EXCLUSIVE: Craig Robinson Wants to Be Taken Seriously -- At Least, for Now
By Stacy Lambe
"I welcome the change," Craig Robinson tells ET on a Wednesday afternoon in August. The actor, most famous for playing Darryl Philbin on The Officeand comedic films like Hot Tub Time Machineand This Is the End, is flipping the script, so to speak, with two major dramatic roles showcasing his more serious side.
"I saw it in the back of my mind somewhere," Robinson, 44, says of the distinct shift in his work. "I didn't really seek it out, but it found me."
Robinson plays Curtis Gentry, a single father, in the coming-of-age dramedy Morris From America, which is currently airing on DirecTV and has a limited theatrical release on Friday, Aug. 19. The film tells the story of 13-year-old Morris, played by Markees Christmas, who relocates to Germany with his father. While Morris struggles to fit in his new surroundings, Curtis tries to find a way to connect with his son.
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"That was a challenge to, you know, take each other to that level," Robinson says of bonding with Christmas to fully realize their father-son relationship onscreen. The actor -- who doesn't have kids of his own, but does have two turtles -- ended up "treating him like a little brother."
While he says he never felt restrained in the role, which is a far from the louder parts he's landed as one of Judd Apatow's recurring players, he was aware that audiences are not used to seeing him be tender. "I felt I just had to do what was there," Robinson says.
His effort paid off, earning him the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Individual Performance at Sundance and a recurring role as the villainous Ray Heyworth on USA's Emmy-nominated Mr. Robot, which is currently in the middle of its second season. Creator Sam Esmail saw a few scenes from Morris and told Robinson, "You can make the turn that I need you to make," so the actor signed up for the mysterious part.
"It's definitely an intense show," Robinson says of working on the hacker hit. Admittedly, he hasn't watched any of the new season (though he did binge the first before signing on) but has been told he’s really creepy. "Which I took as a compliment," he says. "If you can be creepy on Mr. Robot, that's good."
Despite not watching the show, he does enjoy reading up on all the theories. His favorite at the time: "Friends ask, 'Are you an orderly at the mental hospital?'" While not wholly right, fans were proven correct when (SPOILER ALERT) Mr. Robot revealed that the show's central character, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), has, in fact, been in a correctional facility for all of season two.
While his other major film roles -- voicing Mr. Grits in Seth Rogen's R-rated animated Sausage Party and a supporting part in Mark and Jay Duplass' upcoming romantic dramedy Table 19 -- put him back in the comedy realm, Robinson has no set plans for what direction his career will take. For now, he's wholeheartedly embracing the newfound attention. "It's like, 'Alright, we got that.' Let's keep that going for a while and see what happens," he says.