On Movies: Robinson tackles his first lead role in 'Peeples'
Craig Robinson is on one of those if-this-is-Wednesday-it-must-be-Philadelphia tours. On Thursday and Friday, it was D.C. He threw out the first ball at a Nationals game. ("Right down the pike, and it made it to the plate," he says, beaming.)
is on one of those if-this-is-Wednesday-it-must-be-Philadelphia tours. On Thursday and Friday, it was D.C. He threw out the first ball at a Nationals game. ("Right down the pike, and it made it to the plate," he says, beaming.)
Then New Orleans over the weekend, where he took in Earth, Wind and Fire at the Jazz Fest. ("In the rain. For an hour. It was awesome.") Atlanta on Monday. Chicago on Tuesday. And now: "Here we are" - Philly.
But Robinson, the 41-year-old cast member of The Office and costar of a bunch of big-screen comedies (including the Judd Apatow hits Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, and that sci-fi masterpiece, Hot Tub Time Machine), isn't complaining.
The grueling schedule is for a worthy cause: talking up Peeples, the Tyler Perry-produced comedy in which Robinson has the lead role. His first.
"That's exactly right," Robinson says. "And being my first lead, my biggest struggle was to keep that voice in my head from going, 'Well, you should act like this. You should do this. You're a lead actor now.'
"And I would think, That's not who I am. Keep it over there."
So, essentially Robinson was talking to himself. And it worked. The pressure didn't get to him.
"I would not let it," he affirms. "Especially when you have so many people to throw the ball to, and they're not letting me down - so I wouldn't let them down."
Those people would be his costars. In Peeples, written and directed by Tina Gordon Chism - and opening Friday - Robinson plays Wade Walker, a lovable mutt of a guy, a part-time music therapist for grade schoolers. To get his kids to avoid having accidents, he'll sing "Speak It, Don't Leak It."
"It's a way of getting kids to express themselves through words instead of internalizing their problems and then it comes out in pee," he explains. "Unexpected pee."
Robinson, in a hotel room overlooking Logan Circle, pauses for a moment. He's mulling.
"Hmm . . . pee . . . Peeples. I wonder if there's a correlation there?"
The Peeples of Peeples are a close-knit, upper-crust African American clan. Wade is living with Grace (Kerry Washington) in the city, but she's never gotten around to mentioning her boyfriend to her parents (David Alan Grier and S. Epatha Merkerson), or her sister (Kali Hawk), or younger brother (Tyler James Williams), or grandparents (Melvin Van Peebles and Diahann Carroll).
So, when Wade shows up unannounced at the grand family house in the Hamptons, all sorts of embarrassment, awkwardness, and misunderstandings ensue.
Robinson had worked for the prolific Perry before - a smaller role in the writer/director/actor/producer's 2007 hit, Daddy's Little Girls. Some of Robinson's costars have appeared in Perry pictures, too. But this time around, the Atlanta-based film biz titan let first-timer Chism take the director's chair. Perry dropped in on the production only once, early on.
"He flew in, stayed the day, checked it out, said, 'You guys got this,' and took off," Robinson recalls.
"In his ultimate wisdom, he has once again branched off and expanded his brand, and he's shining a light on us. . . . So it's an honor, and we're humbled by his generosity."
Robinson says Perry is relentless.
"He does not stop. And he shows no signs of slowing down. When I worked with him on Daddy's Little Girls, he was in control then, and just awesome and funny and throwing out lines. If you want to be ultra-successful, he is the role model."
Though The Office is over and done with - the cast shot the final one-hour episode of the NBC series at the end of March, and it airs May 16 - Robinson has made a pilot with the network that he hopes will get picked up. And he has three movies on the summer slate:
Rapture-Palooza, which is set "two years into the Rapture, and the Antichrist has taken over. And I play the Antichrist." Anna Kendrick, Ken Jeong, Ana Gasteyer, and Rob Corddry also star. It opens June 7.
This Is the End, in which the likes of Robinson, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Emma Watson play themselves - all over at James Franco's house for a wild bash, when something like the apocalypse happens.
"It's a howler," Robinson says. And you have to believe him.