Craig Robinson: the Sausage Party star is having an ‘amazing’ career moment

The standup comic spoke with the Guardian about his multiple projects: from Seth Rogens lewd comedy to Morris From America to a car-based karaoke show

Lately, Craig Robinson is prone to saying amazing a lot. Its the word he uses to describe Sausage Party, Seth Rogens hit R-rated cartoon in which talking food items in a supermarket discover the nature of their doomed existence with laughs and sex scenes. (Robinson drolly voices a box of grits named, well, Mr Grits.) Robinson also uses the word amazing to describe his first experience of the Sundance film festival in January, where he won a special jury prize for his performance in Morris From America, in which he plays a widowed, hip-hop loving father to a 13-year-old boy.

In person, Robinson might seem a bit weary from the lengthy promotional blitz for Morris From America (yawns punctuate his every few sentences), but the 44-year-old standup-comedian-turned-actor is nonetheless clearly jazzed to be at this stage in this career, with a packed schedule of projects.

On top of his role in Sausage Party and Morris From America, Robinson has recently appeared in the second season of tech thriller Mr Robot, as the mysterious new addition Ray. Hes also hosting Karaoke Showdown, a Spike TV game show he describes as a karaoke car thing with me driving around saying, Im not James Corden! Hes currently in the midst of preparing its first season, shuffling between Los Angeles and New York, where I meet him at the offices of A24, the hip distribution label that bought Morris From America following its stellar Sundance reception.

Robinsons comedy brand of silly, musical seriousness meant that he stole scenes in The Office, Hob Tub Time Machine and This is the End. However, Morris From America marks a change of pace. He plays Curtis, whose son (newcomer Markees Christmas) is struggling to find his place in the German town his dad has moved them to. Like the film, by writer-director Chad Hartigan, Robinson is warm and understated. He skillfully taps into Curtiss simmering grief, without letting the emotion override whats otherwise a pretty cheery coming-of-age film.

It is a step in a different direction, Robinson says of Morris From America. I relished the challenge.

Robinson doesnt have children himself, so drew on his memories of his parents when researching the role. My father would discipline me, while my mom, shed be the good cop. Shed be playful and have fun – but my father would be like, Hey, this is cause I said so.

Robinson also had music taste in common with his character Curtis, whose comically cringeworthy rendition of the Notorious BIGs Juicy is one of the highlights of the film. Robinson is quick to note, however, that hes no match for Hartigan when it comes to knowledge of the genre. That guy is an onion, marvels Robinson. He sure taught me some stuff.

Where Robinson had to really step outside of his comfort zone, was in learning German for the part a language with which he was not at all familiar. For a handful of scenes in which Curtis converses casually in German with folks around town, Robinson says he prepped for weeks with a buddy from Liechtenstein. I wanted it to look like I had been living there, so I just worked and worked and worked, says Robinson.


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Man of mystery: Craig Robinson in Mr Robot. Photograph: USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

There was a major benefit to shooting in Germany, though. They do things a little differently there, Robinson recalls. If your schedule has you out by 5pm, then youre actually out by 5pm. They dont mess around with overtime, those Germans.

Its common for comedians to make the transition to more dramatic fare often with great outcomes. Eddie Murphy earned an Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls, in which he played a drug-addicted R&B star on the wane. Most recently, Sarah Silverman played against type as a drug-addicted mother in the intense drama I Smile Back.

However, Robinson says his recent foray into drama wasnt conceived as a calculated ploy to find a new audience. Its all organic, man. These projects found me. After doing Morris, it made other people go: I can trust you with this.

It hasnt all been plain sailing however: NBC canceled his comedy Mr Robinson after its first season in 2015, after underwhelming ratings and <a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>poor reviews (it was described in the Guardian as Cheers but without any of the funny parts). Yet Robinson says that the outcome of his failed sitcom led him to the place he is today: content and busy. The stay was a little short but you learn to place that energy elsewhere.

  • Morris From America opens in select US theaters 19 August

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