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Craig Robinson Talks Playing A Good Cop In Mona Lisa And The Blood Moon - Exclusive Interview

In many ways, Mona Lisa (Jun Jong Seo), an escaped patient from a mental institution who's able to control people with her mind, fits right in to the late-night psychedelic version of New Orleans presented in visionary director Ana Lily Amirpour's "Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon." However, her continued freedom becomes less assured when she runs into Craig Robinson's Officer Harold and uses her powers on him. It's a move that leaves the police officer rattled and even more determined to bring her in.

In other films, Officer Harold might have been a traditional villain, but in "Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon," he's written by Amirpour and played by Robinson as a good cop caught up in a situation he doesn't quite understand. Robinson makes the character entirely sympathetic, projecting the nuances of Officer Harold's motivations, from his disbelief and fear of Mona Lisa's ability to his determination to protect the public from someone so powerful. It's a rare dramatic role for Robinson, who is primarily known for appearing in comedies, like the movie "Hot Tub Time Machine" and its sequel and the sitcoms "The Office" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Yet while Robinson is beloved for his comedy chops, "Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon" demonstrates his impressive range as a performer.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Robinson talked about why he wanted to appear in the film, how he understood his character, and the difficulties of acting with a leg brace and cane. The actor also provided insight into how he chooses his roles, discussed the snakes on his Peacock comedy "Killing It," and shared a favorite memory from his time on "The Office."

Stepping into Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

If you had the ability to control people with your mind, like Mona Lisa in "Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon," how would you use that power?

I would have everybody sing harmony. Put them all in the choir. We'd be singing.

We know you mostly as a comedic actor, but this is more of a dramatic role. What attracted you to this movie?

Ana Lily Amirpour. She's as artist as they come. She's an artist. Her passion for it — she broke it down, and she sent the script and the [songs] to accompany each scene, so you play the music and get into the mood of it. It was a lot of passion there.

Her visuals are so exciting. Did you find yourself approaching the character differently because it was being shot in this psychedelic way?

Not at all. I didn't know it was being shot like that. The only hint I had of that is seeing Ed Skrein [who plays Fuzz] in his car, but I had no idea. I didn't approach it [in] any way; I just approached it like I was a New Orleans cop.

An antagonist who's not a villain

Your character is sort of the movie's antagonist, but he never comes across as villainous. He's just trying to do his job, and he's very unnerved by Mona Lisa's abilities. What did you want to convey about him through your performance?

This man is trying to find the truth — find the truth and maybe go home. He was searching, and it keeps coming back to the theme of a movie: "Forget what you know." I don't know that that sentence made sense, but he's just trying to find the truth. Like you say, he's unnerved; he accepts what happened, but he can't accept what happened. He saw it, but did he see it? He needs to know, and he needs to stop it because it's dangerous. You can't go around controlling people.

How did you feel about being able to be an antagonist who also has positive motivations?

It all informed the character. He's a good dude. He just came across the hero. He's an antagonist by default. Like you said, he's doing his job, so that's what it was. This guy's a serious cop and a good man looking for the truth. I didn't see it like you just described it. That's so interesting. I didn't see it as "I'm an antagonist and the good guy." I saw it as "Figure out this girl. Don't look her in the eye. Don't let her control people."

Your character has to walk with a cane for most of the movie. Was it a challenge to integrate that into your performance?

Yes, 'cause the brace kept my leg straight. Anytime getting in and out the car, please ... First I had all the cop stuff on. Then I had, forget the cop stuff, just the brace and the cane. Oh my gosh, the cast thing, it was horrible. I had to run around in that, run around the streets in New Orleans. It was horrible, but I hope I pulled it off.

Choosing roles, from Brooklynn Nine-Nine to Mr. Robot

You've popped up in so many different shows, from "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" to "What We Do in the Shadows" to "Mr. Robot." They're all incredible shows that are also very, very different. How do you choose your roles?

"Brooklyn Nine-Nine" was super intriguing, and [I] went over there and we played. I loved the show already, and then it brought me on, so that was smooth. "Mr. Robot" [creator] Sam [Esmail] reached out to me. He saw this movie I did called "Morris from America," and he was like, "I think we need you to make that [dramatic] turn. I think you can make that turn I need you to make."

So I'll see something. [For example, while reading] "Hot Tub Time Machine," I dropped the script. I laughed out loud while reading that. If something's intriguing me, like "Mr. Robot" — I hadn't seen it yet, but I binged it in two days — I was like, "Yes. Yes. I want to be a part of this." [There's] got to be something there that I feel like I can serve. I've had to turn down parts 'cause I was like, "I don't see my meaning in this. I don't know what I could bring to this." It's got to be something I feel like I can bring something to.

On Killing It's snakes and memories of The Office

Your show "Killing It" revolves around a snake-killing contest. It could be a dark show, but it's actually really funny. After playing this character who takes out so many snakes, did it change your perspective on them?

I was afraid of snakes 'til about 2015. My band and I, we went to Australia, and then we ended up playing [and] singing to a cockatoo and holding koala bears and playing with snakes, and that's where I lost my fear of snakes. [In 'Killing It'], no snakes were harmed, and anytime we dealt with snakes, the anti-cruelty society was there. I want everybody to live life and celebrate. The snakes are no different, so it didn't change my perspective. I'm cool with snakes. I'm not going to the swamp and be[ing] like, "Hey, snake. Come here; let's play." But going in, I was like, "Oh, man, I don't want to hurt the snakes in real life."

People still love "The Office" all these years later. Do you have a favorite memory of filming that show that you can share?

Oh, a memory ... In [the Season 3 episode] "Negotiation," I improvised a line where Michael was calling Jan. I'm like, "Make it happen, Captain." I didn't realize Steve [Carell, who plays Michael] had improvised back until I saw the episode. I said, "Make it happen, Captain." He said, "I will make it happen, Sergeant." I remember being like, "Damn, that's so cold." That was one of my favorite moments.

"Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon" is available in theaters, on digital, and on demand.

This interview has been edited for clarity.