THE END of the world has been very good for Craig Robinson, but, then, everything's been good for the actor these days.
The suddenly red-hot Robinson has his first leading-man role in the rom-com "Peeples," opening today, and has his second (as the Antichrist!) this fall in a comedy called "RapturePalooza."
Robinson is also part of the ensemble for "This Is the End," playing himself in a comedy about a bunch of actors (including Seth Rogen and Danny McBride) who happen to be at James Franco's apartment when the world ends.
What's so funny about the apocalypse?
Plenty, says Robinson.
"When we were filming 'This Is the End,' there were stories in the paper about some preacher who was predicting the end of the world at a certain date. And the date comes and goes, and nothing happens, and the preacher says, wait, I did the math wrong. To me, that's funny," says the actor, a former stand-up whose stock has risen steadily as a supporting actor in comedies like "Knocked Up" and "Pineapple Express," and TV's "The Office."
"I have a friend who opened Christmas presents early, in case the Mayan calendar was right and the world was coming to an end," he said. "There's plenty of stuff there for comedy."
I asked him if being offered the lead in a comedy about the Antichrist is a compliment or an insult.
"Hey, any time someone from the studio calls and says, 'We have a script for you,' it's a great moment," he said. "A 'pinch-me' moment."
And he goes on to say that his Antichrist is a funny one - "needy and insecure" - he craves power, but he's also in love (with Anna Kendrick), and finds that being anti-Christ isn't the best brand for a potential boyfriend.
The end of the world marks the begining of flush times for Robinson, who's breaking out of the supporting ranks.
"It's different. I get escorted through airports now, and that's very weird. But there's also a lot more responsiblity," said Robinson, who stopped in Philadelphia as part of a multicity blitz to promote "Peeples," one of the duties of a leading man.
In "Peeples," he plays a middle-class guy trying to impress the upper-class parents of his girlfriend, Kerry Washington. The movie, Robinson said, gave him a chance to play a fully realized character, a guy with a "middle and end." And a chance to really try out his acting chops.
"There's a point in the movie, when I'm with Kerry, where we both really had to go dramatic," he said. "It looks like we're breaking up, I'm backing away from her, waiting to see if she'll come with me, and she doesn't. That felt so real to me, I was really in the moment. That really stayed with me, felt like I'd really accomplished something as an actor. I really credit Kerry for that."
His "Peeples" character makes money by playing music for pre-schoolers, something Robinson did to make ends meet while building his career as a stand-up.
He draws on the same experiences (his mother was a high-school teacher) for his proposed situation comedy (working title "Mr. Robinson"), playing a keyboard player and half-hearted part-time sub whose life changes when he gets a full-time position. The pilot is finished; he and the rest of the cast (Jean Smart is the principal) are waiting to see if the show will be picked up.
For Robinson, his headliner status is the culmination of many years of hard work - making the jump to stand-up in Chicago, where he played Bernie Mac's club, then trying to make it in Los Angeles, where he bounced around before hooking up with producer Judd Apatow.
"When I came to L.A., I heard a lot of people say that Hollywood didn't know what to do with me. I played keyboard, I sang, I did one-liners. I was just different. And then when I hooked up with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, they said, 'He does something different? Good, he'll fit right in.' "
Apatow gave Robinson, in "Knocked Up," the role of the bouncer who denies entry to Leslie Mann and Katherine Heigl on the grounds that they're too old or too pregnant.
It was Robinson's improvised idea to say "no old or pregnant bitches."
"The thing is, I didn't know Leslie was Judd's wife, and I'm glad I didn't know, or that scene would have played much differently."
Robinson's next gig is a sequel to the black-comedy hit "Hot Tub Time Machine," which he said is the "craziest thing I've ever done," judging by the script.