The stars of 'Killing It' talk about building their characters' relationship and having the Humane Society on set for snake scenes.
On the surface, Peacock's Killing It, a 10-episode first-season comedy from Dan Goor and Luke Del Tredici seems like a sitcom about the sport of snake hunting. But in reality, it is about so much more.
In it, Craig (Craig Robinson) has a dream. He would say it's the American Dream of working hard and being rewarded with success through entrepreneurship. But more specifically it's a dream of starting a business to help men with enlarged prostates sleep through the night. Unfortunately, the bank he works at as a security guard declines to give him a loan and a meeting with another potential investor goes awry after he accidentally sets his car on fire and ends up in a ride share with a driver who makes a detour to kill a snake.
Craig and his driver Jillian G. (Claudia O'Doherty) agree to team up to catch and kill snakes to win a $20,000 prize the state is giving out. But their time together is not entirely spent in the swamp, nor do they only have in common this new goal of embarking on a dangerous activity for a hopeful payout. They both lost their fathers when they were children and have complicated family lives now as adults, neither of them has a proper home, they are both struggling to make progress professionally for various reasons, and they both take pride in doing the good and moral thing with their own lives and for others.
Here, Robinson and O'Doherty talk to Metacritic about Craig and Jillian's new and unexpected relationship, working with snakes, and how success may change things for their characters and the show.
Craig, you previously worked with Dan and Luke on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Did this character come from wanting to play someone very different from Doug Judy but in their same style of humor? And you do see any similarities between the two characters?
Craig Robinson: Doug Judy is a criminal, and Craig Foster is not; he's the opposite. He learned very early to work hard and not go the easy route. Doug Judy is often silly. Craig Foster s about his business; he's looking forward to the future, he's looking to live out the American dream. And as far as those guys, we got to talking about doing something outside of Brooklyn Nine-Nine [when] they probably had about two seasons left. We had a meeting — it was Mark Schulman, who's my manager and producing partner, and Luke Del Tredici and Dan Goor — and Dan and Luke came with these three ideas, but this snake one just rolled out of everything, and it was like, "Let's tackle this!"
OK so let's jump into talking about the snakes because that can ask a lot of a performer outside of just acting. How much did you have to train to handle them?
C.R.: We had three iterations of snakes: fake snakes, CGI, and the real snakes. We had Mo Marable directing the first three episodes, and he was just making sure that it was on point. If it was a fake snake or not, he had to make sure that he got that real reaction. They had the American Humane Society on hand, they had snake wranglers on hand, and I don't think I ended up having to touch any at that point. It was just seeing them and going, "Whoa, what's going on here!?" But I wouldn't have minded! I ended up touching them just to play with them a little bit. I don't mind snakes. I was in Australia a few years back and ended up holding snakes and realizing that they're lovely creatures.
Claudia, what was your reaction to learning this was such a big part of your character's life?
Claudia O'Doherty: I didn't realize that the state-run Florida python hunt was a real thing. I didn't understand that it was a real problem in the environment. I just thought that was a fascinating and exciting and bizarre world to set a show. And then, of course, I was like, "Oh we probably will have to deal with snakes," but we didn't really have to deal that much with snakes. Obviously any time we're killing a snake, it's absolutely fake. [Real] snakes were used occasionally for insert [shots], and they were always kept safe and happy by the American Humane Society, who were on set. So actually there was very little dealing with snakes. I did a sketch on Amy Schumer's show where I played a snake doctor and I actually got to have a python wrapped around me for a full day, so that was probably the most I actually spent with snakes.
Having that previous experience, did you feel like you wanted more snakes on Killing It?
C.O.: When I auditioned for the show, I brought up the fact that I'd worked with snakes because I wanted them to know that I could do it and I wasn't scared. But I'm also a normal person who's not dying to hold a snake. I'll do it if I need to, but it's not my dream come true.
Your characters meet for the first time in the pilot, so how much did you want to see them begin to rub off on each other throughout the course of the season? Because she is just so relentlessly positive, but he is the one actively trying to move forward in life.
C.O.: She's optimistic, but as the season goes on — and I don't want to spoil anything — he becomes more and more reckless and she's the one who says, "I don't think we should do that." Craig is so much more sensible than Jillian and in a way you would want that to rub off on her, but at the same time, she needs to stay nonsensical to keep her head above water. Obviously I'm driving him crazy a lot of the time on the show, but he also in turn puts my character in lots of pretty compromising situations as well. But you know they care about each other and it's nice.
C.R.: He sees her as a little sister. He sees her as someone who needs to be cared for, and he takes on that role. And also, he sees her as somebody who is pure and nice and lovely and can be a good influence, no matter her bleak situation in her life. There are things that he's missing that she can provide. And she almost idolizes him. She's immediately impressed with the way he handles the snake and is a business man; he's everything that she aspires to be, wishes she could be.
C.O.: He suddenly gives her a reality check on the bleakness of her life. She should be doing whatever she can to change her circumstances, but it's hard. Surviving and coping is her main thing, but I also think she instantly really likes Craig, and when she sees this person who's got this big dream to do something beyond what she's doing, which is she's just trying to get enough money to have food. She's not even necessarily trying to win the competition; she's just trying to cash in the $100 you get for every snake. But a nice thing that he brings into her life is this idea that she could go a little bit further.
Claudia, how did you manage to keep up that level of positivity for Jillian and why did you think it was important that she was able to be that way?
C.O.: I think Jillian has to stay positive because otherwise things could get pretty dark for her pretty quickly. The reality of her life is pretty bleak: She has all of these different gig economy jobs, she's still majorly in debt, she lives in a billboard that's attached to her car. It's pretty grim stuff, so I think if she looked at it all in a very realistic, sober way, it would be possibly too sad. So, she has to stay optimistic to get by. But it was pretty easy to keep her that way because that was how the script was written. So, even if we were freezing cold in a swamp, covered in cold snake blood, I always appreciated that it was funny and ridiculous that she would be staying so positive — that that was her reaction to this horrifying situation.
As funny as the premise is, both characters have a lot of very serious issues in their lives, as you've discussed. How much did you find yourselves trying to infuse even more humor into the show through improv on set?
C.R.: My approach is to play everything straight and grounded, and then let the funny come out of that. I trust the writing: They're going to cover that; we're gonna have some jokes that we can play and things that are going to lift off just because of natural timing and what have you. We had some room for improv, absolutely. When I first started, I didn't want to do too much improv — I don't know if I was insecure or whatever — but then when you get to The Office and other shows where it's just expected, it's like, "Hey, let's rock and roll with it."
C.O.: We got to play around a little bit, but I think it's important to acknowledge that the writers are very responsible for the very funny script and 99-percent of the jokes in the show. But there was something in that first episode where I start talking about Grease and Olivia Newton-John, and I remember Craig being like, "Talk more about Grease" because he thought it was funny that I knew so much about Grease. I can always talk about Grease!
How do you both feel about the level of comedy that can come from struggling before success and then, without giving away the trajectory of Season 1, perhaps with some level of success?
C.O.: Any success is great but then it quickly becomes not enough success. I think it would stay funny or whatever was happening, and I also feel like terrible things would keep happening to them. I would be so excited to do more of the show and I really hope we get to do it because I think that Luke Del Tredici, the creator of the show has such an exciting plan for where it all goes, and I think like the world keeps expanding and moving in other directions. The circumstances for everyone will keep on changing and it will keep being a wild ride.
C.R.: Oh there will be some struggle for sure. Will there even be success? We don't know. But there's always new challenges. Either way it goes, there can be new challenges, success or not.
Killing It is
Get to know Craig Robinson:
Robinson got his professional start guest-starring on such sitcoms as Friends (Metascore: 65) and The Bernie Mac Show, while also appearing in films including Pineapple Express (64) and Hot Tub Time Machine (63). However, he broke out on The Office (66) and also starred in television series from Eastbound & Down (70) to Mr. Robot (80) and his own headliner Mr. Robinson (41). He also voices characters on American Dad (43) and Big Mouth (86).
Get to know Claudia O'Doherty:
Actor and writer O'Doherty also stars on HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death (Metascore: 70) and voices characters on Bluey. Previously, she starred in Netflix's Love (73) and Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer (68). In film, she has appeared in Trainwreck (75), Extra Ordinary (72), and Fun Mom Dinner (46).