Interview with Danny McBride star of Your Highness Eastbound and down

Danny McBride was in Dublin this week and we caught up with the star to talk about new medieval themed comedy ‘Your Highness’

Your Highness feels like a cross between Blackadder and The Princess Bride, via Anchorman – with a lot more cursing…

DmcB: Tons more cursing [laughs]

…Where did the idea for the film come from?

DMcB: David [Gordon Green] and myself went to film school for a long time, and people who go to film school tend to lead off with all of these arty, pretentious films so you can show everyone how smart you are. David was one of these guys who was not ashamed to have films like Beastmaster and Krull in his video collection, and I had them as well. I love those movies, they are some of the first movies that captured my imagination when I was a kid. So this movie feels like a weird love letter to the 13 year old versions of Dave and myself, this is the kind of movie – when we were first getting into movies – that we would have loved to have seen, and that was the way we approached the comedy. The fun to us in this movie was getting these huge actors like Natalie Portman, James Franco, Damian Lewis and Charles Dance – these esteemed actors – and our camera department had worked on The Lord of The Rings and they approached it very seriously, but the whole thing had a very juvenile, comedic approach to it. Obviously, the aim for us was just to make the younger versions of ourselves laugh.

What was the writing process for Your Highness like?

DMcB: I set this movie up right before I did Pineapple Express, so for Pineapple Express, Tropic Tunder, Land of the Lost… A lot of those movies I would be sitting in my trailer, writing the movie in the meantime, behind the scenes. We improvised a lot, we will make sure that the script is there and everything makes sense so that we are still covered but, working with David, the script is just a springboard for what we are going to get ultimately. We work hard to make the structure, story and characters are there, but we really start to explore the comedy with the improv on set.

Is there one line that you love, above all others, in the movie?

DMcB: Oh that’s so tough… Definitely Portman saying that something has been burning in her beaver [laughs] That trips me out. It was so boggling that she was in this movie and that she said some of the things she said. She plays it so straight, which I think is such a tricky, difficult thing to do. When you are in a movie, and so much silly stuff is going on around you, it is so easy for actors to want to score those laughs as well on set. Natalie never broke that, she always played it straight, she committed to it and I think it’s hilarious, she really pulled it off.

Your character in Your Highness is almost the guy you would love to hate, can you expand on your influences?

DMcB: When the UK Office first came to America, no one had ever seen anything like that before. There is this character that is such a buffoon, but when he doesn’t get the promotion, you really feel sad for him. I love comedy that teeters on the edge of tragedy the whole time. Eastbound and Down is like that, it has moments of being really foul, but at the same time there is real tragedy that undercuts it. With this movie, we didn’t go so much into the dark territory, but it still plays with that concept of ‘what does it take to make the audience root for someone?’. I think with this as well… There have been so many fantasy movies, that if we were just to do the straight up version where you follow Franco’s character, where would you find the comedy? And for us we found the comedy when we shifted who the audience was supposed to be following. If the protagonist is a character that has been seen before, you can run them through the same shapes, but there is always a different angle, because you have never really seen a character like this.

How did James Franco and Natalie Portman get involved?

DMcB: We had worked with James on Pineapple Express – David and I had a really good time working with him, he’s a really good dude – so we actually wrote the character of Fabious for James. David was in talks with Natalie on a different film and she had heard about this film and she wanted to get involved. She was actually really open to the movie – which was surprising to us – but at the same time I knew she had a great sense of humour – I have seen the Saturday Night Live gangster rap video that she did. I thought that was incredible, she has this image of being a serious actress and to undercut that, it was hilarious, so we were really stoked to have her in this movie.

What brought the production to Northern Ireland?

DMcB: On this movie we were given the budget of a comedy, but we really needed it to look like it was Lord of the Rings, it needed to look big and epic. Shooting in the US, we just don’t have castles over there; we don’t have the landscape that feels medieval. We knew we were not going to get the scope we wanted if we shot it domestically. We came across the sea and we scouted in England, Scotland and Ireland. When we got up to outside of Belfast, we started to see places like Tullamore forest and the Giant’s Causeway, the locations felt like how David and I had always pictured this movie. There are great film crews that are based out of there and we were given the place where they built the Titanic to build all our sets, so it ended up becoming a home base for the movie.

Did you have any hiccoughs during filming?

DMcB: We didn’t really have that many hiccoughs, but we were filming in Northern Ireland where it rains a ton. We were really constrained with the budget, so we didn’t have extra days that we could add to the shooting schedule. On the very first day of shooting, we got rained out, so we had to go home and figure out where we could cut a day somewhere else in the script. That was the hardest part, if we fell behind or weather didn’t co-operate with us, we had to think of creative ways to make the time up.

In your research for the movie, did you discover that they had mullet hairstyles in medieval times?

DMcB: Well, that was inspired by Mel Gibson’s haircut in Lethal Weapon [laughs] We felt like, Mel Gibson has done period movies before and his hair always seems to work in period films so we just chose one of Mel Gibson’s haircuts.

Your career started with Foot Fist Way. How did that come about?

DMcB: It’s crazy. We were waiting tables and trying to get by, pay rent and find our place in Los Angeles – but we weren’t too successful at that so eventually we decided ‘let’s just try and make something and see what happens’. We really just made something that we thought would be funny. We didn’t have any money for it. We funded it on credit cards for about $40,000 and I suppose we tried to imitate a Hollywood movie and make it look like we had more money than we did. We really embraced making it look like it was made for $10, and that was that. I don’t really know what happened, it got out there, people started responding to it, and suddenly we went from having nothing going on to getting phone calls from people like Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell – all these people who we really admire – they had seen out film and wanted to work with us. It was a pretty surreal time.

When you were filming Foot Fist Way did you ever think you’d be working with George Clooney or standing on the Giant’s Causeway with a giant minotaur penis around your neck?

DMcB: Oh never ever ever would I have thought that. It is mind blowing and I don’t take it for granted. Even this, being in Ireland with press… I never would have thought that that small movie would have led to us being able to do what we always dreamed about doing. It’s insane.

Will we ever see you playing a straight up drama?

DMcB: I wouldn’t mind it. I had a really good time on Up in The Air. I tend to just choose movies that I would want to see and I appreciate drama as well as comedy, so if I was ever approached with a script that I dug, I would definitely go for it. I am not one of those actors who feels like ‘I have to do something serious now’, but if something serious came along, I wouldn’t shy away from it.

Can you tell us anything about the third season of Eastbound and Down?

DMcB: We are still writing the third season now, but in the last season you find out that Kenny is going to be a dad and he’s going to get one more shot at making the big time. This season is going to be about how Kenny balances being a dad and making this one last run. With a lot of show in America, the seasons are so long that you can tune in and out of them and it doesn’t really matter, so we wanted to make something that should be consumed by every episode.

TV coming out of the US at the moment is flourishing, including Eastbound and Down. Why do you think that is?

DMcB: Film in America is in a really tricky, tricky place now. The only thing that are sure fire successes are tent pole movies and remakes and reboots. So much emphasis is put on everyone and their mother seeing a movie within 3 days of it being released, people find movies at their own pace, but the financial climate doesn’t really look at that. With TV you are able to take more risks than you are in film. TV now is almost similar to what movies were doing in the 70s where you have character based, dramatic films. You are seeing a lot of that disappear in film. I think TV is rivalling film at the moment for what stories are interesting.

There is a warlock who has put a curse on Charlie Sheen for calling himself a warlock. Now he has turned his sights on the cast of Your Highness, are you prepared?

DMcB: I am prepared. I have also cast a protective spell against myself to ward off any evil charms [laughs]. You know with a movie like this, where you are really going for broke; you are not really hoping that you will offend people. I hope he understands, as a warlock, that we are only poking fun; we are not really saying that’s how all warlocks are. I am sure there are loads of warlocks who don’t want to de-virginise beautiful women [laughs]

What’s next for you?

DMcB: Well we are working on Eastbound and Down at the moment, and we have a movie coming out in the summer called 30 Minutes or Less, with Aziz Ansari and Jesse Eisenberg. It’s directed by Ruben Fleischer who did Zombieland. I am a bad guy in Kung Fu Panda 2, and I am really trying to step behind the camera and do some directing.

Words – Brogen Hayes

YOUR HIGHNESS is now showing in Irish cinemas