News Column

Apocalypse and The Office: Craig Robinson ends the world. Twice. [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (CA)]

June 6, 2013

YellowBrix

It's just not Judgment Day without Craig Robinson.

In a Hollywood coincidence that seems almost divinely engineered, the affable actor from NBC's just-completed "The Office" appears in two apocalyptic comedies, "Rapture-Palooza" and "This Is the End," that open within a week of each other in L.A.

In the former, coming out today, Robinson plays the Antichrist. For the latter, in theaters next Wednesday, he plays Craig Robinson, who finds himself trapped in James Franco's Hollywood Hills home with a bunch of other comic actors (Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Seth Rogen, all playing themselves) after a wild party is interrupted by the Apocalypse.

Robinson thanks God for his wonderful career.

"I'm dancing with all of these camps," the 41-year-old Chicagoan says not only of "End's" Judd Apatow gang and "The Office" cast, but "Palooza's" all-star comedy team of Anna Kendrick ("Pitch Perfect"), John Francis Daley (like Franco and Rogen, a graduate of Apatow's seminal "Freaks and Geeks"), Rob Corddry ("Children's Hospital," "The Daily Show") and Ken Jeong ("The Hangover" films, "Community").

"I'm humbled and honored and ready for those challenges. You've got to go into each of these scenarios dancing on your toes, ready to play ball. It's truly an honor to be with these different crews. I know they've all made me laugh, so if I can be a part of that and add something to it, hey, that's what's up."

Set a few years after the biblical tribulations have taken hold, "Rapture-Palooza" is about a plucky couple, Lindsey (Kendrick) and Ben (Daley), just trying to get along amidst flaming boulder showers and sadistic -- although, fortunately, often stoned -- demonic wraiths. When Robinson's world-dominating Beast gets a look at Lindsey, he has to make her his bride.

Even with all of his powers, though, that's not an easy task.

"It's a swim through a river of comedy and things to pick apart with this guy," Robinson says. "He's so insecure and he thinks he's so charming but he's so inappropriate. He has all the power in the world and he's the wrong person to have that power. It just seemed such a challenge to make sure you play that right and get it to the funny."

Raised by a music teacher and a corporate attorney, Robinson attended a Methodist church while growing up in South Side Chicago. He says the Book of Revelations was not emphasized there, but we still had to ask if he was concerned about going to hell because of his role in this movie, which was directed by Australian commercials whiz Paul Middleditch.

"For doing this movie?" Robinson ponders for a moment. "I think God has a sense of humor, and he's looked out for me so much, I don't see why he would send me there. But we'll see ... I hope not!"

Questions of what it takes to get to heaven, somewhat surprisingly, play a part in "This Is the End," along with acres of foulmouthed, sex-and-drug obsessed, Hollywood satirizing comedy. Scripted by Rogen and his longtime writing partner Evan Goldberg, "End" is also the pair's feature-directing debut.

The idea was for everybody to play versions of themselves in the film, and bust one another's chops and perceived personae repeatedly throughout the ever-deteriorating, end-of-the-world scenario.

"Seth and Evan were pitching it around town and nobody wanted to play with their own name, but they stood strong with that," Robinson says admiringly. "So everybody was cast in truth, and obviously it's heightened versions of ourselves. There are some things in there that I'd say and do, but other things that I'd never say and do.

"We had a blast," Robinson says of "End's" misbehaving. "Shooting with those guys is like making something in the basement with your cousins or something. There was a ton of improvisation. I did a lot of improvisation on 'Rapture-Palooza,' but it was a lot of me. This was, like, six guys in a room a bunch of times, and you've got to get in where you fit in. Those guys are not playing; they go for it."

Robinson, who's appeared in many films with the Apatow group, praises his other acting families, too. Like the crew from "Peeples," the comedy about a regular guy in love with a rich gal that marked his movie-starring debut last month.

"Kerry Washington played Grace, my girlfriend; David Alan Grier played her father -- I couldn't ask for a better cast in my first leading man role," Robinson says. "There was so much talent and comedy."

And of course, there was that long-running, expertly deadpan "Office" ensemble.

"I'm gonna miss those cats making me laugh," Robinson confirms. "Those were the most amazing relationships over there and it's sad to see that go. But it does open the way for these new things on the horizon, which is awesome. And we couldn't have been escorted out any more classy than the way (showrunner) Greg Daniels did it. He tied up all the stories, and the farewell party in Scranton ... just a wonderful thing to be a part of."

A music teacher like his mom before he embarked on an acting career, Robinson joined Chicago's famed Second City improv troupe while studying for his master's degree in education. He still does stand-up and writes and plays his own songs, often on the same night. Robinson and no less than Snoop Lion perform the tender R&B love song "Take Yo Panties Off" on the "This Is the End" soundtrack.

"It chose me and there was nothing I could do about it," he says of the comedy bug. "While I was teaching in Indiana, I read a proverb, I think by Henry David Thoreau: 'Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, "It might have been." ' I just remember thinking I can say I'm funny, but I can't be, y'know, 70 years old going, 'Hey, I could've done that. I could've been an actor.' Sure. Sure, you could've done that."

Humble but not one for false modesty, Robertson isn't surprised that things have worked out. More or less. Well, just more.

"I definitely envisioned it," he says. "This is not a place you find yourself at. I think between the hard work and the people that you select to be on your team, people who are smarter than me and know what the heck is going on, it happens. So I definitely at some point envisioned it.

"I thought I would be a little thinner," he admits.

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