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Nick Kroll Talks Making ‘Adult Beginners,’ The Challenges Of Indie Filmmaking, The State Of Comedy, And More

Nick Kroll Talks Making 'Adult Beginners,' The Challenges Of Indie Filmmaking, The State Of Comedy, And More

Whether he’s playing Ruxin in “The League,” The Douche in “Parks and Recreation,” or any one of his numerous characters in “Kroll Show,” Nick Kroll really seems to have a gift when it comes to playing hilariously obnoxious characters. Surprisingly, however, in his first starring role in a feature film, Kroll has decided to tone down the crazy and play a character that’s a bit more down to earth. That film would be “Adult Beginners” (our review), which also stars Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and Joel McHale. Nick Kroll plays Jake, a hotshot entrepreneur whose company’s big launch fails miserably, forcing him to get his life together with the help of his older sister, Justine (Byrne).

Kroll produced the film with the help of the Duplass Brothers and he came up with the story. And while “Adult Beginners” does bear some striking similarities to last year’s “The Skeleton Twins,” the movie manages to distinguish itself thanks to Kroll’s unique brand of humor. So, yes, this is a Nick Kroll film through and through. It’s his baby. This past week, he has proven how much he cares about this film as the comedian has decided to go on a Q&A tour, doing screenings in cities such as Boston, Austin, Chicago, New York City, and Seattle.

Last Saturday, he stopped by Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles to talk about the film, with special guest Jake Johnson (“New Girl,” “Let’s Be Cops”). Johnson does not appear in “Adult Beginners” nor does he have a credit on the film, but he took the time out of his schedule anyway to help out his buddy. What followed was a fun, casual, and informative Q&A session, and you can check out some highlights below.

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The Origins Of “Adult Beginners”

Nick Kroll: I’m the youngest of four kids. Amongst my three siblings, I have 12 nieces and nephews, I have maybe been asked to babysit once and I’m the godparent to none of them. I was thinking, what would it be like if this selfish younger brother was thrust in the world of caretaking for a kid? So that was the original idea. I then brought that idea to Mark Duplass, my co-star in “The League,” who wasn’t making a movie that week. He sorta guided me through it and then we slowly put the pieces together from that point.

I conceived the story and then we found a couple in New York, Liz Flahive and Jeff Cox, who had a two-year-old kid at the time and, by the time we went into production, just gave birth to a second. So they were in a very similar space to Rose and Bobby’s characters. I wanted to have a woman be a part of either writing it, or part of the writing team, just to capture the feeling of what it’s like for a young mother. I felt like me and my buddies weren’t gonna be able to write that.

The Kickstarter-like Video That Opens The Movie
We screened the movie in New York and LA to friends and family and we kept cutting away that opening scene [the party scene]. Everyone wanted to see Jake and Justine. So, by the time we got to a final version of the party, it wasn’t clear what was happening at the party or what the stakes were. So, we actually shot that opening video during “Kroll Show.” And that jacket [I’m wearing] is [what] Aspen’s wearing in “Dunch.”

On How Nick Kroll’s Bar Mitzvah Was Like Making The Movie
I had a world theme at my Bar Mitzvah, each table was a different country. I had a miserable time. There was one picture of me and I’m wearing a double-breasted suit. There were all these people having fun and I’m just standing there. I look like a corporate lawyer who just found out he’s not making partner. And it was very similar to making a movie in a weird way because I felt responsible for the machinations of it and you don’t get to really enjoy it while it’s happening because you want to make sure it’s done.

I needed to find my sister first and went to Rose [Byrne] and she responded to it. And it’s pretty nuts to have your first choice decide that they wanna do the movie, especially someone like her who has a lot of options. So we went and had breakfast and we talked about the part, and she was like, “I don’t wanna be weird but I actually think my boyfriend would be great to play my husband in the movie, feels like it was written for him.” And I said, “Who’s your boyfriend?” She said, “Bobby Cannavale.” And I was like “Well, coincidentally we did write it for him”… because Liz [Flahive] had written on “Nurse Jackie” and Bobby had been on in the first season. So then Bobby signed on two days later. Then we literally just filled everyone else in based on schedule and availability. And we just called in a ton of favors.

From “Kroll Show” To “Adult Beginners”
It was exciting to do something that felt slightly different than “Kroll Show,” however I’d say that [with] “Kroll Show,” we were always trying to create three-dimensional characters who were reacting emotionally as honestly as we could do it. It was just about turning down the levels on it, but it was always the same idea. So the opportunity of doing it in the movie was exciting and something I was interested in doing.

Most Fun Day On Set
The stuff with Bobby Moynihan was really fun to shoot. That was, like, day one of shooting. So we had a little extra time and Bobby and I had met at the Upright Citizens Brigade, both taking classes there. He’s also from the town where we shot that scene and weirdly that part of the department store, he was like “This is where we had birthday bowling parties…” So we could connect on that. And then, to me, the most fun stuff for this was doing the big fight stuff with Bobby, or the stuff with Rose on the couch where we were watching the video with our Mom, which was super sad. It was kinda new terrain for me, so that was the most exciting for me to do.

Challenges Of Producing Movie
Producing a TV show is a great training ground for it because it’s certain muscles of like, you go from producing decisions to then shooting so you have to put a different hat on. But the speed of shooting a movie… we shot this in 22 days and we shot in the dead of winter in New York and we were getting 10 inches a week shooting outside the city and we were getting nailed. The stuff with Josh Charles, we had shot all that office stuff in one day. It was snowing like crazy and the producer would come up and be like, “So we lost the swimming pool tomorrow so we have to push it to maybe Saturday, but Jane Krakowski is not available on Saturday so we might need to recast it — and action.” So there are moments where you were trying to switch hats but producing the TV show was a great training for this kind of thing.

Each scene has got a snippet. I was interested in trying to stay true to the script. We only had one camera. In general, we almost never cross-shot. We just didn’t have the budget, and they wanted it lit a certain way… But there were certain scenes, like the Skype scene with the parents was a good amount of improv. A bunch of Joel [McHale]’s jokes were improvised. The stuff with Bobby was largely improvised. So it was largely dependent on the scene. But I was interested in sticking with the script.

Jason Mantzoukas Singing Toad The Wet Sprocket
Our writers put that in the script and it just felt right and then it was a question of negotiating to see if we could get it. And then we had to put one of their newer songs in the movie and it’s like in the background of the doctor’s office… [Asking the audience] Is anyone here from Toad the Wet Sprocket? Because I did look at the end credits and it does say “Toad the Wet Sprocket, ‘Walk on the Ocean’ copyright Todd The Wet Sprocket,” which makes me wonder is the lead singer named Todd? Like he’s the one that controls it. But I like the idea of that and the Arrested Development song [“Tennessee”] of just trying to hit that mid-90s feels. Get in that era without making it too “on the nose.” But now, when I hear that song at the end of the movie, I kinda love that song again.

Nick Kroll’s Working Relationship With The Screenwriters
Yeah, I mean, throughout there were things [the writers] were fighting for and stuff I liked or didn’t like. Mark [Duplass] and I really worked with them on the script and then our director [Ross Katz] got involved. So there were constantly changes and shifts throughout, but tonally we all basically felt we were on the same page of the kind of movie we wanted to do. What I loved about them, there were things about their reality where I was like “You know this better than me.” But for the most part, we didn’t have any lockdown fights. We were pretty locked in on the same page.

READ MORE: Jay And Mark Duplass Sign Four-Picture Deal With Netflix

Using Twin Child Actors
You get double the amount of time. There were two boys, one was much more chatty than the other one which worked out well for the ones where we needed the kid to talk. I had worked with a kid on “The League” for a number of seasons. So I was used to the process of trying to deal with the little guy. But one was much more chatty and we would use him for the verbal scenes and one was more docile, and we’d just have him sit there.

They were both blonde and Bobby was like “My kid’s not gonna be fucking blonde” so we dyed their hair… The kids, when they weren’t working, they would be building beautiful Lego architecture. I’d be on Twitter and they’d be in there building the Taj Mahal.

Being An Adult Beginner
Part of the idea for the movie was that we all have the trappings of adulthood but we still feel like children in a way. I feel that way constantly, and I have friends who have kids who feel that way. As an actor and writer, you’re constantly dealing with rejection on some level. And even if you’re doing well, you’re still being told “no” all the time, or you do something and you get something made and the show doesn’t work or the movie isn’t number one at the box office… as an artist, you’re constantly restarting and I think it gets easier, but you’re still constantly dealing with that.

Community Of Comedians
It’s a very cool time in comedy in general. And I could’ve asked my friends to do mostly anything and if they were available they would do it. It’s like going and doing [Jake Johnson]’s show [“New Girl”], it’s really fun to go and do someone else’s thing and then it’s also fun to just step into someone else’s world and see what the set is like. Comedy can’t be done in a vacuum and you can’t do it on your own. So if you have a community of people it’s a great symbiotic relationship.

Duplass Bros Involvement
Mark was much more involved in this personally. Jay and Mark work together a lot, but specifically my relationship was with Mark from the show [“The League”], so he was involved in early tone stuff and also connecting us to people, whether it was our physical producer or working with people he had worked with. So we had a lot of conversations about siblings and marriage and stuff that he has thought a lot about based on the work he’s done. Another amazing thing about working with those guys is that they understand the landscape on the business side so he was incredibly useful when we went to Toronto to sell it and figuring out who we were gonna work with and what the deals were like, and eventually dealing with the marketing and stuff.

“Adult Beginners” is now playing in limited release and is available On Demand.

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