Nick Kroll has spent much of his career surrounded by people who look like him, but that changed when he signed on to star in Uncle Drew.
The film sees NBA star Kyrie Irving in the titular role which he also created, playing a 70-odd-year-old baller who reunites his former team (made up of actual legends like Shaquille O’Neill and Lisa Leslie) to help young coach Dax (Lil Rel Howery) win a historic annual basketball tournament in Harlem.
Kroll, who is fresh off the success of his Netflix animated series Big Mouth, plays the main antagonist Mookie, a rival coach whose mission seems to be to steal anything good in Dax’s life, including his girlfriend Jess, played by Tiffany Haddish.
The comedian and actor spoke with Yahoo Movies about the basketball comedy, playing the token white guy, why Tiffany Haddish is so beloved and leaning into more dramatic roles with Operation Finale.
YAHOO MOVIES: Hi Nick, thanks for talking to me today. First, let me say I am a massive fan of The League. Can we get it to come back? Ruxin is one of my favourite TV characters.
NICK KROLL: Oh, that tells me a lot about you if Ruxin is! I don’t know, I’m curious, I love everyone on that show it’s a good group of folks and we’re still buddies all of us so it’s actually, in a very funny way, as mean as we were to each other on the show, we couldn’t have felt more different as people towards each other.
YM: Couldn’t you do a Gilmore Girls-type comeback, you know,four long episodes representing a season?
NK: Yes, and get a cameo from Melissa McCarthy.
Exactly! Ok, let’s talk about Uncle Drew. How did it feel to be the token white guy on set?
It was actually really fun. There aren’t many times where, as a white male, I am the minority in a room. Honestly, I grew up a basketball fan I’m a massive fan of Kyrie, and Lil Rel and I had been trying for some time to find something to do together. Tiffany Haddish and I are buddies. For me it felt like, to be shooting a movie in Atlanta, shooting a movie about basketball and being the bad white guy, it was like eurgh, I couldn’t have asked for more.
You do have a history of playing obnoxious characters, is it easy to get into the mindset?
To be a real, as the English would say, a “baddie”? Am I considered a baddie?
Yeah, or maybe a w**ker.
A w**ker, yes I think that’s probably a fair description. It’s super fun because in my day-to-day I prefer to be nice to people and have people be nice to me but when I’m playing a character there is something fun and freeing about being the guy who does and says whatever he wants and behaves however he wants.
In this movie, in particular, the idea that I would be able to talk trash with Hall of Fame basketball players on the court, with them. Being able to that and being a sort of a w**ker, allowed me to say and do things that I would never say and do as myself.
So you do play ball a bit in the film, how much training did you do to prep? Was it like three months of intensive drills?
The last time I played basketball as much as I played in that movie was probably about 8th grade. I did like one or two practice sessions so I didn’t look like an idiot out there, and then we got to play a bit and it was exhilarating and exhausting and then embarrassing. It was a real rollercoaster, but the whole thing, to be truthful, just the idea of being on the same court as someone like Kyrie or guys who I have been watching, or Lisa Leslie, all these players that I have been massive fans of for years, it was one of those once in a lifetime experiences.
You mentioned you and Tiffany Haddish are pals. She’s one of the most open stars out there with lots of stories she’s happy to share. Do you have any fun stories from working with her?
I learned about bonnets. She walked me through her hair, which was really enlightening. I’m trying to think, no. I just will say that I was a fan of hers, we became friends, and I hadn’t worked with her until this and man, she is just so fast and so funny. We were shooting with a crowd and she was just keeping everyone in stitches, warm and open.
I think why people have responded so much to her is because she is very authentically herself on camera and off, people relate to it. In the movie, I steal her away from Rel, so we have a scene when my character is chewing gum and then we kiss and then it ends up in her mouth and that was a very funny and bizarre thing to shoot but there are worst ways to spend a day.
How many takes did it take to shoot that?
You know that’s a fair question, I’m not sure.
I hope you changed up the gum.
I ran through, I can’t tell you how much Hubba Bubba gum, like old school bubblegum. It was straight up pink bubblegum and I would have two to three pieces in my mouth at all times. I think I might sue them for TMJ, I might need jaw surgery.
You worked with some of the best comedians out there right now on this film. Were there any off-the-cuff lines or improvised moments that you brought to the table that you liked best?
Most of the scenes with Rel that ended up on camera were improvised. There’s one scene in particular where I’m mirroring him ]. We just found it on the day and in the movie I’m just weirdly, more and more becoming like him. Looking like him, dressing like him and taking his best player, and his girl so I think in that case I found this one thing of me mirroring everything he said and was doing. That was really fun.
Also, me slinging insults at him early in the movie, I think I said he looked like an orange M&M. There are a couple of spots like that where we found some fun bits to play with each other.
I wanted to ask finally about Operation FInale that you have coming up. Is that your first serious, dramatic role?
Actually, I had done a movie called Loving a few years ago.
Oh of course, sorry, with Joel Edgerton.
No worries, how dare you not know my entire film catalogue off the top of your head! [laughs] Yeah Loving was with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton and that was the first kind of serious role I got to play and in Operation Finale, it’s such a cool story, a true story, and being able to work with Oscar [Isaac] and Sir Ben Kingsley and the rest of the cast is stellar because [Chris] Weitz directed it.
I went from writing my show Big Mouth to Atlanta to shoot Uncle Drew to Argentina to make Operation Finale and I really feel lucky that I get to do all these things. The idea that I went from a movie like Uncle Drew, playing the white bad guy in an old man basketball movie, straight to Argentina to play an Israeli Mossad agent, I couldn’t ask for more in a professional capacity.
So are we going to see you do a Steve Carrell and get nominated for an Oscar?
I’m hoping I get nominated for an Oscar for Uncle Drew and then a Kids Choice Award for Operation Finale.
Uncle Drew is out in UK cinemas