After making his mark on the comedy world with Kroll Show and The League, it’s hard not to see Nick Kroll as one of his many zany and sarcastic characters.
However, the actor has taken his first step toward more dramatic and mature roles with his latest film Adult Beginners. Kroll stars as Jake, an ambitious entrepreneur who ends up losing it all and is forced to move back home to baby-sit his nephew.
We chatted with Kroll during the Boston leg of his press tour earlier this week, and he talked about making the transition into more serious roles, what it means to be an adult, and more.
Boston.com: We get to see a more dramatic side of you in Adult Beginners. What was it like making the jump from straight comedy to a more serious role?
Nick Kroll: It’s fun to keep doing new stuff. Getting to do more dramatic work… it was just fun. Also, to do it with Rose [Byrne] and Bobby [Cannavale], who are such good actors, you kind get this opportunity to just learn from them. Not even like Bobby pulling me aside saying, “This is how you do it.’’ But just watching how they work and what their process was, it was fun.
Boston.com: From Joel McHale to Bobby Moynihan, there are so many great comedy stars in the film.
Kroll: It was really nice. Almost all of them are friends of mine or people that I have some connection to. Jason [Mantzoukas] is one of my best buddies in comedy, and Bobby Moynihan and I met doing Upright Citizens Brigade years ago in New York. Mike Birbiglia has got a little part, and he cast me in the college improv group I was in. Julie White has a great little moment where she plays Rose’s boss. We just had all these different people and friends I was able to call in some version of a favor. Someone like Josh Charles, who I knew and Bobby knew,was willing because he was finishing up The Good Wife at that moment and did us a solid and did those couple scenes.
Boston.com: Are you more at ease working with a cast made up of friends and people you know as opposed to working with actors you don’t really have connections to?
Kroll: Interesting. I think it could work both ways I guess. I find I work best when I’m in a comfortable environment where I’m not trying to figure out what’s going beyond whatever it is we’re trying to do. Sometimes work environments can get tricky and, not tricky for any good reason. So, it was a very nice, warm set.
Boston.com: The whole film was shot over 22 days in New York and you’re originally from Rye. Was it weird filming in pretty much your backyard?
Kroll: There was something weird about driving around and being at locations or seeing stuff and going, “Oh, that’s right near my friend Evan’s house.’’ We shot some of the stuff with Bobby [Moynihan] in Eastchester and Bobby was like, “This is where I used to go for birthday parties.’’ It was a bowling alley where he used to go for birthday parties. It helps in that, as you try to get more into character, it’s nice to have some sense of where you are. The train stuff, I mean, I’ve ridden Metro-North a thousand times, so riding that train out to New York after a long night, I could identify with it.
Boston.com: The overarching theme of the movie is coming to terms with adulthood and all the challenges that come with that. What’s your thoughts on becoming an adult and how people navigate that process?
Kroll: I feel like that’s part of the movie that’s, for me, kind of interesting because we all sort of seem like kind of adults, but in a lot of ways are still kids. I think that the people in the movie like Rose’s character, who seems like she’s this great big sister who’s got everything together, you start to see the cracks and behavior that might not be the most responsible. A lot of people our age feel that way, feel like they’re just trying to be a grown-up, but also be like, “I can’t even buy a printer cartridge.’’
Boston.com: I always feel like the idea of being an adult is some sort of future goal to strive for, but really, it’s all about the choices you make in the present.
Kroll: Yeah. Throughout you’re like, “I feel like I’m an adult,’’ and then you look back and are like, “God, you were just a child.’’
Boston.com: Another takeway I got from the film was that becoming an adult means putting other people first and not being so self-centered or selfish.
Kroll: That’s an interesting observation. I would agree with that. I guess there are people who are always selfless even when they’re kids or something. But a sign of maturity and a sign of growing up is, yeah, putting other people first. Also, the otherside of it is the co-dependence stuff, understanding I’m too meshed in this and I need to make a decision that serves me or something. But I do think that part of growing up is, in the case of Jake specifically, it was definitely putting other people first.
Boston.com: This is an interesting year for you since Kroll Show just aired its series finale and The League kicks off its last season in the fall. Are you sad to see all these projects you’ve been apart of for so long come to their ends?
Kroll: I’m so lucky that I’ve had two shows over the last number of years that people seem to like and I try not to take that for granted. Also, it’s like when you’re done with high school or done with college and you’re like, “Well that was a great run.’’ Now, I’m ready to be done with whatever this moment in my life is and I’m interested in figuring out what the next thing is. Part of what’s exciting about that is not having every answer to that question and just trying to figure it out. That can also be a little daunting at times. But doing something like this, it wasn’t on purpose, but the timing of the movie coming out right as Kroll Show is finishing and right as we finish up The League is cool. The timing of it is helpful.
Boston.com: Speaking of The League, did you ever think that a show about fantasy football would last for seven seasons?
Kroll: I don’t want to sound egotistical, but we shot the pilot for the show and I was like, “If this show gets picked up, I think it’s going to run for a while,’’ because the idea seemed so clear. I was not a fantasy football guy beforehand, but all of a sudden I was like, “I going to do this show about fantasy football’’ and everyone is like, “Oh, I’m in a league.’’ This is a really big part of American culture and it’s only getting bigger. Also, the Schaffers assembled a very funny group of people and just did a good job of casting the show. It’s crazy to think that it is coming to a conclusion.
Boston.com: Is there anything that you can tease us with about the upcoming season?
Kroll: I honestly don’t know very much. We find out like closer to the season. We never know who’s going to win the league. We do 13 episodes and we usually find out around episode 10 or 11 who’s going to win that season. I can guarantee that there will be some awful things done to the people closest to them.
Boston.com: Your set to play the villain in Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s upcoming adult animated comedy Sausage Party. Did you enjoy getting behind the mic?
Kroll: You don’t have to get into make-up, you don’t have to figure out costumes, nothing. It’s easier on your schedule, it’s four hours here, four hours there. And working with those guys is really fun because they are so funny, and, in animation, you can keep tweaking and figuring out what you want to do. They’ve been working on that for a while, we did a table read for it years ago. It’s a hard R movie I’m told. From what I’ve been hearing, it’s going to be a new kind of animated movie.
Boston.com: It’s sort of funny that your character in it is named the “Douche,’’ which was also the name of your character on Parks and Recreation. Is it strange having to constantly play that character-type?
Kroll: Well, they’re everywhere. I don’t know. They are so fun to play. Douches are always funny, well not always funny, but a lot of times those characters are funny people to observe and be. The weird part is that I’ll walk through the airport and people will go, “Douche!’’ It’s a weird thing to have random people shouting “douche’’ at you at the airport. But it’s so cool and fun and it’s hilarious that I’m now playing two different versions of it.
Boston.com: Are you trying not get to get pigeon-holed in always playing that type of character in order to pursue more dramatic roles that you want?
Kroll: I kind of want to do it all. It’s the real privilege of getting to do what I do. You just get to, hopefully in a perfect world, get to do a movie like this and go do a filthy animated movie with Seth and Evan. And then go continue to do character stuff with my friends, go do stand-up live and performing. Obviously, I’m starring as one of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.
‘Adult Beginners’ is currently playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and is also available on iTunes, Google Play, and other video on-demand services.