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Craig Robinson: ''Then She Said, 'You Get To Spank Kerry Washington'''

After years of supporting roles on the big screen — and as Darryl on NBC’s ”The Office” — Craig Robinson, 41, is front and center in ”Peeples” (out May 10), playing an average Joe who meets his girlfriend’s upper-crust family

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Peeples is your first leading-man role. Were you nervous about making that leap?
I almost sabotaged myself. At first I was kind of not into it — not because I didn’t love [the project] but because I hadn’t done a lead part and I was like, ”Am I ready?” But I had a meeting with [director Tina Gordon Chism], and she let me know that I was in good hands. Then she said, ”You get to spank Kerry Washington.” So that kind of forced my hand. [Laughs]

What’s more fun: being the lead or coming in for a scene or two and scoring laughs, like you did in Knocked Up and Pineapple Express?
You do get a lot of accolades for [those smaller parts]. But it’s pretty sweet to go through the whole story and not just be in there for two minutes. It depends where you want to see yourself. For me, it’s been going in lanes — like on The Office, first I guest-starred, then I moved over a lane and I was in half of the episodes, then I moved over a lane and I was in all the episodes. That’s just how God works it out.

You’ve got two other comedies coming out this summer — Rapture-Palooza and This Is the End — that are both about the end of the world. Coincidence or sign of the apocalypse?
Yeah, somebody said to me, ”Is there something you know that we don’t know?” In Rapture-Palooza, I’m playing the Antichrist, which was a lot of fun. I played him very charming — but just saying very uncharming things.

In This Is the End, you and your costars — including Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny McBride, and Michael Cera — play not-very-flattering versions of yourselves. What was that like?
It was like being in the basement with your friends: ”Hey, we’ve got a camera! Let’s do this!” They’re all caricatures of us. I got off kind of easy, though. I’m more of the nice teddy bear of the group. But McBride and Seth and Franco — oh, man! And Michael Cera is the epitome of not Michael Cera.

The Office is coming to an end this month after nine seasons. Have you wrapped your head around that yet?
It’s sinking in. It’s definitely a pivotal moment for me. I’ll forever be grateful for being part of that show. But with these other projects I’ve got coming out, it couldn’t be better timing. I just shot a pilot for NBC where I play a substitute teacher who gets put in a music class. If that goes to series in the fall, that would be an amazing way to continue on my path.

You actually worked as a music teacher in your early days as a stand-up. Was a career in comedy always the dream?
Yeah, I was always just obsessed with making people laugh. I thought comics were like superheroes: Sam Kinison, Paul Mooney, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby. [Pauses] It’s funny, because a lot of the dreams have started to blend with reality. So you’ve just got to keep on going and keep dreaming.

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