On this edition of INTERVUE, I had the honor of interviewing comedian Craig Robinson who is making the transition to “Leading Man” and writer/director Tina Gordon Chism who is making her directorial debut. The movie that share these special firsts is the upcoming movie “Tyler Perry Presents Peeples” – coming to theatres this Friday May 10th. Peeples centers around a well-off East Coast family celebrating a reunion weekend in the Hamptons. However, their reunion is interrupted when their daughter Grace’s (Kerry Washington) fiance Wade Walker (Craig Robinson) crashes in to FINALLY Meet the Peeples.
DR: Tell us about your role as Wade Walker, what were some of the challenges of playing him?
CG: It was a little unfair because the challenge was to fall in love with Kerry Washington *laughs*It was like “check!” The actors brought so much to each character. My biggest challenge to not let the pressure of leading man of “behaving this way” or that you’re “carrying the movie.” You have to keep that out. I was approached by that daily but every time I got on that set, everybody was like “we all give it” and it was very loving. It was a few people’s first: Kerry’s first comedy, Tina’s first directing, my first lead. So, we pushed this boulder together. It was a family atmosphere and they say that in every movie. Truly, we were singing harmony and we had each other’s backs.
DR: How did you incorporate music in your comedy show? How did that start?
CG: Music is my partner. I been playing piano and singing since I was little. I went up one time, before I started using the keyboard, in this place called the Heckler’s Heaven in Chicago. What happens is that three people got rubber chickens from the audience and you have three minutes to do your act within eight minutes. If you get three rubber chickens within the 3-minute grace period, you have to get off the stage. I did my 3 minutes and then two chickens came flying in and before the third I’m like “Goodnight!” The next week, I took my keyboard with me. It was serene and wonderful. People liked me and invited me to come back next week. Soon after that, I won the contest a couple of times. It became clear that this was something special and it sets me apart to bring flavor to my music.
DR: Let’s talk about The Office. I admired the fact that Darryl had evolved throughout the series from a warehouse foreman to the Asst Regional Manager to working at Athlead. Now that the series has ended, did you feel you got to know Darryl well enough or was there more that could have been explored?
CG: I feel that you guys learned a lot. It amazes me how he’s cool and seems like the smartest dude in the room. When he gets into an interview, he has a nervous breakdown every single time. If anything, I would like to explore why do interviews make you crazy. We got to see a whole lot of Darryl. I didn’t know, coming in, that this was going to last as long as it did. I’m cool in how we wrapped up.
DR: In your opinion, what makes great comedy and who were your inspirations growing up?
CG: You got to have that heart there. To make a great comedy, I think it starts with drama. You start from a real place. Obviously with joke after joke, you have strong character who you knew their motivation that they can have you eating out of their hand. With Diahann, she would not say anything but she would make these faces and you knew who she was. Strong Characters, Drama, Heart makes a great comedy.
My influences are definitely Richard Pryor and Cosby. One of my favorite actors is Kevin Kline. He’s an amazing actor! “A Fish Called Wanda” is one of my favorite movies. “Which Way is Up” is a classic. In fact, I was doing an ode to that one guitar scene. That was all Pryor when he was playing the bass as the reverend in “Which Way is Up”.
TINA GORDON CHISM
DR: You have written two films prior to Peeples, ATL & Drumline, what made you decide that Peeples was the one to start your directing career?
TGC: With a comedy, it can go a lot of different directions and I wanted to preserve the tone of it. It’s an African-American family and I wanted to make sure that certain characteristics that you maybe are not used to seeing in a black family like the dry wit, quirky line like “We are Timex people” and how would that line be delivered. I started caring about things like the casting. I know it read that this is a wealthy family but I knew that in different hands, a lot of stereotypes of what that guy might be might come into play. I was determined to have actors that were really intelligent as people in the movies. So that wit and intelligence would permeate the atmosphere. I feel like they sell that they really came from a high achieving family. I can pull back on that and tell really stupid jokes. For example, I write a scene called “Moby Dick Day” and then counter it with Yale grad reading from “Moby Dick”, I’m Happy! I’m good. Those are the contradictions I wanted to preserve and you really cannot do this as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Its about giving it over to the director and them transmitting that vision. I sold the script to Lionsgate and then just leveraged myself holding on to the script saying “Please let me direct this” and they graciously complied.
DR: What was your inspiration to writing this screenplay?
TGC: I was vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard. I was on my bike and I went to a market. I saw the market but I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t have my wallet. I was just out on a great bike ride and picking up organic berries. That’s where the wallet joke come from. So, I might throw a card in my box that says awkward moment involving tons of groceries and no wallet in Martha’s Vineyard. So the box eventually fills up until I feel confidant enough that there are enough jokes and story there, that I can start writing. What started “Peeples” was I was dating a guy and I went home went him. He was good looking and perfect. Then I saw his family and they looked like that chocolate Kennedy picture right there, really perfect. I thought, “How am I going to fit in with this family?” I am Wade Walker in this version. I went home and talked to my family about everything about whom I dated. With this family, everyone looked really perfect but over the course of the weekend I could see things that the guy did not know about his family.
DR: What was it like to work with such a diverse range of talent from the comic stylings of Grier & Robinson to legendary actors Van Peebles and Carroll?
TGC: I owe that first day with Melvin and Diahann. I owe them alot because they were at my first day of shooting. We were supposed to be outside and it snowed. My mind was racing with now I have to move everything indoors. I barely knew how to block outside with the cameras and have to quickly figure out the inside. Everyone is looking at you and I’m like “its my first day” meltdown. Then Diahann wanted to make a speech about working with this new generation of players in a role that’s a little frisky for her. She just took a moment to thank everybody for welcoming her and also to let us know that she was happy to have fun and play with a new generation of actors. It settled me and able to come back into my body and focus how to get through this first day. They were generous, they were pros. It wasn’t until I got back in L.A. and editing that I could see all the comedic nuisances that both of them gave.
DR: What is the one thing you learned about directing for the first time that you will take into the next time you direct?
TGC: There’s an old saying for directors and actors “Don’t work with children or dogs.” I didn’t even think about it doing Peeples. With those two things, they had to almost keep me off my own set when the dog would not comply with anything! I was running out of time, money, daylight. I’m like “This is how Wade meets the family, I cannot re-write this right now”. The dog was super overfed. So he didn’t want to move and he was supposed to run and attack Craig. So, he would get to Craig and just lick him and play him. Eventually, Craig had to pick the dog up and hold the dog on him and he was attacking the dog. Finally, Craig figured i out for me. The children, you just cant give direction to children. They want their snacks, want to run around.
DR: What advice do you have for up and coming writers?
TGC: The biggest secret to being a writer is that the ones that eventually breakthrough are the ones that just keep writing.
Thank you, Craig & Tina, for the wonderful interview. Be sure to catch all the hilarity as Tyler Perry Presents Peeples makes its formal introduction in theatres – May 10th.