Being around Kerry Washington and Craig Robinson immediately brings to mind director Tina Gordon Chism's words about her two lead actors - that Washington's svelte, fast and sharp while Robinson is deadpan and quieter, and the strength of those opposites makes them a great comic combination. Indeed, it was entertaining to watch the pair play off of each other. They made time to talk with me about playing a couple of opposites in Peeples, which opens today, Friday.
On creating chemistry as a couple
CRAIG: Unfairly probably, it was easy for me. Come on [points to Kerry]. But if you've ever tried to impress a young lady or wanted to make them laugh, you know I was constantly inspired to be charming around Kerry Washington.
KERRY: We both came at it like, "We have to work at creating chemistry and history," but the truth was, it was there. He's so great, it was so easy. I think when you respect somebody's work it's much easier to have that connection, and we really had a mutual admiration for each other's work. I'm obsessed with Hot Tub Time Machine. [laughs]
But we did the things you're supposed to do as an actor. We went to dinner and we talked about how we met and we came up with a back story. We had figured out all these details about the apartment, all these real things so that you believed their relationship, so that you believed in the love connection. Because you don't go down the journey of feeling bad for them unless you feel good about them.
On being a leading man
CRAIG: The pressure that you'd think would be there wasn't there. I think that's due to the people I was surrounded by. David Alan Grier was father of the set. He is the funniest man walking. So it was so much fun and we just laughed and sang and played, so it felt great for me. I couldn't have asked for a better coming out party as a leading man.
On making it funny
KERRY: For me it's like being a singer. When you work on your range you can't just warm up the high notes, you have to warm up the low notes as well to have the full spectrum of your voice. I don't feel completely alive if all I'm allowed to do is dramatic work. That's not the full range of what I can do, so it's always fun for me to be able to warm up the comedic part of my instrument and feel like that's as alive as the rest of the dramatic stuff.
I had just done a play on Broadway with David Alan Grier, which was a drama, but I knew from being in rehearsal and backstage with David how ridiculously silly he is. I also grew up watching In Living Color. So I knew that it would be an incredible ride with these guys. It was like getting paid to go to comedy school. I think especially now, we need reasons to laugh these days. And I'm proud that we're putting a film out in the world where you leave the theater feeling good about yourself and about life and love and family.
On memorable moments from the set
KERRY: Our very first day of shooting was where we were all over at Nana's house. So our first day was with Melvin [Van Peebles] and Diahann [Carroll]. It was the perfect way to begin, because it was the entire cast with these two epic, groundbreaking heroes of ours.
CRAIG: When we started on the way to the set Diahann got up and gave this beautiful speech about being grateful to be there and gracious to us. It was a lesson in class. And then they showed us how to do it: they worked hard all day and then they hung out with us at night. It was incredible.
KERRY: They set the tone as the matriarch and patriarch of the Peeples and we tried to live up to their legacy throughout the shoot.
On filming their most serious scene in the movie, the dramatic climax
CRAIG: I love this movie and you could throw a dice and pick a favorite scene, but I think I grew as an actor in that scene. It was electric, what I felt with Kerry in that moment. There were definitely some new depths for me.
KERRY: I think that's part of why the film works, because all of the cast members wanted to make their characters as rich and as layered and as real as possible. So there's all this comedy, but in that moment where we part at the door you really feel that these are two people that love each other very much.
On what's great about Peeples
KERRY: I think it's so fun to do a movie where you don't feel like you have to be any one kind of person to like it. There are so many entry points. My parents were saying how at different points in people's lives, they'll identify with different characters in the Peeples. Whether it's us or the grandparents or David and Epatha's characters, this movie is for everybody regardless of age or race or gender.
CRAIG: We've been sitting on this movie for a while, so to hear the response that people are digging it is a bigger relief than I thought. I try not to let on that I'm as sensitive as I am, but to go into this territory and to get this response, I'm so humbled and grateful. At the same time, you've got to keep on plowing away.
Peeples opens in theaters today, May 10.
For more, check out:
My interview with David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tyler James Williams and the full Peeples cast HERE
Sergio's one-on-one interview with Craig Robinson HERE
My interview with producer Stephanie Allain and director Tina Gordon Chism HERE