If you've been watching television at all lately, you've probably seen a fair bit of Nick Kroll. From starring roles in The League and Kroll Show to Netflix hits Oh, Hello on Broadway and Big Mouth, Kroll has claimed front and center in living rooms all across L.A.
L.A. Weekly planned to catch up with Kroll to discuss his current and future projects, which include co-hosting the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, March 3, with comedy partner John Mulaney. But a few minutes before the interview was scheduled to begin, Kroll called with the most L.A. of problems: “I just got in my car to go get some breakfast tacos before our interview to get all ready to go … and my car didn't start.”
Tragedy strikes. But it's L.A., so the show must go on — and tacos or no, Kroll is game to get down to it.
L.A. WEEKLY: It seems that you've got a lot going on lately.
NICK KROLL: Yeah, I think that's a fair reason as to why my car didn't start. I've been out of the country — I was in Korea at the Winter Olympics.
For fun or for work?
For work. There's this couple, Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas. Alexi is a summer Olympian who went to Rio in 2016; she and Jeremy got a grant from the International Olympic Committee to be artists in residence at the Winter Olympics. I got a call. … I don't know; I've been gone for two weeks, so I probably got a call a little less than a week before we had to leave to see if I wanted to do it. We shot a feature, and because we were sponsored by the IOC, we had access to the entire Games in a way that most people don't have access to it.
This is a documentary?
No! Alexi runs the 10K, but in this, she's playing a cross-country skier and I'm playing a volunteer dentist. The movie is kind of like Lost in Translation at the Olympics. You're getting a glimpse of what it's truly like to be there, but in a fictional setting.
So I got back from that yesterday and my car didn't start today.
Do you have some down time, at least?
(laughs) I do not. I am writing and recording an episode of Big Mouth this week, and then we've got the Spirit Awards on — the 3rd? the 4th? — this Saturday.
Big Mouth is outstanding. How does that writing and creating process work with … is it a team of four co-creators?
Yeah, it's me, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin who created and run the show together.
Andrew was my best friend from childhood; we've know each other since first grade. We became best friends by middle school, and then he went on to write for Family Guy. And I went on to do whatever I went on to do to have a car that won't start.
But now here we are 30 years later, creating this show, and it just has been such an amazing partnership. We all have very different skill sets. Andrew came from Family Guy, where he was not only a writer but also kind of the liaison to the animators in the postproduction process, so he came in with unbelievably vast knowledge. Mark and Jen are both writer-directors and have a ton of visual experience, and it just sort of coalesced into an incredibly functional team with everybody bringing different skills.
That sounds incredibly lucky.
It has worked out incredibly well — especially doing a show that I love making but don't need to be involved at every stage, so that I can have, you know, the freedom to go run off to Korea.
Does it help that it's animated? Not only to help you go to Korea and do all these other projects, but because I notice you've been doing so much animation lately — guest spots in Bob's Burgers and The Simpsons, lead villain roles in film features like Captain Underpants and Sausage Party…
I've always loved doing animation, and this was an opportunity to get on the other side of things, the production side. I think one of the reasons that animated projects are such an impactful part of the modern film and TV landscape — like Rick and Morty and Archer and obviously The Simpsons and Family Guy — is that you really have a number of stages to get things right.
As opposed to live TV shows where you're like, “All right, well hopefully we got it on that day, and if we didn't get it, hopefully the editors can save it…” maybe on a huge feature you get the chance to go back and do reshoots, but the majority of things made don't have the money do to that. There's no second and third opportunity to figure out what's working and what's not.
But with animation you have a radio play, then an animatics screening, then a color screening. So there's three or four stages to rewrite and fix and tweak things, and I love that element — that in animation, you keep getting to go back in.
For instance, in Sausage Party, my character initially had a totally different voice. The Douche was almost like a Disney villain. But Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and their team, they were like, “We've been screening the movie, your voice is very funny, and it's not working at all.” So in my last recording session, we redid it to sound more like my character Bobby Bottleservice. It was a last-minute total reversal, and you can do that in animation.
You mention Bobby, and you do so many characters for Kroll Show and Oh, Hello… When you dip into your characters, do you feel like that's you, or is that someone completely removed?
It sounds so cheesy to say, but we all have various aspects of our personalities at different moments in time. Playing different characters has allowed me to express different versions of myself — but though I'm saying they're all part of me, I don't think I'm mostly some douche!
Actually, part of the joy of Big Mouth is that there's the character Nick, which is based on me as a 13-year-old but has aspects of me today, and I also get to play the Hormone Monster, and Coach Steve, and Lola, and all these different characters throughout. I guess there is a bitchy 13-year-old girl in me, and a hormone monster id in me, as well an idiot basketball coach.
You mention all those different roles — how did you and your team go about casting all the rest of the parts in the show? You assembled such a dynamite group.
We have a great casting director, who does a wonderful job. And we also went in to Netflix with a ton of the team attached. It's really kind of the thing I'm most proud of about the show: It's all these people from my whole life whom I've become friends with over the years, and because it's animation, people have the freedom to do it and not have to move heaven and earth to make the time.
As you know, it's a show about puberty, but it's also a show about friendship, and I feel very fortunate that it's all friends from my life making the show together.
If you don't mind, I want to change gears for a minute — I just saw a bunch of tweets about an Uncle Drew film coming out this summer. Can you tell me anything about that?
Yeah. I had seen the Uncle Drew spots when they came out [the Pepsi commercials with Kyrie Irving made up as an old man, wowing onlookers on street basketball courts], and I thought they were really well done. As someone who has tried to build characters, I was blown away by how funny and well realized that character was.
Realizing how much fun doing Oh, Hello was — which was sort of a weird thing to do — I realized that the things that seem like the most fun and interesting are things I should gravitate toward. So in the case of Uncle Drew, it was like, “Do you want to go and spend a month playing basketball and being around Kyrie Irving, Shaq, Reggie Miller, Lisa Leslie, Nate Robinson and Chris Webber, all in old-man makeup?” And I said, “Yeah. I want to do that.”
I won't get into too many specifics, but I'm the bad guy coach. I spent a month shooting with Lil Rel Howery and all those other guys, talking trash to Reggie Miller as he shoots threes and not having the ire of the world fall on me, like it did to Spike Lee.
That sounds like it was great. I want to circle back to the Independent Spirit Awards, which you're co-hosting with John Mulaney.
You know, John and I, we do Big Mouth together, we did Oh, Hello together; right now he's in New York, recording his Netflix special and doing a ton of nights at Radio City — I think seven sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall? I'm just in awe of him in general, and we had a blast hosting it last year, so we decided, “Let's do that thing that was fun, and hopefully it will be fun again.”
The Spirit Awards are also nice because they're not the Oscars or Golden Globes, where everybody's expectations are at some level — those two have so much added pressure. The Spirit Awards, as you know, are during the day, in a tent in Santa Monica, so it's sort of a looser, more fun kind of thing to do.
(to someone else) Hey, thanks so much. All right. Take care.
Who was that? Is that your car?
No. it's the breakfast tacos that I was going to go pick up. I had them delivered to me instead.
Hah! So L.A. Well, we don't want your breakfast to get cold — anything else you want to talk about, then, before we end it?
Actually, I don't know if it's weird, but the thing I did after Uncle Drew is this movie called Operation Finale, which is a movie about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann, and Oscar Isaac and a whole great cast of people are in it. Again, it sort of follows the same philosophy as the rest of what I've been doing, which is to do what sounds interesting. “Do you want to go to Argentina to make a Nazi-hunting movie?” I said yes — that is what I want to do: Go from doing a basketball movie with NBA stars in old-man makeup to Argentina to hunt down Nazis.
I bring it up just to say that I feel incredibly fortunate that I'm getting to do so many various kinds of things, one after the other.
Nick Kroll and John Mulaney host the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, March 3; the show airs live on IFC. Here's their opening monologue from last year's show: