Is Danny McBride the next Will Ferrell?
Both men like to play arrogant, vulgar, out-of-shape buffoons angry antiheroes with oversized egos and anger management problems. In the cult comedy The Foot Fist Way, McBride growled as a hapless martial arts instructor who never missed an opportunity to tell his students he was better than them. In Pineapple Express, he was the shotgun-toting stoner who found the strength to embrace his new-found "thug life." And with the new HBO comedy series Eastbound & Down, set to premiere Sunday, Feb. 15, McBride has teamed up with executive producer Ferrell to tell the story of a washed-up baseball pitcher who can't come to grips with the fact that his days on the mound have been replaced by days at work as a substitute gym teacher. (See TIME's tribute to "stoner cinema")
The Foot Fist Way became a something of a cult hit after the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Did that movie play any part in getting Eastbound & Down off the ground?
Oh, definitely. The short history is that Jody Hill, Ben Best and I were all in film school together in North Carolina, and after years of compromising ourselves and struggling in California, we moved back and made this movie for $70,000. We paid for it on credit cards, with a crew comprised of interns from our old film school. The movie never found real financial success, but it started getting passed around Hollywood, and that's how we met Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (director of Step Brothers), who were starting this new production company. They asked if we had anything else we were working on, so we told them this story about a disgraced Major League pitcher.
Where did the idea come from? Did you have a particular pitcher in mind? Or were you more interested in a celebrity falling from grace?
A few years ago, before Foot Fist Way, I moved out of L.A. and back to Virginia and I started bartending and substitute teaching. My first day of teaching, I suddenly had all these questions about whether I was giving up on my dream, and I started introducing myself on the first day of class and telling these ninth-graders that this wasn't my final stop, that I was just doing this to save up some money. It was ridiculous. And I started thinking: I don't mind this job. As a writer it was prime material, to hear how all these kids talked and to have had the experience of being there. But if I hadn't liked doing it, God it would have been a s----y job.
As I was telling Jody and Ben about this experience, we started piecing the comedy together. Who would possibly hate this more than a failed relief pitcher they're used to being on the mound, at the center of the whole entire game. They're used to having all that attention and now they're left with a bunch of students who could care less.
Are you worried at all that this pitcher-teacher is so miserable that he might turn people off? Why are so many of your characters so miserable?
Creatively, I'm coming at these things from the standpoint that there are already so many stories about the good guys who are morally correct. I like trying to get my head around a character that's hard to swallow someone who forces you to search your soul to understand what you're vibing on, and why you care about them. And with the TV show, we wanted to go against the standard sitcom, where it's the situation that drives the story. So with our show, each new episode picks up right where the last ended, and the decisions that Kenny makes affect the dynamics of the show. This world is changing constantly, based on what he does.
Many people know you now through Pineapple Express, which was directed by David Gordon Green. You've worked with him a few times now.
He was actually my next door neighbor during freshman year at film school, and I was going to school originally to be a writer and director. I actually worked as a second unit director on George Washington, and then an actor dropped out of David's All The Real Girls and I stepped in. Thanks to Foot Fist Way, I ended up swinging by the set to meet Judd Apatow during Knocked Up, and I actually told him that he works on his set a lot like David works and that the two would really understand each other.
So how does that feel to get David a job, after he had given you a couple jobs?
Well, I don't know about that. I got David in the room, but I'm pretty sure that his movies spoke for themselves. Things have a funny way of going down.
Both your martial arts teacher and your relief pitcher are a little chubby...
I've found that there's a perfect ratio of comedy fat that needs to be on the bone, to make things funny.
Are you trying to be conscious of keeping all that chub on there? No intense exercise routines, or organic diets...
I think it's easier to laugh at guys who aren't good-looking. I've always found it hard to laugh when I'm watching a handsome star. That's why I keep it all on hell, I'm eating chicken wings right now, as we talk on the phone.
So after a couple movies, and now a TV series, what's next? Are you looking to do more TV, or to go back to the movies?
David Green and I have a project with Universal called Your Highness. It's a fantasy movie in the vein of those s----y '80s sci-fi fantasy films like Beastmaster. Hopefully Universal will let us keep moving forward and make this crazy film. We're definitely looking at all of this as: We have this moment in time, why would you waste it on making safe choices? So we're trying to make some wild s---, and if it fails, then we'll be those guys who made that crazy movie that bombed.