Craig Robinson Discusses His Hidden Language of Grunts in ‘An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn’

We chat with the actor about his particular brand of guttural emoting, and why your manager is not always right about the film projects you choose.

Craig Robinson Beverly Luff Linn
Universal Pictures

When a screenplay like An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn lands on your desk, your willing participation might not be obvious. It’s…a little weird. Craig Robinson, though, never had a doubt when it came to taking on the grunting titular character. He had seen Jim Hosking’s previous film, The Greasy Stranger, and knew this creative mind was a madman of immense talent. Once you’ve witnessed sausage consumption in such a fashion it cannot be unwitnessed.

Aubrey Plaza is Lulu Danger, the unsatisfied spouse to Emile Hirsch’s dimwitted stick-up man. One night she decides to split from the relationship, and she drags Jemaine Clement’s meek opportunist along for the ride. Their mission is to chase down Beverly Luff Linn and experience his mystifying stage show, “One Magical Night,” in person.

While The Greasy Strangler gave Robinson the confidence to attach himself to Hosking and David Wike’s script, you should not confuse An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn as another sicko twist on grindhouse exploitation. For all its odd character exchanges, and slightly bent reality, this film is ultimately a warm, and dare I say cute, romance between several emotionally struggling characters.

I spoke with Robinson over the phone, and we got right into Beverly Luff Linn’s particular method of walling himself off from emotion. For most of the film, Robinson is confined to communicating solely through grunting. While it is offputting at first, as you adjust to the world created by Hosking and Wike, you begin to understand the layered depths of pain his character is hiding.

Robinson discusses how he developed a secret language with those grunts, why they offered him bliss as an actor, and how Aubrey Plaza eventually shook his character back to life. We also talk about why his manager was initially cautious of the script, and that it’s actually a positive thing to challenge your fanbase. For Craig Robinson, if it’s funny, it’s funny. ‘nuff said.

Here is our conversation in full:

How did Jim Hosking convince you to take a roll in which you grunt for nearly the entire movie?

He didn’t have to say anything. I saw The Greasy Strangler. I went to see it and then I came back and I read the script to this and it was as weird and delightful as I thought it would be, and I thought, “Yeah, let me take a crack at this. It seems like it conveys emotions through grunting.”

When I talked to Jim, he said that you had a whole language of grunts over the course of this movie.

Yes, absolutely.

How does that work? Do you know exactly what your character is saying or what he’s emoting? Some characters seem to understand him while others don’t.

Absolutely. Yeah, I know exactly what he said. That was the challenge. It was two-fold because it was the joy of not having to remember lines, but the challenge of conveying what he’s feeling.

I think what’s so interesting about that is, for the majority of the movie, I’m watching your performance, and I go, “You know, I love Craig Robinson, and this is funny … but I want more from Craig Robinson.” And then at the end, there is a pay off that makes you reevaluate everything that you just watched.

Good. That is as great as I’ve heard it put today, so thank you.

Well, when you’re on the day and you’re doing the grunt, is it a fun experience, or are you wrapped up in that emotional edge that’s in your character’s future?

It’s a fun experience. It’s so weird. It’s just about committing ever step of the way. I forgot I talked until we actually shot the end at the end. I literally forgot I talked until we got to that point.

You not only talk, but you get to rock out as well. Or at least, rock out in a way that only Beverly Luff Linn can. You’re quite an accomplished musician yourself, and you get to the end sequence and we’ve all been waiting for the magical night. What was your take on how to deliver those musical numbers?

Basically, I heard the music and tried to copy what I heard. So they played those songs for me and we recorded them. I was just trying to sound as Scottish as I could.

How would you describe Jim as a filmmaker? How does his film universe differ from others you’ve visited?

I think he hears voices. He hears the voices and he pays attention to them. It’s a whole ‘nother place. This is the kind of movie – and Greasy Strangler, you used to go on a date and be like, “What the hell is going on?” But you’re along for the ride.

How’s your comfort level when you’re shaping that ride? With those grunts, do you even know what you’re capturing on set?

I don’t know. But I was comforted. By Greasy Strangler. I knew I had no reason not to trust him. So, it was fun to hop in and just go all out in Eureka, California.

You have a wonderful relationship with Matt Berry in the film as well.

Well, I’m a fan of Matt’s from his Toast of London show, and a short video I saw of his one time. He’s fantastic, you know? He’s a pro. We’ve got different styles, but we mashed together. I loved working with him. Him and Aubrey.

For much of the film, you’re the light at the end of the tunnel. For Aubrey’s character – the whole film is building to your confrontation with her. The grunts gotta go. What was it like on set that day compared to the others?

My character was being protective, and she leveled me because of what she brought to that scene. There was no way I could’ve prepared. I was just prepared to be graceful with her, and then she took us to a whole ‘nother level with what she did.

It’s a great moment for the crowd.

I think people will come away with a message. True love never dies, you know? Parts of that could be there are no coincidences, and then of course, if you’ve ever felt awkward at any time of your life, I think you’ll enjoy this. But I think the bigger message is true love never dies.

What’s your philosophy for choosing roles right now? An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn cannot be any further from a movie like Tragedy Girls or Morris From America.

I’ll read something, and it stays with me and I continue to see it, that’ll be a way. Sometimes I’ll look at something if it makes me laugh and once again I’m able to see what I would do with it … if it’s something I see as a challenge. Not to mention, I have an incredible team that will support. “Hey, you’ve got this offering,” or, “We think you should do this, because of this, that or the other.” There’s that part of it. I have a team, plus I have my instincts that kind of tell me if I should invest. You kind of see the future a little bit, “I could see me doing this,” you know?

Yeah, but I would imagine that when your team saw the script for Beverly Luff Linn, well, there might have been some hesitation.

Absolutely. My manager told me today, he said, “You were right to do it,” but yeah, my agent was in it. My manager was on the fence about this one. So, yes, it’s not always 100%.

It must be pretty satisfying to watch this movie with a crowd and see them dig it.

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely, it’s satisfying. I just wish my manager and I had made a bet on it.

Do you ever think about your fan base when selecting those movies? At first, they may be like your manager, not exactly –

All of the time.

Well, so…

This movie, I imagine my fanbase looking and going, “What the frick?” Because it’s coming out of left field. So I absolutely think about them.

Well, I think it certainly challenges your fans. I saw the film at Fantastic Fest last month, and in the lobby afterwards, there were definitely some people going, “I really was not expecting that from Craig Robinson.”

Yeah. Well, they’re along for the ride, so they get challenged too. That’s good.


An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn opens in select theaters and on Digital HD and VOD on October 19th.

More to Read:

Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.