by: Jay Carlson
The following is the transcript from a roundtable interview I took part in with Nick Kroll this week. Normally, I don’t post the full transcript but I really enjoyed the natural flow of the conversation and think it stands up well to a full read.
Be aware there are minor spoilers about Kroll’s new film, Adult Beginners. So, if you’d prefer to go in fresh, read it after checking out the film.
Speak of the film, it’s available today in select theaters and on VOD. Find out how you can see it near you by clicking HERE.
Adult Beginners has an excellent cast consisting of Kroll, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale.You’ll also notice a lot of great cameos from Joel McHale, Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Moynihan, Mike Birbiglia and more.
The film centers on a young, hipster entrepreneur (Nick Kroll) who crashes and burns on the eve of his company’s big launch. With his entire life in disarray, he leaves Manhattan to move in with his estranged pregnant sister (Rose Byrne), brother-in-law (Bobby Cannavale) and three year-old nephew in the suburbs — only to become their manny. Faced with real responsibility, he may finally have to grow up — but not without some bad behavior first.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning, the inception of the story. So you come up with the story idea and then, do you seek out the writers that end up writing the script? And if so, how do you choose who writes the script for the film?
Nick Kroll: I just started reading a bunch of people and I really wanted to have at least one female voice in the writing process just because so much of the story was based on Rose being a young mother figuring out how to work and be a mom. It just seemed like it would be really helpful because my imagination is somewhat limited. So I read it to a bunch of different people and met with Liz (Flahive) and Jeff (Cox) who wrote the movie. They are an actual husband and wife and when they wrote the script, when I met them, they had a two year old son and by the time we started shooting the movie they had just had another kid. They were really just keyed in to that slightly tired, overwhelmed parents trying to work and figure out how to navigate all those things. I was really excited to have people like that be able to, you know, have real life experience to make it feel more realistic.
Q: Most comedic actors have a good dramatic performance in them, but the same is not usually the case in the other direction. What makes comedic actors able to draw into drama?
Kroll: Well we’re.. Comedic actors are just more talented (laughter) You know, it’s just… I only half mean that. No, I think its… I do think sometimes it’s harder… You can either learn or learn to have access to whatever emotions you need to have a dramatic performance, but sometimes comedy is… there’s some intangible, innate quality to it, as I would say there are for dramatic performances, there are only certain amount of people who can pull some of the more intense dramatic performances off. I think it is easier to go comedic to dramatic than vice versa.
Q: Rose Byrne’s kind of having an amazing couple years recently with her comedic performances. How was it working with her? You guys had a nice chemistry together.
Kroll: Thank you. Yeah, it was great. She was the first person we went to to play my sister. Obviously I wanted to cast that sister role first because it’s the most central to the movie working or not. There’s a lot of very talented comedic actresses out there. She is just so adept at both (comedic and dramatic) that we were very fortunate that she wanted to do it. I think she identified with the siblings relationship. She’s the youngest of four, as well. I think she just connected with that element to the script. I think that there was something that felt very familiar to her, without putting words in her mouth, as she seems to have explained it. So we just got really lucky and she also happens to be super fucking cool, which is nice. She was just game, you know? We put her in a freezing cold pool for two days, with no heater. The heater in the pool broke and she just didn’t complain about anything, not that she would. She just was a pleasure to work with and also so funny… and agile as a performer.
Q: Does coming from an improv background effect the way you approach a scene with people who don’t have that improv background or are primarily comedic?
Kroll: It depends, you know? Like Rose and Bobby (Cannavale) don’t come from an improv background but both of them could improvise. I think there are people who… I don’t theoretically come from a drama background. I think it’s just creating an environment where people are able to do what they’re comfortable with and respond honestly in a scene. There was definitely improvising throughout the movie but we also worked hard on making the script and the jokes or the dramatic moments land as much as we could. But in a lot of the scenes there’s moments of it and in certain scenes it’s heavier. Like, me and Bobby Moynihan’s scene in the convenience store… Bobby and I both came out of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and so that (scene) had more improv, In Joel McHale’s stuff, there’s some really fun improvised stuff in there. But then also in the parent’s Skype scene with Celia Weston and Jeff DeMunn with me and Rose (that) ended up being quite improvised, but also there’s stuff that’s improvised in there that’s not comedic at all. It’s more underlying story stuff of like, their father remarried real quick to some kooky woman and they’re not so psyched about it. So there’s stuff that slips out that isn’t a joke but was improvised. So, I think the nice thing about having the ability to improvise is that things feel fresh. I didn’t want to lean on it on this project. Like, if something wasn’t working, then just change the line. The goal was to really give it the respect it deserved.
Q: Overall, in general, how was filming this film different from the other productions you’ve been in thus far?
Kroll: Well, I’ve never produced a film, a feature. So that, in itself was a new experience. I’ve now been able to produce some TV stuff and shorts and web stuff and the like, but I haven’t been the lead of a movie before. So figuring out how to track that stuff, of just being aware I’m not just in one scene where I play, like a monster. (laughter) Where you don’t have to worry about anything but what you’re doing in that one scene. So you’re like, “Ok, does this work if I do this? Does that make sense ten pages later?” Those were new things for me to navigate. And then all of this stuff, which I’ve done for my show, but this is still… It’s a different thing, the movie version of it. Part of the reason I wanted to do the movie was to just learn how to do it. You just have to do everything for the first time at some point. So this was the story I wanted to tell and also just learn how to make a movie. Mark Duplass, my co-star from The League, helped me navigate the whole process, having gone through it himself a bunch of times.
Q: Everybody in the film seems to have a vice to help them deal with their life. Are there any vices that you use or you have that help you deal with things that happen in your life?
Kroll: Oh yeah, constantly. I mean I have multiple, one of them is coming in now. (To the waiter at the door) They can bring the coffee in. (to the group) Sorry guys. I think my phone is the weirdest vice I have, that I think we all have now. It’s a quadrant for me: Food, pot, booze and phone. Phone right now seems to be the most dangerous. (laughter).
Q: I’d like to talk about Rose Byrne a bit. Do you get a discount on Bobby Cannavale when you cast Rose Byrne first? (The two have been in a relationship since 2012)
Kroll: You know, ironically went to Rose first because we just needed to figure out who that sister was. When we sat down to talk about the part she was like, “I hope this isn’t weird (but)the guy playing the part of my husband in the movie feels like it was written for my boyfriend. He would be perfect.” I said, “Who is your boyfriend?” And she said, “Bobby Cannavale.” I was like, “We literally did write the part for him.” (laughter) I’ve known him socially and Liz Flahive, one of the writers, was an EP on Nurse Jackie, which he did a season of, and they know each other from the theater world. He was always just that template for us of a real man who would be much more masculine and intimidating to the kind of guy that my character is. But also, who had a sweet, thoughtful, tender part of him. With that kind of character Bobby sort of fit that bill perfectly. He’s such a good actor and I really got to learn a lot working with him. The emotional stuff with Rose, it’s not easier to do but you’re like, “Ok, their mom died, let’s see that play out.” You know, you kind of know exactly what you need. He’s super bummed, his mom died. (laughter) He didn’t fucking take care of her properly. But when I’m fighting with Bobby, and it’s like, “I think I saw you cheat on my sister. I don’t have a leg to stand on. I’ve cheated on my girlfriends in the past.” There’s that gray area that, being able to work with a guy like Bobby, who is a natural and puts a lot of thought into why he’s saying what he’s saying… It was really fun for me to have the exercise of doing that with him.
Q: You have Joel McHale, you have Mike Birbiglia, is there anyone you wanted to get for the film that you weren’t able to?
Kroll: Ummm… I’m trying to think if that would offend anyone. (laughter) I mean… (pouring sugar into his coffee) What if I just put like six Sweet and Low’s in the coffee while I casually kept talking… (laughter) It’s tough… Does anyone ever answer that question? I feel like nobody could ever be like, “Well, for the part of Rose we really wanted…”
Q: But for like scheduling reasons…
Kroll: Oh, sure. There were definitely people who were in and were out. It was so many, honestly. We had such a low budget, there were so many time constraints, we just had no flexibility. We definitely had people who were like, “I’d love to do it, can you shoot it in February?” It was like, “No.” It’s so many of my personal friends, people that I had relationships with, that I could call in a favor with. Like (Jason) Mantzoukas, who is obviously a good buddy of mine and I’ve worked with a ton and was very helpful throughout the process of me formulating the movie. He flew in and gave us a day. Josh Charles was shooting The Good Wife and came in and shot… Like, I remember sitting in a stairwell with him and he was like, “I’m leaving the show. My character is going to be done on the show.” He was in the middle of shooting the last couple episodes of that. It was (during) a snowstorm and it was his day off. A movie on this scale… Like, Joel flying in on the last day of shooting, we shot all that party stuff in his (the character’s) apartment. I was so grateful that he did it and I was so burnt (out) at that point and we were shooting this big huge party scene. There was a lot of keeping everyone entertained and he’s a natural host and leader and just carried the weight of the last day or two where I was a little too spent. It was a lot of calling in a lot of favors.
Q: I feel like people respond to the “do over” story. Where people reach a point in their life and need to go forward from that point and reset. Why do you think that’s so interesting?
Kroll: I think it’s partly like, for whatever reason, people like to watch those stories in movies… I guess this is just what your question is and (I’m) rephrasing it back to you. (laughter) There is something about that Hero’s journey or whatever, where you see someone start and fail and come up short and persevere in the end. I’m not exactly sure why people are so attracted to that story. Then I think, in this particular case in (our) movie, it’s inherently sort of an American desire to build your own business, to strive to be the front man for an industry. Jake wants to be “the guy” and he wants to have this new product and be at the center of it with the glitz and glamour of being the new tech guy. Then watching him very quickly lose that, you’re gratified to see a prick get his comeuppance. But then you’re still theoretically rooting for that person to learn their lesson or succeed. I think it’s a double gratification of not wanting to see that douchebag succeed.
Q: What part of wearing so many hats on the production did you enjoy the most and what did you enjoy the least?
Kroll: I’d say it’s weirdly the same thing, which is control. I love being involved at every stage of it and being able to sculpt it and have an opinion, a real opinion of every aspect of the movie… of who got hired and what direction we took it in tonally, what kind of jokes we told, what kind of story we wanted to tell. Then tonally within scenes, being able to be like, “I think this is a more comedic moment,” or whatever. I feel like most sets you work on, there is some version of that conversation. On this I obviously really have the ability to do that and that’s the most fun but it also is the most difficult, which is to figure out how to navigate wearing different hats at different moments. Sometimes just needing to be like, “I just need to be an actor in this scene. I can’t worry about the fact that it’s snowing and we’re going to lose our location for tomorrow and that means we’re going to have to push which means we’re going to lose our actress” and all those things… and then it’s like, “Ok, action.” You have to be able to… it’s the upside and downside of not just being an actor for hire or a writer or producer. You’re just trying to navigate all of them, but I kinda like that. I think they’re fun challenges within that kind of thing.
Q: I know the story for the film kind of originated off of your personal nannying experiences. How have your personal experiences influenced the way you played Jake?
Kroll: Well, I am the youngest of four. I have two older sisters and an older brother. So, I felt connected to being that youngest brother who, I think, sometimes got away with stuff or who didn’t do much of the heavy lifting within the family. Like maybe I could be convinced to do a couple dishes. Meanwhile my sisters were helping make dinner. So I think I identify with that, or (with) Jake trying to make this Mind’s Eye and wanting to be the hotshot. Shit, I went and tried to make a movie. The difference being that I have a good relationship with my siblings. We just had the premiere in New York last night and they were all there. So, with Jake and Justine’s family, there is a good amount of discord… they’ve lost their mother and their father’s moved away and they’re estranged from one another… My actual family is… every family has its ups and downs and I think that’s what I found interesting. The story is interesting and I think that’s what drew Rose and Bobby and Ross Katz, our director, and everybody to it was like, “Oh, I have a sibling, I see what that’s like. I remember thinking what a prick my brother was.”
Q: So how many times have you begun again in your career?
Kroll: I feel like doing what we do, pursuing creative endeavors, (your constantly) putting yourself out there. There’s kind of constant rejection. Hopefully you also get yes’ along the way. It feels like you’re constantly resetting and constantly getting levels of rejection. Like doing this movie, I’m incredibly proud of the fact we made a movie. That, in and of itself, is a great accomplishment. But it’s all good until you read a review that’s like, “It’s thin,” and you’re like, “Oh, Fuck. God damn it.” And (snaps fingers) it’s like you’re resetting right there. It’s a different level of reset than the guy whose life has genuinely fallen apart. I don’t know, I just feel like I have constant… I get to have constant victories but also constant defeats. How thick is your skin? How capable and willing are you to just persevere through? It’s not like Jake learns to be a bigger animal in the tech world. He resets and is like, I need to reset how I am with my sister and her family (and) I need to reset the kind of person that I am a little bit. I think we’re always trying to restart and reengage and pick yourself up.
Q: You’re kind of at a startover point right now. The movie is coming out The League and The Kroll Show are over, so what are you looking to do next?
Kroll: You know, just roundtable interviews (laughter)
Q: Feature length Gigolo movie with Peter Gallagher?
Kroll: God, that would be amazing. Fucking Gallagher in there. He’s the best. That was just…
Q: How did you get him?
Kroll: We just called, we just reached out. You know what it was? His kids were just fans of the show. He is a badass, it was fun. He’s such a cool dude. I just hope to keep getting to do different stuff because every time I do something new, whatever it was I was doing becomes interesting again. The more variety I have, the more I’m excited to the stuff I had been doing and keep trying new things.