From 'The Office' to 'Peeples'; An Interview with Craig Robinson

From 'The Office' to 'Peeples'; An Interview with Craig Robinson

Most people may recognize him as Darryl Philbin, the deadpan warehouse forman on The Office, but Craig Robinson has been steadily appearing in comedies such as Pineapple Express and Hot Tub Time Machine for years. This year alone he appears in five films, one of which is the upcoming comedy Peeples. Robinson recently sat down with Shakefire to talk about his role in the film as well the influence of music in his life and coming to the conclusion of The Office.

Peeples marks Robinson’s first starring role as a solo lead and features him as Wade Walker, a musical therapist who meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. After having the script brought to his attention, he met with director Tina Gordon Chism where “she’ll tell you that I fell asleep in the meeting. I say it was just a little catnap,” explains Robinson.

“We met and we met again and she was just so passionate and so cool. She’s a great person and smart, and she painted a picture for me for what this movie is going to be, and I was on board. Then she said you get to kiss Kerry Washington and I was like, ‘where do you want me to sign?’”

Washington plays Wade’s girlfriend, Grace Peeples, who returns to her family’s home in New Bedford, Massachusetts for an annual weekend celebration of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.  That’s when Wade shows up unannounced only to find out that they are oblivious to his existence. There he comes face to face with the man of the house, Judge Peeples, played by veteran comedian David Alan Grier.

“He is amazing,” says Robinson on working with Grier. “He owns every room he goes in, and he was hysterical. It’s one of the most amazing things you can witness and I think he’s one of the funniest dudes on the planet. He’s a great person. It’s hard to out silly me and I think he out sillies me.”

In addition to his humor, Grier brings decades of experience to the film. Like his oftentimes intimidating yet nurturing onscreen counterpart, he was the father on set as well. Peeples is Chism’s directorial debut and Grier was the expert on set.

“I think it made everybody on the same page and coming to play,” says Robinson. “David said it best. He wanted to be there for Tina. You know she’s getting a thousand calls a day. Whatever we needed we were there for each other because you know there’s enough pressure outside so let’s just come on and create with the family and see what we come up with.”

This, of course, meant that there was plenty of room for improv as well.

“If David Alan Grier throws out a line you’re going to go, ‘yes, let’s try that for sure.’ Tina was open for playing. It’s not like we were running from out words. It was just like if you can embellish something here, cool, if not it’s fine with the script. It was definitely encouraged to play and we got some fun stuff out of that.”

One scene in particular involves his character confronting Grace at a grocery story about her past relationships. Apparently she used to have a thing for older men, and that’s when Robinson starts spouting out a list of famous black men, asking her if she ever dated them. “I don’t even know if there were references to start,” recalls Robinson. “Once we started going with that it was just like listing them all until they overlapped into the next scene.”

Improv comedy is nothing new to Robinson. He learned much of what he knows while at the Second City comedy club in Chicago. From there, he went on to LA to study with acting coach Ivana Chubbuck.

“When I first started at Second City I was going to do standup so I thought they taught you how to create an act or whatever,” says Robinson. “Not so much. It was all about the improv and sketch kind of stuff. It’s helped me tremendously.”

Much of Robinson’s comedy career has revolved around improv, especially with The Office. It’s now been nine seasons that he’s starred as Darryl, and with the series coming to an end this season, it’s a very bittersweet moment. It was only recently that it all fell into perspective when an excited fan approached him.

“I was at a jazz festival and this girl was like, ‘oh my god, oh my god. I’ve been watching you from high school through college.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that’s right. Somebody started high school and finished college watching The Office.’”

“It’s sweet. It’s been an amazing and huge part of my life. It launched my career and opened doors unknown. Made some great friends and some great memories. I’m not sad about it. It’s like closing a chapter. I will miss a lot of things about it but it feels like we had enough time to deal with and be ready to move on. They’re taking us out very classy too. The final episode is everything you expect from The Office, a lot of humor, a lot of heart, a lot of awkwardness. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”

In addition to Peeples, Robinson already has a lot on his plate now that his work on The Office has concluded. In July he plays himself in the comedy This Is The End and he’s already begun production on a new pilot series that he hopes will be picked up by NBC.

You can watch Craig Robinson this Friday, May 10 when Peeples hits theaters nationwide.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
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