Interview: Comedian Nick Kroll on Adult Beginners

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Fans of Nick Kroll from his FXX show “The League” and Comedy Central’s “The Kroll Show” have gotten used to his snarky comic delivery, so it’s surprising to see him in a comedy like Adult Beginners, which he developed and produced based on his own original idea, because it allows him to play a far more endearing character than usual.

But at first, his character Jake is a slick-talking guy trying to get his start-up company funded with a kickstarter campaign, but when that venture fails, he’s forced to return to his childhood home in New Rochelle to stay with his pregnant sister Justine (Rose Byrne), her husband Danny (Bobby Cannavale) and their three-year-old son, who Jake agrees to babysit while they’re at work even though he has no experience with kids.

Directed by Ross Katz, the film offers far more insight into dealing with your sibling as grown-ups than these sorts of movies often allow, but it’s genuinely funny in part due to its comedy ringers like Joel McHale from “Community” who plays Jake’s friend and colleague Hudson and “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan.

Last September, ComingSoon.net attended the movie’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and the next day we got to sit down with Kroll and McHale for an interview. McHale had to leave soon to catch a flight, so the first few minutes is mostly a bit of clowning around and we didn’t start talking seriously about the movie until he left and we continued on with Kroll. 

ComingSoon.net: Since I know you have to run, Joel, maybe we can start by you talking about how you got involved in the movie?

Joel McHale: I auditioned.
Nick Kroll: Very lengthy auditioning process. He can answer but we were peppering the cast with as many funny, talented, recognizable people as we could. Joel and I had worked together on “Community.”
McHale: Also graced “The Soup” a number of times…
Kroll: Through that, we became friends and he did us the real solid of flying in and being in the movie.
McHale: The part was really fun and it was a quick in and out, and Nick had the whole movie on his back. Had two days of shooting and literally, there was an American Express photo shoot happening, and I don’t know, it was 1 in the morning, and the load-in for them was 5.
Kroll: Beyond Joel being a very, very funny actor…
McHale: True!
Kroll: Also, we were at the end of a very hard, long—not that long but quick, but very hard and intense shoot. He came in with a ton of energy and kept everyone rolling and very helpful.
McHale: It’s easy when you haven’t had a movie on your shoulders for the last twenty days in the cold. They got into an unheated pool for days. LITERALLY an unheated pool.

CS: You’re very busy with “The Soup” and “Community” at the same time, but are you generally looking for roles that are different for yourself as an actor?  I know that “Deliver Us from Evil” was a little different as a genre.

McHale: Yeah, that was great. That was two months of my life last summer and it was a dream come true to be in that movie and I’m very proud of that movie and I love it. I think it’s a good movie and yeah, when I have time I would love to, but “Community” takes up a lot of time so those months are gone when I can’t do it, but I love doing “Community,” so I’m insanely blessed through being in a position I’m in right now. I love doing all that stuff. But yes, I tried out for Reese Witherspoon’s part in Wild
Kroll: Did you get it?
McHale: No, she got it! I would have been at the premiere last night if I had gotten it! 

CS: How would that have worked at the Oscars? Would you still be considered Lead Actor?

McHale: I was supposed to play her role.
Kroll: It would have been like at the Emmys this year. Laverne Cox really opened the doors for you.
McHale: Yeah, so it didn’t happen.

CS: Well, I have to assume they’ll do a sequel because she eventually went back to the Pacific Crest Trail, right?

McHale: No, her character is dead at the end.
Kroll: Spoiler!
McHale: I actually have no idea.

CS: No, she had to be alive to write the book.

McHale: Oh, right, right. Well it could have been a diary they found next to her bear-devoured body. 

CS: Well I know you have to run so maybe we’ll get to talk again in the future

McHale: We won’t. 
Kroll: Joel is currently in production on “The Diary of Anne Heche” which I’m really looking forward to.
McHale: Yeah, it’s not as life and death as Anne Frank, but the name is so similar the way we’ve done it that it’s just worth it. You know when you go into a pharmacy and you see a crappy Walkman that says “Pony” instead of “Sony”? Close enough! I’m buying it—it’s cheaper!

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CS: So I guess someone found Anne Heche’s diary and just said, “Hey, let’s make a movie out of it!”

Kroll: Instead of her whispering with a boy up in a room it’s just her whispering to aliens.
McHale: “Men in Trees” is one of my favorite series. 

(At this point, Joel and Nick say their goodbyes as Joel is off to the airport but he graciously hands me his now useless hotel room key.)

CS: Congratulations on how well the movie went over last night at the Ryerson, it’s a very funny movie.

Kroll: Thank you.

CS: Let’s go back in time before Joel got involved. You’d been writing your own material for some time so what made you want to do a feature film about this character and the situation he ends up in?

Kroll: Well, the original inspiration came from… I have a number of nieces and nephews and I babysat once for them, and my sister came home and the diaper was on backwards. I was “What would it be like?” I’m the younger brother so what’s it like for a selfish younger brother if he had to actually take care of a kid. It’s based very much on my relationship with my siblings in that I can’t imagine if I had to take care of his kid. We started to develop the idea from there. I brought it to Mark Duplass, who was my co-star on “The League” and is just the most effective producer and creator of stuff in this space, a smaller movie that is funny but is very grounded. He has guided me through the whole process. Then we set out to find writers that would be able to understand the material and Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive wrote it, who are a couple with a three-year-old son and another child on the way. (They) understood exactly the desperation and difficulties and complexities of being young parents, slightly overwhelmed, like Rose and Bobby’s characters are, but also knowing me and my voice and being able to capture a lot of that. We sort of just kept putting it together from there.

CS: You may have confirmed one of my theories, because I know Mark has his brother Jay, but I’m convinced he has another identical twin brother because it would be impossible for him to do everything he does otherwise.

Kroll: It’s amazing. We met making “The League.” I knew his movies but he’s so prolific and those guys make beautiful films. This new HBO show they’re doing together is going to be really special, but Mark has an insatiable appetite to create but also to help his friends, the people that he likes. He’s gotten so many friends’ careers going with movies and opportunities and setting them up, just as he did here. Even though he’s very much a peer, he was a real mentor for me in this whole process.

CS: I want to ask about getting Ross Katz to direct, but I don’t want to ask too loudly because he’s sitting right over there. How did he get involved? His previous movie with Kevin Bacon was very different.

Kroll: I was connected to him through a common friend. Trying to find a director on this scale of a movie who is willing to not have it be their writing. Normally on this scale, “If I’m going to direct it, I want to write it” but Ross, I saw “Taking Chance” the Kevin Bacon movie he made and it’s really beautifully. It’s beautifully shot and the story tracks, and I thought he would be a guy, coming from being a producer to then direct. When you’ve got a very limited budget and scale of what you can do, when you have someone who thinks like a producer, it really helps. He pitched me and Mark on the phone. He was really passionate about doing the movie. He got it. He got the core of what the movie was about and then he didn’t have a ton of experience with comedy but I think that between the two of us, we felt like we would be able to make sure those moments work. That’s the thing about him. There’s no ego with Ross. It’s purely what’s best for the team, what’s best for the movie, and he’s able to always make sure that that comes first. He was happy to share that with me and let me keep my input and make sure that both of us were playing to our skill sets.

CS: New Rochelle is a very specific place and setting for the movie, so how did you wind up there?

Kroll: I grew up in Westchester, I grew up in Rye, and as we were scouting locations, we ended up finding the best opportunity for a house in New Rochelle, and the more we thought about it, the more we thought it was perfect, because New Rochelle has the full spectrum of money and stuff. So you have very wealthy to some tougher neighborhoods and everything in between. I think that this movie was about people who came from the suburbs who were middle class. My character was aspirational to go to this next level so that he can meet a guy like Hudson, Joel’s character, and want to be friends with him, and then come home and still live in their nice suburban home. The next generation of Rose and Bobby’s characters really can’t afford to live there anymore, so it felt like a good cross-section of everything socio-economically and culturally.

CS: Some of the other characters—you mentioned that you were thinking of Bobby Cannavale for his part–but what about some of the others like Joel or Bobby Moynihan? Did you already know them?

Kroll: Rose was the first person we went to to play my sister so the idea that she signed on was crazy. We wrote the part for Bobby, but we had to get my sister figured out before we could go to Bobby, just because of the connections of who would be right to be married to who? Then beyond that, the part of the Armond, the many, was written for Jason Mantzoukas, who is my friend from “The League” and my show and any number of things. And then the rest of it, is really putting the puzzle of scheduling together. We got super lucky that Joel was available to do it for us. Bobby Moynihan I knew from early comedy days in New York, but also, he grew up literally across the street from where we shot his scene. The convenience store that we shot that scene in used to be a bowling alley where he had birthday parties, so when he got the call sheet, he was like, “You guys are shooting literally across the street from my house.” I’ve known Bobby for a long time but a part like that was so perfect for him for any number of reasons, but partially because he’s a Westchester guy. We just had a common frame of reference so that a lot of that scene was improvised and played with. We just know each other and knew that world well.

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CS: I hope this doesn’t come off as an insult, but I feel Jason’s band might be one of the worst bands I’ve seen in a movie. It may be intentional…

Kroll: Yes. Well, Jason, we were like “We want you to sing Toad the Wet Sprocket” and he was like “I have a terrible voice” and I was like, “That’s fine.” And it works. I think sometimes when you see the stakes are so low, it’s really fun. There was a moment where we were like “So we’re going to loop in his voice afterwards?” and Ross was like, “No, I think we’ll do it live and we’ll use that.”

CS: I know you had to shoot this in between your shows and during one of the worst winters in recorded memory, so did you have any problems that hindered the making of the movie?

Kroll: It did. We did it, but it was hard. I had been in L.A. for six years, but I grew up in New York and this was the worst winter that I can remember in history for me. Also, we were shooting largely in Westchester, so a 25-minute commute from New York to New Rochelle was all of a sudden 45 minutes. Everything was melting. Cranes on the front yard tearing up the yard. That kind of stuff is just really complicated, having to be like “Wait, we shot the exterior for the house yesterday and it was all green and three days later, we’re shooting and it’s covered in snow. We shot the pool scene at a college in New Rochelle and it was barely eight degrees that day and we’re shooting inside but the heater of the pool wasn’t working. If you look around, it works because we’re scared to be in the water, but the reality was that we were freezing cold. It was like 65-70 degrees in the water. It’s one of the reasons why Rose, beyond being so funny and such a good actress, was such an amazing person to work on this movie, because she just didn’t complain. She did her job. With this kind of budget and this kind of schedule, there’s no room. You miss a day, you lose that day. You gotta make it up somehow and everybody was game. It was really one of those situations where everybody just connected with the material and were like “We’re in. What do we gotta do?”

CS: Where do you go from here? I assume you’re done shooting the current season of “The League” which is on now.

Kroll: No, we shot this movie. I went back to L.A., started writing “The Kroll Show,” my sketch show, then we shot “Kroll Show” then I started shooting “The League” and we’re editing “The Kroll Show” right now. Both of those will be done October or November and then I’m not sure yet. I don’t know what the next thing will be.

CS: I’m a little behind on “The League” right now…

Kroll: Oh, so am I.

CS: I’m halfway through last season.

Kroll: Yeah, our second episode is tomorrow night.

CS: I was surprised that the last season has not followed the arc of the actual fantasy football league, which has always been the case with previous seasons.

Kroll: As I remember, it amps up at the ending. To be honest, it’s a bit of a blur because we shoot four or five episodes at the time. What I think Jeff and Jackie, the creators of the show, have done well is swim in that water of fantasy football when it serves them and their stories and the jokes and the things they want to do and move away for when it doesn’t. There’s a ton of material to be mined from that world, and there’s times you want to move away and swim in other waters.

CS: I think the episode with Jason and Seth Rogen was one of the weirdest things that’s been done on the show.

Kroll: Yeah, I love it. I loved that they did it and that Jeff and Jackie supported making this wild… and they’re going to do another one this year.

CS: There’s stuff on the show that’s so brilliant I’m surprised that the Emmys have ignored the show for its entire run.

Kroll: A lot of the people on it are doing a lot of stuff elsewhere. The nice thing about it is that a lot of fans are really passionate about it, and then I think also in the comedy world, it’s known… For me, every job you hope you love doing the job and hope that people who can give you your next job see it and like it. That’s what we’re all kind of working towards.

Adult Beginners opens in select cities and On Demand including iTunes on Friday, April 24, 2015. Look for our extended interview with Bobby Cannavale later this week.

 

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