the man. He's in the unique position of knowing everybody's secrets, fears, and weaknesses. And he uses his vast wisdom to make life just a little better for himself. He can come on screen for 30 seconds, say two or three lines, and absolutely lay waste to any scene on that show. He's a master, and it's great to see him really get to create a full-blooded character thanks to Kevin Smith's ZACK AND MIRI. Robinson and his friend Seth Rogen are a great pairing on screen, and their playful chemistry is the comedy backbone of the film. On top of all of that, the guy is a blast to talk to. Here's Craig Robinson…
Capone: Hey, Craig. How are you?
Craig Robinson: Great. How you doing man? My man.
Capone: Great. Good to talk to you. If you don't have any objections, I'd like to spend the entire time we have together talking about DRAGON WARS.
CR: I finally found somebody who brought that to the light!
Capone: Has enough time passed that you can now talk about it without crying?
CR: [Laughs] Right on.
Capone: When I watched that movie, it kind of reminded me of the U.S. version of GODZILLA where they insert those Raymond Burr shots in the middle of the Japanese movies, except this is a Korean movie.
CR: [Laughs] How did you end up watching DRAGON WARS?
Capone: It played in the theaters in Chicago. I saw it on the big screen.
CR: Nice! You are rare, my friend. It broke records in Korea, but we topped out at about $10 million over here.
Capone: Well, fortunately, you’ve moved past it to bigger and better things. You’re from Chicago, right?
CR: Yessir, born and raised.
Capone: With ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, I talked to [director/writer] Kevin [Smith] and Seth [Rogen] and Elizabeth [Banks] at Comic-Con in July, but I hadn’t seen the film, so you’re really the first guy I’ve talked to since I’ve seen the movie. And, it’s great to see you in any film from beginning to end; you’re there the whole time. That had to be a nice change for you.
CR: Well, yeah, it was nice to be in there. And, I saw it the other day, too. I saw it last Monday. And, I’m very happy with the final product. That was my first time seeing it, that cut of it. I had seen a longer cut. I saw it at the premiere, and I couldn’t be happier. I guess I didn’t get on people’s nerves too much, so they left it in.
Capone: But, usually, people know you in smaller parts or cameos in some other films, but it really was great to see you there the whole time and actually get to create a character.
CR: Thank you. Yeah, this is my biggest to date, outside of D-WAR.
Capone: Right. And, I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but it seems like in every scene featuring nudity you’re in those scenes. You're not nude, of course. But, you seem to make your way into every nude scene.
CR: [laughs] Yeah, I got a few of those in there, too, so it’s a win-win.
Capone: That’s right. One of the things that I talked to Kevin about was that the film, in a strange way--though you shot it a while ago--anticipated the economic downturn that we’re having right now in this country.
CR: How about that, right. The timing of it is uncanny. I thought about that as I was watching it. I was, like, ‘Wow, this is really…yeah, this is happening.’ There might be some actual pornos going on right now that otherwise wouldn’t be, had it not been for the economy.
Capone: Yeah, and I anticipate critics noticing that, too--‘Here is a comedy for the times’. That is definitely new for Kevin, for sure. Had you been a fan of his before working with him?
CR: Absolutely. And, I’ve always thought Kevin had his finger on the pulse of pop culture, in terms of saying things that are kind of taboo, for instance, like a CHASING AMY kind of movie. Stuff that you’re kind of thinking, but it was, like, ‘Wow, man, he just went there with a whole movie about it.’ So, yeah, I’ve definitely been a fan of his and was looking forward to reading his words and creating a character with him.
Capone: I know Seth has said before that he probably wouldn’t even be in comedy were it not for Kevin’s influence from his earlier films, for sure.
You and Seth have been in a lot of movies together, even if you weren’t in the same scenes. Is there a pact between you, does he try to get you in as many of his films as possible?
CR: Well, he definitely has opened the door for me in that regard, especially after KNOCKED UP, where I was cast by [director/writer] Judd [Apatow], and then he brought me on in PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. And, you know, it’s a whole crew of people that approve you. But, yeah, Seth definitely spoke up for me on this one, too. I mean, I had to audition and everything for it, but Seth did end up telling me, he said, “Man, I was, like, ‘Gotta hire Craig, gotta hire Craig’.” So, yeah, we’re fast friends, and I’m grateful to him for it.
Capone: That’s good. I’m glad to see the two of you play good friends in a movie, too. That actually works really well, I think, in this film.
CR: Yeah, it was a nice turn. In the audition, we actually got to let out some of that chemistry, so he was key in me getting that role, I’m telling you that.
Capone: I remember that just the day before I interviewed him, I went to a screening of FANBOYS that you have a cameo in. And, I told him that I had seen this version, and he didn’t know which version it was, but he said, “Is Craig Robinson in it?” And, I said, “Yeah, he is. He’s in it very briefly.” He’s, like, “Okay, it’s like a hybrid version.”
CR: Yeah, yeah, ’cause they ended up getting, like, the…I guess there was all kind of boycotting, and the original director was thrown off, so he [Rogen] ended up approving the final cut, which is a hybrid, yes, of his version and the director they brought in to finish the movie.
Capone: Yeah, ‘The cancer version, plus all the celebrity cameos’--that’s how Seth put it.
CR: I’m interested in seeing how that one came out, too.
Capone: Actually, I heard just yesterday that they pushed it back, once again, to January, so we’ll have to wait a little longer for that one. I thought it was funny, I don’t know why they’re holding it up.
Capone: What would you say were some of the key differences between the way Kevin directs his cast and the way the projects you’ve worked on with Judd Apatow have gone?
CR: Kevin is real laid back and kind of just trusts and lets you go and do your thing. Judd held my hand a little more. But, Kevin, he would step in where he needed to inspire. It was really interesting, really just kind of like your buddy directing you, like, ‘Go ahead, knock it out, and I’ll be there if I see something that I want to change.'
So, yeah, he was laid back. There was one scene I did with Tisha Campbell…she came out, like, forget the script, she came out with this improv, off the top. And, she was just attacking me, and I was just sitting there dumbfounded. And, Kevin just kind of stepped in…He was, like, “Hey, you gonna take that?” And, that’s all it took, and then we were tit-for-tat after that.
Capone: She is an inspired bit of casting, by the way, because I had been convinced we weren’t ever going to see the ‘wife’ character in the film. So, when she pops up at the end, I couldn’t believe it was her. I haven’t seen her for a while. So, I was thrilled to see the two of you just go at it like that at the end.
CR: Yeah, that was fun, and knowing that…like, just for me, I was thinking stupid stuff like ‘Oh, man, she played Martin [Lawrence]’s wife and Damon Wayan’s wife, now she’s playing my wife [laughs], so…it was pretty interesting. It was cool to work with her. She couldn’t be sweeter or more talented. There happened to be a piano around when she came to set, and I sat down and started playing, and then, that was it. We didn’t even eat lunch.
Capone: You’re actually the first actor I think I’ve ever spoken to who’s worked with Tyler Perry. Tell me a little about that, because there’s sort of this veil of mystery about the way he works. I’d love to interview him sometime, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. How was it working for him? How does he work? I realize it wasn’t a huge role, but what do you remember about that?
CR: Tyler was a lot of fun, because he was…Actually, Judd did this, too, and Kevin did a little of it. But, once we started getting stuff down, he would through out lines as we were going. And, they were always funny, so we were just back and forth. Next thing you know, he would throw the line, and I would catch it and put it into the character. So, it was a lot of fun in that respect.
He almost has a regal-ness about him, ’cause it was, like, I sat down…We ran a scene once, me and the stand-in. This was before Gabrielle [Union] came and before Tyler came to the set, so I didn’t give them everything. They thought, you know, we were just running the scene. So, I didn’t play the character off, because it was, like, 'Oh, I don’t get to rehearsal with Gabrielle? Whatever!'
So, then, they were, like, “Okay, we’re bringing in Gabrielle and Mr. Perry.” And, then, when they came in, then I let loose, and I knew I was good, because when they yell “Cut,” everybody was cracking up, one of those kind of deals. So once that was on, then Tyler was, like, “I could do this all day.” And, I stopped by the set the next day. I had only had that one day of work--I was going to get may hair cut or something--and he threw me in a scene. “Get him dressed,” and he threw me right in a new scene, which didn’t make the movie, but…wow, yeah, so it was real cool working with him.
Capone: I had heard that with some of the theater stuff he was doing before he started making movies, that was kind of what he known for, just improvising, just ad-libbing.
CR: Yeah, I saw one of those plays, and he would just go off, and it would pretty much turn into a…As he did the Medea character, it looked like he just turned into a comic on set and was doing his thing. So, it was cool to have that atmosphere going.
Capone: One of the things that people don’t bring up that much is that the scene you’re in KNOCKED UP is one of the most emotional scenes that Leslie Mann has in that movie. Your line is really…first of all, it’s a classic line. It’s in the popular canon. It’s something I hear people pull out all the time: “You’re old as fuck--for this club, not for the earth.” That’s the greatest line, man. You enter the lexicon with that. You’re coming on to her, but you’re also sledgehammering her self-esteem. That’s a really tough scene to watch sometimes. Did you even realize it when you were doing it--or were you just trying to be funny--that you were crushing this woman?
CR: [laughs] Once Judd was, like, “Go for it,” and Leslie really tore into me. I mean, there were different versions, but she hit me so hard that I was, like, ‘Well, here we go!’ And, then, she is attractive…and, at the time, I didn’t know that was Judd’s wife. I wonder had it gone any different had I known that, because when I said, “I would love to tear that ass up,” I was feeling that moment. So, to realize that later on, I was, like, ‘Oh, man’.
Capone: Wow, I can’t believe you didn’t know she was his wife.
CR: I know, I mean, I was, like, Okay, just getting to know that Apatow was huge, and I was doing a gig in Vegas that week, so I was just…and it was two shows a night at the Tropicana, and I was flying standby, so I had to make sure I was able to get back to Vegas. So, I had to fly in that Friday morning and took off Friday. That Friday night did the scene and flew back. It was, like, Memorial Day weekend, or something like that. It was just a whole lot going on. And, all the flights were booked, so it was, like, ‘Omigod, am I going to be able to make the gig?’, so nervous about that.
It was an introduction into that world of filmmaking, into Judd’s world and all that, so it was cool to just let loose. The top half of that dialogue was Judd, and then, the bottom half was me, improv-ing the stuff that he just beautifully cut together.
Capone: I got to ask you just one “Office” question here: I love the relationship between Darryl and Kelly. Is that going to be explored a little further than it has been so far? It’s a very different dynamic than what Kelly had before with Ryan.
CR: [laughs] At this point in time, it hasn’t as much…I mean, there’s, like, a little bit in there. So, you just got to watch and see on that one, because I don’t know how to talk without giving stuff away.
Capone: So, I guess what I’m wondering is--I don’t want you to give anything away, obviously--but, are they going to show a little more?
CR: They’re definitely going to go into the relationship.
Capone: I always love Darryl, because he’s the guy that knows, like, he’s the smartest guy there. He knows everything. He knows how to play everybody. He knows how to get exactly what he wants. The scene where you go to Michael for the raise is the greatest scene, because you’re just toying with every fear of Michael’s and every prejudice that he would never admit to. It’s just the greatest character.
CR: I wish there was more Darryl in my real life, [laugh] ’cause people have said that before. It’s actually helped me shape the character a little bit, when I hear stuff like that. But, yeah, he’s ‘no nonsense’, and his thinking starts and ends with Michael Scott, so you treat him with…I think the secret is Darryl treats him with baby gloves, or else he would probably have torn his head off by now.
Capone: That’s right. Is that how it started out with creating that character, or is that something that developed over time?
CR: It definitely has developed from the first time we did it, which was for me the basketball episode…Actually, the first time I did it was the episode before that, when Dwight was popping out of a box. I had auditioned for the show, but got called in to…I guess they created Darryl for me, so my very first being established on the screen, I was just kind of staring at Dwight like he was stupid and shaking my head. And, it’s been that way ever since, save for getting a little bit closer with all the characters, and getting to know them a little bit, and showing part of the friendships here and there, and dating Kelly, of course.
Capone: Right. Let me ask you: You have a role in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2, is that right, you and Keith Powell, playing Tuskegee Airmen?
CR: This is correct.
Capone: Is there humor there their struggle?
CR: Oh, yeah! Keith plays Tuskegee Airman #1. I’m Tuskegee Airman #2. We got one bit, and it’s hysterical. Keith kind of annoys me, and I just kind of call him on it every chance I get. So, we’re some of the characters that come to life in the museum at the Smithsonian. And, we get to do some fight scenes, and he’s annoying me during those as well, so that was a whole lot of fun.
Capone: Let me jump back to ZACK AND MIRI…When you’re in a film with people like Katie Morgan or Traci Lords, do you find that you have to kind of play it cool and talk about anything but porn? Or, do you let it all loose, do you not care about stuff like that?
CR: Well, for Traci, you know, she’s been out of the game for a while. And, she had just had a baby when we did it, who’s a year old now, and her guy was there and stuff, so it never really came up with Traci.
And, with Katie, I mean, we just fell in love. She’s like my little sister, so we used to hang out all the time. And, Katie has no bones about, she’ll be, like…I mean, she’ll sit up and show you her stuff. We watched her HBO stuff…but, it wasn’t a trip. She has no problem talking about it. She is a brilliant young lady, and she will tell you herself, she can speak on any subject, whether she knows it or not. So, it wasn’t a problem at all. There was no taboo there.
Capone: That’s the only way I know her is from that HBO stuff. I think Seth’s comment about her was, “She doesn’t own clothes.”
CR: Well, I saw her in them, let’s just let it go with that…She’s got the cutest dogs. That’s her dog in the movie, by the way. She has several of them, and they’re all awesome.
Capone: How did you get into acting? I know you did stand-up, right? But, how did you get the acting, or was that always part of the plan?
CR: It was definitely part of the plan. I started stand-up in Chicago, and then, as it got a little better here and there, I thought I should take some acting classes, so I started studying in Chicago. And, I took some improv courses over there at Second City, went through their training. So, it all fueled…everything fuels everything. Sometimes, when I’m in my stand-up to keep it fresh, I might actually do…I won’t say I do characters, but there are certain jokes where I can stretch my acting chops. I started auditioning a little bit here and there in Chicago, and I had some really nice…I mean, I remember one casting agent was, like, ‘You don’t have an agent?’, like she was shocked. So, it gave me the confidence to keep going with it. And, then, I did Montreal 10 years ago, which was the Just for Laughs Festival, and so I got a deal in the movement from Chicago, where I was teaching, to come to Los Angeles. And, from there, I started doing auditions and living the Hollywood life.
Capone: So, you moved out of Chicago 10 years ago?
CR: I moved out of Chicago in 1999. Yeah, you can Youtube some of old stand-ups. There’s definitely a few pieces. I think they’ve got my Def Jam appearance on there.
Capone: Thank you very much for talking to me. You’re great in the movie, and I look forward to you in whatever you do.
CR: I appreciate it. I was very excited to see AintItCool on the list of people I was talking to today. This was fun for me as well. Right on, take care.