Before the Scene is where we all start. In a small town with our families. In front of a mirror with our friends. The days spent sleeping on a couch. The nights working at a bar. Living with the unknown and surrounded by uncertainty. It’s about the times that define us. It’s about the darkness just before the limelight.
Craig Robinson is a veteran actor best known as Darryl Philbin on the NBC smash hit The Office. He has also starred in Hot Tub Time Machine, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and Pineapple Express. He can next be seen as the lead opposite Kerry Washington in Peeples, and in Seth Rogen’s New Orleans-shot directorial debut This Is The End.
What made you want to become an actor?
I started acting in grade school, just doing plays at church. I didn’t pursue it early on. It was just doing plays at church and what have you. Once I got to college, I decided I was going to be a musician, but then comedy just overtook me and chose me. I figured I would be a stand-up, so I started doing stand-up and then on my way to learning stand-up, I stopped in at Second City and I started taking classes. I thought they were going to teach me stand-up but it turned out it was this improv stuff. So I thought, “Okay, well, let’s see what goes on here.” I thought, “Just in case I get on a sitcom or something because of my stand-up, maybe I’ll learn some of this.” I was that naïve to think that could happen.
What was your biggest fear?
Going into stand-up, the fear was always that you would get booed, or you won’t be successful. They won’t laugh. Then there was this quote I read, right at the right time, when I was debating whether to do stand-up or not because of those fears. It said, “Do it despite of being afraid.” Go on despite of your fears. I guess my biggest fear was in the stand-up world. It was to not be able to take what I do with my friends and my family and translate that to a larger audience.
What was your lowest point?
There was a period of about three years. I was on The Office, but I wasn’t on it all the time. Stand-up wasn’t as steady, and I was like flat broke. I don’t know how I made rent, but I made my rent every time. Sometimes I had to borrow, and sometimes I had to do other things, but I made my rent every time. I remember going and collecting all of the coins around the house and going to the grocery store to one of those coin machines to exchange it for cash. It was a point where I was being real lazy and feeling real sorry for myself. It was a period of just not wanting to move. I was just straight up lazy…I guess there was some depression there.
What kept you from walking away?
One time I was on a treadmill and I was looking at the TV as I was jogging, and I stopped and said, “You’re trying to get in that box. That’s ridiculous! What are you doing? You’re trying to fit in that box.” And then I shook it off and I got back on. I’m always there to inspire others and tell them to shake something off, so I have to be able to do that for myself. It might have been me thinking, “This is ridiculous. Why are you trying to do this?” But at the same time I will follow it with, “Yeah, whatever. I chose this. So, what am I going to do? Go back and teach? Get up and get in there.”
Who has been your closest ally?
My younger brother, Chris Rob. We lean on each other pretty heavily.
What were you doing before the audition that changed your life?
I still don’t feel like, “Okay. Everything’s okay.” I have some nice things going on, but I’m good until about August. I just did a sitcom pilot for NBC and if that doesn’t get picked up, I’m out of work by August. The goal is to keep working. The first audition that I got that I thought, “Okay, maybe I can do something in this game,” was for Lucky for FX, this John Corbett show. This was before The Office. These guys, the Cullen brothers, wrote it. And I went in, and Robb Cullen told me, “You were the only one that seemed like you cared about your friend’s situation. Everyone else threw this one line away, but you actually cared.” That’s what got me the part, that one line.
What were the words that kept you going?
A quote by John Greenleaf Whittier. He said, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” I’ve always kind of thought about that. Instead of getting to be seventy-five or eighty years old and have a family and go, “Oh, I could have been funny, I could have been in movies.” No, it’s like, if you could have, then you can. So let’s see what you got!
How have you changed?
No. Maybe a little bit. I’m pretty much the same silly dude. I go in lanes. When I came out to L.A. it was like, “Find out how to get auditions.” And then, I got into the next lane, which was “getting auditions.” The next lane is “callbacks” and then “getting the part.” Things have always happened like that. Even in The Office, I started out in the warehouse for a couple of episodes here, a couple there. Then I moved up to seven out of thirteen episodes, and then all episodes produced, and upstairs in the office. It’s always like I get a little bit at a time.
What words do you have to inspire others?
Be yourself. You’re the only you, and you’re different than everybody else. You have to bring that to the table. You gotta be you. You gotta take what makes you you, and push forward with that. Put all of your money on that.
How does it feel to land a wife like Kerry Washington?
It feels like I wish it was real.
A partner in Scene Magazine and the president of Louisiana Entertainment Publishers, AJ has starred for the last eight years as Adam Ross on the hit TV show CSI:NY. Originally from Dublin and raised in Vancouver, he has spent the past twelve years in Los Angeles acting, writing and directing. He is currently in Louisiana producing and starring in North of Hell. Find out more on Twitter @AJohnBuckley and at www.ajbuckley.net.