Though his new movie is called This Is the End, Craig Robinson’s upward trajectory shows no signs of stopping.
Two decades ago, still struggling from the previous night’s escapades on The Second City’s star-making comedy circuit, 20-something Craig Robinson would walk bleary-eyed into a South Side Chicago elementary school every morning and shape young lives — by shattering their choral dreams. “I was turning kids away,” Robinson laughs about his days as a perfectionist music teacher, an experience that serves as inspiration for his in-development comedy for NBC. “You don’t turn kids away from a choir,” he says, bemused by his behavior. “You just don’t.”
Of course, this was all before Robinson, now 41, moved to Los Angeles and, thanks to his role as Darryl Philbin on The Office — not to mention a slew of memorable bit parts (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) — broke big as one of his generation’s hottest comedic talents. With The Office having recently wrapped its nine-season run, Robinson is forced to distance himself from his star-making show. “It’s been an amazing journey,” he says. “But let’s see what happens next.”
He needn’t wait very long: Robinson has already emerged as a go-to player in Hollywood’s burgeoning improv-based comedy scene. So far this year, he’s voiced a ratlike alien in the animated comedy Escape from Planet Earth; nailed his first lead role as a reunion-crashing boyfriend in the Tyler Perry–produced comedy Peeples; and plays himself alongside Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill in the apocalypse-themed This Is the End, out this month. “It’s amazing to be included,” he says of the latter’s star-studded cast, which also includes James Franco and Danny McBride. “But I feel like I’m carrying my weight now.”
So does the Hollywood machine now have Robinson in its grasp, sweating box-office receipts and mingling with studio execs at The Ivy? No way, he insists. “I can bring myself to the role, I can bring passion and get lost in the work, but my job is not to sell tickets,” he says. “My job is to rock my lines.”
And though he jokes about the sometimes slow pace of his ascent to stardom, he knows it happened this way for a reason. “It’s funny,” he says. “God gave it to me a little bit at a time. But now it’s just grand.”