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Craig Robinson is a funny guy. You know this from seeing him in The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and multiple Seth Rogen movies. But he turns the funny down — just a little, though — in Morris From America, a dramedy about a father (Robinson) trying to acclimate to living in a small German town as his young son (Morris, played by Markees Christmas) does the same — while also nursing dreams of one day becoming a rapper.
The film screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won director/writer Chad Haritgan the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and Robinson the Special Jury Award for Individual Performance.
“It blew my mind,” Robinson says of the reception it received. “I was just happy to have a movie at Sundance, and then happy that it got some nice critical acclaim. Still on cloud nine from that.”
Robinson took a break from hanging out on cloud nine to talk more about making Morris From America, what it’s like doing more dramatic roles (he’s also on USA’s Mr. Robot this season), and why the world needs this movie — which arrives in theaters Friday — now more than ever.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I just finished the movie, and I was tearing up at my desk at the final scene with you and Morris in the car.
CRAIG ROBINSON: Thank you! I tear up at that every single time. It’s crazy. [Laughs] I’m sitting here, I’m like, “Craig, what are you doing? It’s you, you know it’s happening.”
You’re just so moved by your own performance.
[Laughs] See, that’s not even how I wanted it to come out! I think it’s more because I see the kid cry. And the words are so beautiful. So that’s what it is. Not, “Oh my god, here I come again!” [Laughs]
This is a change in tone from your previous projects. What made you want to do it?
I loved the script. I liked the way my character talked, I liked the relationship he has with his son, I like that he has to learn from his son. It was just a lot of things that made me respond to it.
And this is one of a couple recent roles you’ve taken on that are more dramatic. You’re also on Mr. Robot. How’d that happen?
I was approached by my agent, who said they were interested in me for Mr. Robot. Then I binge-watched the show and I was like, uh, I would like this. Show me how I’m gonna fit in there, but yeah, I would love it. So I talked with [Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail], and he explained to me what he wanted in the character without fully telling me what the whole character’s thing was, so it’s all secretive. Very under wraps.
That must be a very different experience than, say, being in a Judd Apatow movie.
Yeah, absolutely. First of all, the monologues. I probably have more words to say in Mr. Robot than I’ve had in my entire career put together.
Back to Morris: Was this actually filmed in Germany? How was that?
Yeah. Amazing. My first time in Germany. We started off in Heidelberg, which is this quaint, nice town. The Germans, they shoot just like the Americans, except for, if it’s a 10-hour day, they’re leaving at 5. You don’t go to 5:30, 6, 7. No. And then we had a fest for everything. Like, when I got there, it was the middle of the shoot, so we had a Middle of the Shoot Fest. And then when we were leaving Heidelberg a week later, it was Heidelberg Fest. And then when I left a week later, there was Craig Fest. It was awesome.
What happened at Craig Fest?
We all got together and drank and ate and danced a little bit. I played the piano a lot.
You have such great chemistry with Markees Christmas, who plays Morris. What was your off-screen relationship with him like?
I was like a big brother. He’s a great kid. Everything is just brand new to him. His first time on a plane, first time in Germany, first movie. He handled it like a pro, but with this really big-kid smile.
Why should people see this movie?
Especially in this climate that we’re in nowadays, we’re all on the same team. We need each other. It’s a nice reminder of that. To trust each other, respect each other, and that we do need each other and we’re better off when we work together.