A cursory glance at Nick Kroll’s IMDB page poses a lot of vexing questions. Chiefly, how does a man starring in the new Terrence Malick movie (Knight of Cups) also plan to appear in a movie titled Captain Underpants, where he will assume the role of (and I’m not making this up) Professor Poopypants? It’s best to chalk this madness up to Kroll’s diverse skill set. As a comedic performer, Kroll has flourished both on film and television. Whether he’s sadistic lawyer Rodney Ruxin on FX’s The League, radio host The Douche on Parks and Recreation, or everyone on his now-defunct Comedy Central program Kroll Show, the New York-born comic has become a bankable talent. You put him on a screen, people will laugh.
His latest, and perhaps most serious work can be found in Adult Beginners, now out on DVD/Blu-Ray. In Ross Katz’s directorial debut, Kroll plays a self-obsessed entrepreneur named Jake, whose life begins to unravel on the eve of his company’s launch. With his business dreams dashed, Jake absconds to his hometown in the hopes of reconnecting with his estranged sister and her family. Contrary to the calculating and conniving characters he typically thrives in, Kroll demonstrates his ability to do drama — to have and show feelings. For once, the emotional numbness has subsided for reasons other than fantasy football.
Before fielding our Lucky 7, Kroll opened up about the responsibilities of adulthood, not understanding his mortgage, and working with today’s most reclusive filmmaker.
You sound like you’re on the road right now.
I am sitting in my car about to head inside for a record, but yes. I’m not on the road road, but I’m in a car.
From The Douche (Parks and Recreation) to Ruxin (The League), you’ve repeatedly proven your ability to play characters with … assholish tendencies. What about Adult Beginners clicked for you?
It’s a story that I conceived the idea for and it just felt to me like a realistic story that stuff was relevant to me. I have three siblings with four kids each, so I have very good relationships. I have sisters, and I think working in entertainment, you see people rise and fall, and also, I feel like there are times where you feel like an adult because you are one, but there are things about your life where you’re like, Shit, I don’t have my act together there. And I feel like a lot of people in our generation feel that way. So there are all those themes that are interesting and relevant for me to work on, and also to be able to stretch my legs a little bit and do some acting and do some stuff that different than the stuff I’ve done before.
When have you felt that you didn’t have your act together?
Oh, constantly; I bought a house and my best friend was like, “Well, what’s your mortgage?” And I was like, “Uhhh….” You know? There’s just stuff like that.
Did you not know your mortgage?
I did, but there were certain details I didn’t know that he was asking about, that I was like [dead air]. I felt like if I knew the details, I’d be like, “Alright, Dad.” I handled it responsibly, but there were a couple things he asked about, and I was like, “Fuck, I’ve got no idea.” There’s still certain stuff like health insurance where I don’t exactly understand how this works, but I should because I’m an adult.
Do you do your own taxes?
I have an accountant. I feel like there’s times where you’re, on paper, an adult, and then you’re not.
Did you imagine your life turning out like this?
It’s going great, if someone was like, “Hey, you’d be able to be doing movies, TV, and touring nationally, I’d be super psyched.” But truly, when I started, I was just like, “I love comedy, and there’s nothing else I feel passionate about in any way, so whether I succeed at this or not, I have no choice but to do it, because I genuinely don’t feel I can do anything else.
You weren’t good at anything else?
No, I genuinely don’t think I was good at anything else.
I have to ask, what was it like being in a Terrence Malick movie?
I got a call on a Tuesday being like, “Hey, do you wanna shoot a Terrence Malick [movie] on Thursday?” And they called me and were like, “Wear something like this,” and that was all the information I got. And then I went in, and I was told very little about the larger themes going on, and I was just so excited about the opportunity to go in. Knowing a little bit about his movies, there’s really no guarantee that you’ll make it in things. But I genuinely went in there and I was like, “I just want to appreciate and enjoy this day, and I’m gonna watch the process and absorb whatever I can, and just say okay to what’s asked of me.” And that’s what I did.
Did you ever find out how this opportunity came about?
I don’t even know. I think we had shot The Kroll Show, but I don’t know if it had come out yet. I don’t remember. When I met him, he said he liked my videos and my stuff. I honestly have no real idea. I think they were looking for comedians who could improvise, or be on their feet, because I think he really likes people who can feel in the moment and are flexible.
Did you have any scripted lines?
No, I was just there to sort of disrupt, and I got to. A lot of my schtick was just kind of to mess with Christian Bale, which was really fun and he was super cool. Someone saw the movie in Berlin and said I was in it. I have no idea where I will l be in it. I was just so grateful to have the experience of being on that set and get to watch and participate in what was such a unique experience.
What was your first exposure to Playboy magazine?
I’m trying to think of the first centerfold I saw. It was definitely at camp; I definitely remember seeing Playboy when I was at summer camp, also probably the first time I saw porn. I feel like Pam Anderson was probably one of the first ones that I really remember. And I met her recently at a party and she said I was really funny on the Justin Bieber roast…. that I was not a part of. I corrected her and told her James Franco was. And she was like, “Right, right.” I complimented her. She put herself out there to be roasted, and that takes some serious balls.
Are you going to get roasted at some point?
Oh, I can’t see a world where I’m famous or pathetic enough to be roasted.
What movie scared you the most as a child?
I saw The Exorcist when I was 5 years old and it kind of made me never want to watch scary movies again. I was in Georgetown recently, and there are the Exorcist steps. I barely could bring myself to walk those steps.
Do you have a pop culture blind spot?
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all the movies I never watched, and I have huge blind spots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the second Godfather. I barely know the Star Wars movies. And I’ve only watched the first six seasons of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
What was your first car?
My first car was a Volvo; it was my mom’s old car. It was pretty hot stuff. I smoked a cigarette in the car and burned a hole in the side of the dashboard, and I had to look at it every day to be reminded of what a shit head I was.
What was the first song you knew all the lyrics to?
“Davy Crockett” [”Indian Girl”] by Slick Rick.
I would have not guessed that.
Yeah, that was the two things I got from summer camp: Playboy and Slick Rick.
Not a bad combo. On the off chance you end up in prison, what would your death row meal be?
I think about that a lot! Not about going to prison, but what my last meal would be. Definitely fried chicken, bone in. I really like McDonald’s French fries. Maybe a Mexican Coke.
Why are those so good?
Cane sugar. And I’d have a ring ding.
Going out in fashion, I guess. What’s been your favorite mistake?
Doing an interview for Playboy.com whipped up on heroin.