For the last nine seasons Craig Robinson has played Darryl, one of the most understated characters on TV. "The Office" may be closing out its ninth and final season next week, but Robinson's profile is about to increase exponentially. He has three movies coming out, including the idiots-at-the-apocalypse comedy "This Is the End" (with Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill) and "Rapture-Palooza" (playing no less than the Antichrist himself, seducing Anna Kendrick).
But first comes the romantic comedy "Peeples," about an ordinary guy looking to impress his future in-laws — a family so accomplished and wealthy, he dubs them the "chocolate Kennedys."
It is a role that draws on Robinson's strengths as a musical comedian, a talent the North Beverly native honed during his post-collegiate years when he was a Chicago music teacher by day, fledgling comic by night.
Last week he was back home, reliving some of those memories for me. When a nearby publicist indicated our time was coming to an end, Robinson wasn't ready to stop. "No, let's just talk more!"
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q:This is your first lead role in a movie. How did that come about?
A: Tina Gordon Chism, the writer-director, she actually lived this character. The way she tells it, she was dating a guy whose family looked perfect on the outside, but it kept unraveling, all these secrets and stuff.
Lionsgate wanted her to talk to me (starts to laugh) so we met, and, the way she'll say it is that I fell asleep, like hard-core, during the meeting. But it was just a little catnap.
A: I had worked crazy hours on "The Office." Probably a 14- or 15-hour day. And didn't get much sleep before that. And this was the only time she could meet. So how is that my fault?
But then we had another meeting, thank God, and she was telling me about these amazing people who were attached so far — Kerry Washington and David Alan Grier — and from there I was like, "Yes!"
Q: How much of the role was tailored to you and your real-life back-story?
A: The music aspect was put in because of me. He was just a child therapist at first, and then it was like, well let's put some music in there! You know, he's not a fully credentialed dude, but he likes to work with kids.
I used to teach music, K through 8, at Horace Mann. I left to go to LA in 1999, so I was there three years.
Q: What was that like?
A: At times extremely rewarding. At times extremely frustrating. I did OK as a teacher, but some of the kids had to tell me, you know, stop playing around.
As soon as you become a teacher, they tell you don't smile, don't be friends with the kids. And I was like, "But I'm Craig!" I had my moments of being a funny teacher. But when they got me a little upset, that's when I was most effective. "No more of this, now you're about to do this work!"
Some of the kids still reach out and talk about music on Facebook and stuff like that.
Q: I was wondering about that. Did you know your "Office" co-star Ellie Kemper had Jon Hamm as a drama teacher when she was in high school?
A: I did not know that! Wow! That is hysterical. No, I haven't had that kind of experience. Not yet.