UTG INTERVIEW: Nick Kroll Talks ‘Adult Beginners’

In a time when it seems everyone is looking to the next mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster for their entertainment it can be easy to forget that there are countless indie efforts hitting theaters as well that offer equal, if not greater quality entertainment without resorting to the use of CGI and latex. One such film in theaters right now is Adult Beginners, which stars comedian Nick Kroll as a man who is forced to move in with his pregnant sister and her husband after losing everything in a tech startup. It’s the kind of funny, yet emotionally driven story that speaks to the person in all of us who only wants to make our family and friends proud, and I honestly cannot recommend it enough.

Recently, Nick Kroll stopped in Boston to promote Adult Beginners and UTG was asked to participate in a press round table. We had just over twenty minutes with Nick, and in that time we managed to discuss a number of topics, including the inspiration for the film, casting, and where Kroll sees himself headed now that he’s led a feature film. You can find highlights from the interview below.

UTG: Let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s as good a place as any. I heard Rose Byrne mention on Marc Maron’s podcast that you came up with the story for this film, then sought out writers to create the script. Can you tell us a bit about that process, and why you chose the writers you eventually used?

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 (Byrne) being a young mother figuring out how to work and be a mom. It just seemed it would be really helpful because my imagination is somewhat limited. I read with a bunch of people and met with Liz (Flahive) and Jeff (Cox) who wrote the movie. They are actually husband and wife and when they wrote the script they had a 2-year-old son and by the time we started shooting the movie they had had another kid. They really were just keyed into that slightly tired, overwhelmed, parents trying to work, and figure out how to navigate all those things life. I was really excited to have real life experience to make it feel more realistic.

UTG: Most comedic actors have a good dramatic turn in them, but many dramatic actors struggle to make the transition to comedy. Why do you think that is?

Kroll: Well we’re just more talented [laughing]. I only half mean that. You can learn to have access to whatever emotions you need to have for a drama performance, but sometimes comedy is something intangible, some innate quality to it. Obviously there are [qualities] with dramatic performances. Only a certain amount of people can pull a more intense, dramatic performance off, but I do think it is easier to go comedic to dramatic than vice versa.

UTG: Rose Byrne is having an amazing couple of years in regards to working in comedy. What was it like working with her on this film?

Kroll: She was the first person we went to to play my sister and obviously we wanted to cast that sister role first because it’s the most central to the movie working or not. There a lot of talented comedic actresses out there, but she’s just so adept at both (comedy and drama). We got 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. There was just something that felt very familiar to her without putting words in her mouth. We just got very lucky and she happens to be super fucking cool. She was game, we put her in a freezing pool for two days with no heater. The heater at the pool broke. She didn’t complain about anything, she was just a pleasure to work with.

UTG: When you hire Rose Byrne, do you get Bobby Cannavale for a discount? I joke of course, but their real life relationship does make the casting of the two quite interesting.

Kroll: Ironically we went to Rose first because we just needed to figure out who that sister character was, but 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, it feels like it was written for my boyfriend.” I said “Who’s your boyfriend?” She said Bobby Cannavale and I was like “We literally did write the part for him.” I’ve known him socially and Liz Flahive was an EP on Nurse Jackie which he did a season of and they know each other from the theater world. He was always that template of a real man who was much more masculine and intimidating to the kind of guy my character is. But also who had a really sweet, thoughtful, tender part of him. Bobby 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 “Oh okay, their mom died.” You know what you need there; he’s super bummed, his mom died. But when I’m fighting with Bobby — I think I saw you cheat on my sister — there’s that grey area and being able to work with a guy like Bobby who is natural actor, but also puts a lot of thought into why he’s saying what he’s saying. It was really fun for me.

UTG: You have a background in improv, and it seems to help you a lot with your work on screen. What’s it like working with people who aren’t improv actors? Does it make it more difficult?

Kroll: Rose and Bobby don’t come from an improv background, but both of them can improvise. I think it’s just creating an environment where people are able to do what they are comfortable with. There was definitely improvising throughout, but we worked hard on making the script right, making the jokes land or the dramatic moments land as much as we could. Me and Bobby Moynihan’s scene, we both come from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade so that had more improv in it. Joel McHale’s stuff, there’s some really fun improvised stuff there. But then also the parents’ Skype scene with me and Rose ended up being quite improvised, but there’s stuff improvised in there that’s not comedic at all. It’s more underlying story stuff. The nice thing about having the ability to improvise is that things feel fresh, but I didn’t want to lean on it in this project.

UTG: A big theme in this film is starting over. You are in a place to do that right now yourself. The League is ending, Kroll Show just aired its finale, and soon Adult Beginners will be in theaters and VOD. What is next for Nick Kroll?

Kroll: You know, just round table interviews [laughs].

Written and conducted by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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