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The comedy 'Peeples' marks a turning point for actor, director

First impressions can be tricky.

That's one of the lessons painfully and humorously driven home by the upcoming comedy "Peeples," starring Craig Robinson as an ordinary guy who crashes his girlfriend's posh family weekend in the Hamptons while trying to impress her domineering father.

Naturally things don't go quite according to plan for Robinson's character, Wade, and by the time he shows up at the home of the Honorable Judge Virgil Peeples, he's rumpled, wallet-less and slicked with dog slobber.

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Robinson and writer-director Tina Gordon Chism know all too well that introductions are often fraught. During their own disastrous first meeting, with Gordon Chism pitching the film and Robinson exhausted after a long day of shooting "The Office," she caught him dozing off beneath a pair of mirrored sunglasses.

"His head just started leaning, and I'm talking," she said at the same hotel in Hollywood where they first met. "And I realize he is asleep. He is stone-asleep, and I can't even gauge for how long."

"I wouldn't say stone-asleep," Robinson protested. "Just a little cat nap."

Fortunately their second meeting, which Gordon Chism made sure to schedule in the morning, went off without a hitch. "It was love at second sight," Robinson said.

"Peeples," which opens May 10, could represent a step forward for both of them. The film is Gordon Chism's directorial debut — she previously wrote the screenplays for "Drumline" and the teen drama "ATL" — and it also marks Robinson's first turn as a leading man.

The character of Wade draws on both their experiences. Gordon Chism got the idea for the story after meeting an ex-boyfriend's seemingly perfect family. "They looked beautiful, and they all had the best professions," she recalled, but "I realized the seriously messed-up situations that the family was hiding from each other. I lived it, and I was Wade."

When Robinson came aboard, she began tailoring the role to him, for example, by making Wade a children's musician. (Robinson himself taught music to elementary school children in Chicago and Indiana years ago.) "When you see the music, they're bringing the Craig Robinson effect," he said with a laugh.

Gordon Chism credited Robinson and the rest of the cast — which includes Kerry Washington, David Alan Grier and Diahann Carroll — with helping her carry out the vision she's had since writing the script.

"I wanted it to be something that I hadn't seen a black family do before, which is quirky, smart, sometimes dry and droll — places that it's common for others, but we don't get to go there," she said. "I feel like that I did deliver on, and it's 100% because of the cast."



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