Walking into a private room in an upscale King Street West restaurant and seeing Nick Kroll sitting at the end of a large mahogany table feels a little like walking into a sketch from the recently completed Kroll Show. Bottles of wine adorn the walls and Kroll is fully aware of how this looks. “Welcome to my wine cellar” he quips, as if he could be one of the “rich dicks” he played on the show. He’s been hitting the promotional tour for Adult Beginners hard for several weeks now, but he still had some golden nuggets left for us.
Did your role in this film stem from a desire to tackle something a little more dramatic?
Nick Kroll: I think it’s a combination of any number of things. The story was interesting to me based off of my real life as a younger brother with a bunch of nieces and nephews. I brought it to Mark Duplass, my costar on The League, I knew early on we weren’t trying to make the big schticky version of this movie. Once you decide that it becomes, alright let’s really try to tell a real story which means there’s going to be dramatic moments in it. I was interested in being able to do some of that. I would still argue that weirdly, a lot of the characters on Kroll show, while they were insane, I was trying to act them as realistically as possible, or not realistically, as honestly as possible from whatever emotional place they were in, as fucked up as their emotions were.
So you take a similar approach to all of your characters?
NK: Early on in the beginning of the movie I think the character of Jake feels like he could be in the Kroll show universe, but even then he’s a little more muted than I would have done on Kroll Show, then slowly I think the reality sets in, in a number of ways. We’re still trying to build jokes from the same place of relationships, whether it’s the relationship with his sister or someone he went to high school with who he hasn’t seen in years, relationship to a girl that he’s trying to sleep with. Whatever it is, we were still trying to be honest with whatever that version of it is. I think it was new exercise in not finishing every scene with a big joke.
Did you ever still shoot that joke as a safety? Could there be a much more comedy-based cut of the film?
NK: There are definitely scenes with more jokes in it, when we did improvise. There’s a little taste of improv in almost every scene. There was the debate of more of the slapsticky stuff, the not knowing how to deal with the kid stuff, we were conscious of that even as we were writing it, we didn’t want to go too deep into that because that felt like a different movie.
Was it tough to share scenes with Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne who have a lot more experience with this kind of thing?
NK: The reason we were so lucky to get both of them was because they do have dramatic chops and have proven that they can do comedy and be really funny. I was excited to do that but because it was somewhat uncharted territory for me, I wasn’t intimidated but I was nervous, I wanted to step up and make them feel like they were dealing with someone they could work with. I knew comedically I could hold my own, so the idea of doing the dramatic stuff with two people who I respect so much was a challenge but one that I was excited for.
Your nephew in the film is played by twins, was one of them a more generous performer, and can you tell them apart in the finished film?
NK: I can tell scene by scene who’s who. I don’t know how many other people can, the parents for sure can. They were both great, really sweet boys. One was more chatty than the other, so it worked out well, we would try to use the chatty one for when we needed more dialogue and more active behaviour and we used one when we needed him to sit in someone’s lap and be sweet and quiet. When they weren’t shooting they would just be building great architectural moments with Lego, at that time they were building the Taj Mahal. My wrap gift to them was Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’ and they were so psyched, they knew exactly what it was and they were 4!
What was your experience with this film at TIFF like?
NK: It was really fun and exciting. You hear about a movie going to a festival and I had the ideal situation which was you bring your movie, you don’t have distribution, we showed it, that night we started having midnight meetings with different distributors who were interested in it. We zeroed in on one and negotiated over a day or so and then at 2 in the morning in our hotel room an email goes back and forth and it’s like ‘we did it, the deal’s done’. Now coming back having sold it and not worrying about having to- although here I am talking to you guys trying to sell it. Maybe you never stop selling it.
Are you planning a return to stand-up comedy at some point?
NK: Yeah I’m doing a little bit of it when I can. Now that my schedule has opened up, it will sort of close up periodically to go do other things, but yeah I love doing it so I’m going to continue. It’s really just a question of time but when I have the time I enjoy it. I find that whenever I’m doing one thing it makes me appreciate the other things and vice versa, so it’s always the goal to keep doing a few different things and be able to hop from one to the other.
What were your experiences like working on Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups?
NK: I did one day on the Malick movie and I’ve been told by someone who was in Berlin (the only place it’s screened so far) that they saw me in it, knowing that there are leads in his movies that don’t always get in it. It was an amazing day. I got a call on Tuesday asking if I wanted to do a Terrence Malick movie on Thursday, and I was like ‘Yes’. So from that point on, my goal was to just say okay to everything, because it is a unique process. I just was excited to be there and watch him work and be around it. His process is so different and ever since I’ve seen it, and then I watch Spring Breakers for example, there were a lot of things that feel like a Malick movie now that I know a little bit about his process. It was a good lesson for me. One of the tenets of improv is “yes and…” or specifically in UCB theatre is “don’t think”. I took that very much in stride that day which was just say ‘ok’ to everything and do what you’re told and try to enjoy it, because of that it was a really fun experience. My job was basically to fuck with Christian Bale all day.
I’m just picturing Malick watching Kroll Show…
NK: When I met him he was like “I saw your videos, I like them.” He was a real trip. He was so cool, I’m so curious what that movie is.
Have you seen any of Sausage Party yet?
I’ve just seen little brief animatic moments, but I think it might be the dirtiest movie I’ve ever been a part of. It has made some very dirty people blush.
Read our review of Adult Beginners here, there’s even a pull-quote from it in the trailer below!