Craig Robinson is ready to take the lead.
The funnyman actor (he hails from Chicago) has long played the easy-going, dry-witted line-zinger on NBC’s wildly popular sitcom, The Office. As warehouse worker Darryl, he kept the regional manager of a small-town, mid-level paper company in check. His scenes were memorable because he was funny and organic, and, well, because he was the Black guy.
The Office signs off for good this month in grand fashion with a supersized finale, but a new chapter opens for Robinson. And you better believe he’s ready for it. This week he’ll co-star in Peeples, a fun romantic comedy that romantically pairs him with Kerry Washington and comically pits him against David Alan Grier.
And with a little luck, more lead roles are on the way.
EBONY: Why Peeples? It’s an ensemble film, but it’s really a Craig Robinson film.
Craig Robinson: Tina Gordon Chisholm was pitching the movie to me. She was telling me all about it, and I gotta tell you, I got this self-sabotage thing going on that I was like, “eh…” But then she’s so lovable, and I’m a fan of movies that she’s written. It felt like we could do something special together. And then she laid it out that Kerry Washington was in it and I get to kiss her, and I was like, “OK! I’m in!”
EBONY: What was it like working with Kerry Washington?
CR: This is my first lead role, and it could not have been more perfect being with Kerry Washington, who is everything that you see and then some. She’s gorgeous. She’s classy. She’s brilliant and she’s naturally funny. She can sing… she’s just great. Going in, I was a fan and I was like, “OK, Kerry Washington, be cool, just be cool, try to be cool…” It was a little intimidating, and then she came in, she’s like, “Hey! What’s up!” She was so cool, and it was like, “Oh, this is family. We’re about to do this.”
EBONY: Kerry’s on a hot series and you’re on a hot series, NBC’s The Office, that is about to sign off soon. It’s been a good run. Can you just talk about what The Office has done for your career, and what this next chapter looks like for you?
CR: With The Office, it really feels like everywhere you go, you got friends. People approach you, they just love the show, they love my character, they love other characters, and they always have a favorite episode. It’s just such a warm show, and it’s been amazing for my career. It’s the thing I’m noted and noticed most for, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
It’s sad to see it go away in the sense that I will miss these top-notch performers making me laugh on a daily basis. But I will say this: Greg Daniels has escorted this to a classy, heartfelt ending. We all got an end to see where our characters can go, and it wrapped up and we’re gonna go to a party in Scranton. So it’s over but it lives on.
EBONY: What about you? Are you saying goodbye to TV for a little bit and planning to focus on films?
CR: That is up to the powers that be. I just signed a pilot called Mr. Robinson. It is based on my life as a music teacher. I have a band and I play the funk bandleader who substitutes on the side for cash when he has to. It’s a comedy. It’s shot for NBC, we finished the pilot and I love it. I love being a producer on there and being in the editing room. It will be the next chapter, should this come to fruition with the pickup.
EBONY: Peeples isn’t a Black story; it actually is like Meet the Parents, but with Black folks not talking about being Black. Refreshing, right?
CR: We knew we were making something special just from the first day. There’s a lot of factors here. You got Tina Gordon Chisholm—writer, first-time director, Black woman making this movie. Tyler Perry shining his light on it as exec producer. Diahann Carroll, Melvin Peebles—both legends. And David Allan Grier, who is the funniest man on two legs who was the father of the set. I’ve admired him for forever. It happens to be a Black family, but it could be any family because it’s a human story.
EBONY: Does getting opportunities like these help you breathe a little easier?
CR: I got a buddy who said that no matter how good Southwest Airlines is doing, they always act or speak like the bottom is falling out. They always act like they’re right about to go into the red. It’s like, Hollywood is still Hollywood. Right now, I’m in what I call a bubble of hope. Some might call it fingers crossed or what have you, but I got Hot Tub Time Machine Part 2, we’re looking to film in June. I got Mr. Robinson that has been filmed and we’re looking and hoping to get it picked up. But, you know, nothing is concrete. It could all go away, so you have to keep your mind on your grind.
EBONY: What would you love to see happen for Darryl in The Office?”Ten years from now, what is he doing?
CR: He’s the owner of a team. That’s what he’s doing in 10 years, because he’s gotten so cool with athletes and so much respect that yeah, that’s what he’s doing. That’s what I see.