‘Olympic Dreams’: Failure, uncertainty, and Nick Kroll’s first nice guy role

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Nick Kroll at the 35th Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California, U.S., February 8, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.

Comedian Nick Kroll has appeared in “Parks and Recreation” and “The League,” and he’s the creator and star of the Netflix animated series “Big Mouth,” which is largely based on his life in middle school and going through puberty. 

Now, the funny man is playing a dramatic role in the feature film “Olympic Dreams.” He plays a volunteer dentist who bonds with a young cross country skier at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Korea.

“Oftentimes I play douchey characters, really sort of slimy or sleazy, sometimes villainous. And ‘Olympic Dreams’ is this movie where I play a very sweet volunteer dentist at the Olympics,” says Kroll. 

Failure and uncertainty about the future

In the film, Alexi Pappas plays Penelope, whose event occurs early at the Games, but she doesn’t medal, and then has to hang around while excitement builds for the other athletes/events. She doesn't know what to do with herself and the rest of her life.

“I don't think that story gets told very often -- which is the Olympics, you hear the amazing victory, the gold medal, or the agony of defeat. But you don't think about the 95% of the people who have been planning their whole lives around getting to the Olympics, and they get to the Olympics, and they don't get a medal, or they don't get the gold,” says Kroll. 

He continues, “I can't tell you how many people I met who were like, ‘I'm 22. I spent the last 15 years doing nothing but prepare to be at the Olympics. And now what do I do?’”

There’s also the issue of an athlete being the best at their sport in their country, but then place poorly when competing against the world. “How does that feel? And for some people, they're like, ‘Well I raced a personal best.’ And for other people, it's like, ‘I've failed,’” says Kroll. 

Kroll’s character, 37-year-old Ezra, is also unsure about his future as he’s on the rocks with his fiance. Then Ezra meets 22-year-old Penelope.  

“They're at this crossroads of what are they supposed to do? And only when you're away from your home and in this different part of the world that you could meet someone like that and connect with them, and think ‘Oh maybe, maybe there's some answers here, or maybe they're just another kindred spirit who feels a little lost in the world.’ And there's a way that you can connect to that person where you would never even look at them in another context,” says Kroll. 


The poster for “Olympic Dreams.” Credit: IFD Films.

Backstage access to the Olympics

The film was shot while the Olympics were happening, and many of the actors are real Olympians. 

Kroll gained access because he was working with filmmaking couple Jeremy Teicher and Alexi Pappas. He explains that Pappas was a long distance runner at the Rio Games, where she met a doctor who asked her out, but nothing happened between them because she was already in a relationship. 

“She and Jeremy had this idea of: What if that had blossomed into some sort of romance?,” says Kroll. “And because they had gotten this grant from the Olympic Committee, we got access to the whole backstage of the Olympics, like the athletes’ village, and the dining halls, and the lounges, and the med centers, and the dorm rooms, and the events themselves. We got to be right there at luge, ice skating, and cross-country skiing. … The Olympics is very tight about who they give access to.”

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir