The first time I saw Danny McBride was as Bust-Ass in All The Real Girls, but the first time I really realized that Danny McBride was an unbelievable talent was when I saw a screener DVD of the original cut of Foot Fist Way. I was blown away by this guy and by the character that he created, a character who was despicable and lovable all at once. I was instantly on his team.
I’m glad that other people have figured out that McBride is a real-deal talent over the last few years as well. From Pineapple Express to the majesty of Eastbound and Down, it seems like McBride has really found his niche in the popular culture - so much so that he’s a major selling point of his new film, Your Highness.
The first time I talked to McBride about Your Highness was maybe four years ago, when he had just written it with friend Ben Best. He had a robot movie in the wings, too, but it was his weird fantasy film that most intrigued. I didn’t think it would get made, though - it just seemed too bizarre. And then it all happened; I ended up on the Ireland set of the film, watching McBride and James Franco prancing around in medieval armor while the great David Gordon Green called the shots.
Now comes the final step - Your Highness is in theaters this weekend. Last week I got on the phone with McBride, who talks so fast that trying to keep up with him in transcription may have given me carpal tunnel…
The movie feels like you got one over on them, almost. Do you feel that way?
David and I were constantly surprised every step of the way that someone was allowing us to do this, and hats off to Universal for allowing us to do that. We have such a passion for the sword and sorcery films of the 70s and the 80s and the idea of making one of those now, and making it a legitimate version but throwing in a bunch of dick jokes, seemed too cool of an idea to ever get to make it. It blows me away that we were able to do it.
There’s a stoner element to the movie. I have a theory that there are two kinds of stoner movies - one kind is about stoners, while the other kind is just really enjoyable when you’re stoned. I think Land of the Lost was one of those second kind of movies, and I think this is too.
The idea of a stoner movie is tricky because when we we’re writing the movie we’re not writing it with being stoned in mind. We don’t think ‘This part would be cool if you’re tripping balls.’ Would someone enjoy this movie when they’re stoned? Well, I don’t know. Maybe. [laughs] But hopefully you can enjoy this if you’re not stoned, that there’s something you can latch onto.
What is your fantasy background? The film feels like it came from someone steeped in the genre. Were you into Dungeons & Dragons, did you read fantasy books?
I was definitely into the sword and sorcery films as a kid - films like Krull, and Conan the Barbarian and even movies like The Dark Crystal. The fantasy film genre is always something I’ve been into. They’re the type of movies that first captured my imagination and got me into movies in the first place.
But I never played any D&D. As a kid I played everything from The Legend of Zelda to the Final Fantasy games and that kind of shit, so I guess I was playing the video game versions of that stuff.
When I first met David Green when I was a freshman in film school, the second year we lived in the same dorm. When kids go to film school one of the things they’ll do is put on these airs and talk about all these arty films they love and all these foreign films just so they can show their classmates they’re so much smarter than each other. To me the kind of points of reference for why I was in film school was Indiana Jones and Conan the Barbarian, and David had a fondness for these films as well, and we weren’t afraid to admit that amongst a bunch of people who were trying to be pretentious. The fact that we could appreciate art films and these simple human stories, but at the same time we fucking loved these other crazy movies - that was where this movie came to be. We’ve done these character stories and we’re suddenly in a place where someone is going to trust us to make something with a little bit of money behind it and we didn’t want to make it safe and simple. We wanted to push it and made a movie we would have fucking died to have seen through a scrambled cable signal when we were ten years old.
I’ve talked to you about this movie a number of times over the years, and it’s actually changed a lot. At one point the script was very different, and there was a heavy Krull influence, with a mystical weapon at the center of the story. How much has changed over the years?
When we first sold this I never was convinced that we were going to be able to make it. The first draft I let the imagination run wild with stuff that we could never do. There were mystical weapons, there was a whole city on the back of a humongous turtle that moved through a desert. There was all this crazy stuff that made the movie impossible to film. Then once David got interested in it and once Franco was interested in it and the studio was actually interested in it, we started pulling it back. We asked what made sense and what we could shoot. For us we were only going to get a budget for a comedy. We weren’t going to get the budget of a big fantasy film - and we didn’t want that budget. For that budget comes the responsibility of having to make the money back for the studio, and to do that you probably can’t have a lot of the crazy shit in the movie that we have, and you couldn’t have it as weird as it’s become. So we approached the script from that, from how we could push the scope of the movie but still pull this thing off on a budget that Universal wouldn’t lose their shirt on.
You guys are going to Austin to screen the movie, and you’re showing Krull and Sword & The Sorcerer.
You bet your ass.
What is it that you like about Krull?
Krull is the movie that as a kid I really dug it and then forgot all about it. Then they released it on DVD and I remembered it, and I remembered drawing in pencil on my fucking notebook the Glaive, this weapon. I went back into it and watched it… and it holds up only oh so well. But that’s the beauty of those films, that they were able to catch your imagination without everything available now. It relies on a lower level of technology but it still captures your imagination. That’s one thing we wanted to figure out with this, to figure out how the spectacle of the movie and the story and the adventure could still capture someone else’s imagination like Krull did.
We just started started writing the third season of Eastbound and Down. A lot of my focus has been on Kenny Powers.
Jody Hill says he sees it as a three act show, with each season an act. Is that still where you guys are?
That’s how we’ve always imagined this. We never had interest when we set the show up we never thought of reaching syndication numbers. We just wanted to make it tight and compact and never give it a chance to get old. We approach each season as an act, and this is the third act, and we’ve structured it that the third season would be the climax to it. So we’re definitely finishing that out the way we planned… but we’re having so much fun, who knows.
Are you surprised that Kenny has had this cultural impact? Kenny Powers is really popular somehow.
It blows me away. When we made this we really made it because we had such a good time with The Foot Fist Way and making a film where the main character is such a fucking cocksucker, where you have to find a way to get the audience behind him. We had so much fun shooting that movie, but we only had 14 days, so when we were done we still had material and still wanted to work with that sort of character. That’s why we did Eastbound and Down, because we didn’t want to repeat ourselves on film but to find another structure to set that story in. Judging by the box office of Foot Fist about ten people went to see that, so we never thought Kenny Powers would be mainstream. To us it was something niche we were doing for our personal reasons.
You’re at a place now where you have more mainstream appeal than ever before. Is there a temptation to step over that line and really go down the middle of the road?
Right now I’m really happy with where I am. It’s this weird area where as long as the budgets aren’t crazy people are trusting us to push things and make things and I get to work with my best friends in the world. Honestly, I’m perfectly content. You always want to reach an audience with stuff you’re doing, you spend a lot of time on these things and you don’t want to make them just for yourself, but I don’t know that I would be comfortable stepping into something I think would appeal to a larger audience. That’s a tricky thing to do, to guess what an audience will go for. For me I try to figure out what I want to see and hopefully people go for that. At the end of the day you have to do what feels right to you.