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Your Highness - Danny McBride interview

Your Highness, Danny McBride

Interview by Rob Carnevale

DANNY McBride talks about some of the inspiration behind his new comedy, Your Highness, and trying to keep a straight face while uncovering the ‘rough and tumble’ side of co-star Natalie Portman.

He also discusses some of his future projects, including the new season of Eastbound & Down, and what it was like to work with Don Johnson and Matthew McConaughey in the second series.

Q. I gather the idea for Your Highness first began when you were working with David Gordon Green on All The Real Girls?
Danny McBride: It did. I went to film school with David Gordon Green and in my freshman year of college we were next door neighbours in the dorm that we both lived in and we’ve been friends since then. On the set of All The Real Girls, which was the first film I ever acted in and David directed, we used to play this game where we’d come up with the title of a movie and then we would figure out the movie from there. So, one day he was like: “Alright, Your Highness… what’s it about?” I said: “I don’t know… maybe a prince, who is stoned and fights dragons.” And that is the genesis of this film.

Q. And then how much fun did you have combining elements of the fantastical epics of the ‘80s – such as Krull and Conan – with nods to Monty Python?
Danny McBride: It was great. Things like The Holy Grail, Princess Bride… these comedy versions of fantasy films or medieval tales always was something I thought was interesting. I think we really then started to digging into things like Krull and Beastmaster and Conan the Barbarian… these crazy sword and sorcery movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s that David and myself had grown up on. We really just wanted to make one of those movies and figure out our own sort of comedic angle into it. So, that’s where we came up with the idea of the sibling rivalry between these two brothers.

Q. You seem to specialise in playing an alternative kind of hero – someone who has a more miserable outlook on life as evidenced by Thadeous in this, Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down and even Fred Simmons in The Foot Fist Way. Where does that come from?
Danny McBride: You know, as a writer, to me, it’s an interesting pallet to start with. To me, it’s not hard to create a character who makes all the morally correct decisions and get an audience behind a guy like that. But I think it’s a little more interesting to take a character that’s a little bit more of an unexpected hero, someone who is a little harder to align an audience with. So, try to figure out how to crack that code and try to figure out a way to get an audience to actually sympathise who morally is not aligned with them.

Q. Is it a fine line to continually walk while filming? I mean, are you surprised by how many people have warmed to these kind of characters?
Danny McBride: It is a surprise. It’s something that when you’re dealing with that kind of character, it’s always good to get different options so you can figure out what’s a little too far and what’s in the right line. But with all the stuff we’ve done from The Foot Fist Way to Eastbound & Down, we always play around with those concepts – such as how do you get an audience to identify with someone that on first appearance they have nothing in common with, but when you start digging into those insecurities and what their shortcomings are, that’s where you find the thread that an audience can link into.

Q. How was reuniting with James Franco?
Danny McBride: It was great. James is a great, great dude. I met him on the set of Pineapple Express and he’s such a nice guy. He’s a very talented actor, he’s one of those good looking leading men that doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s never afraid to make himself look goofy or silly. To me, it’s fun to work with somebody like that.

Q. And I gather you did a lot of improv?
Danny McBride: We did. David, the director, uses improv in the dramatic work that he does, and the comedic work, and as an actor it just makes making the movie a lot more fun. The script is there and we’ll do one or two takes on page, but after that we’ll just throw the script away and try to push the material as much as we can and see what we can get.

Your Highness, Natalie Portman

Q. And how did Natalie Portman fare with the improv?
Danny McBride: She did great. Everyone who is in the film, from Toby Jones to Charles Dance and Natalie Portman, were all game for the improv. But that’s really important to David’s process, so when we audition that’s one of the things that we try to focus in on the most – how willing they are to play and to let go of the words and see what can happen.

Q. I’ve heard that you found it hard to keep a straight face sometimes when you were uncovering the ‘rough and tumble’ side of Natalie Portman?
Danny McBride: It really is and that’s always the biggest trick whenever you’re doing anything with improv is not only finding something that’s good but making sure that you don’t ruin the takes when you do find those gems.

Q. So, what was an example of something you did that you couldn’t keep a straight face for?
Danny McBride: There’s a lot of stuff. I tend to laugh at stuff that doesn’t even seem that funny, so anytime Natalie would play anything serious it always tripped me out because it seemed nuts that Natalie is a real actress and there she is in this filthy, dirty little movie!

Q. How was shooting in Ireland?
Danny McBride: We had an amazing time in Belfast. The landscape there… we shot in Tollymore Forest, all around Belfast, and we created a lot of our sets in The Paint Hall, which is where they actually built the Titanic. It was incredible, we had an amazing crew there and we had a blast working there

Q. How’s your relationship with David evolved over the years, through all the films and programmes you’ve done together?
Danny McBride: You know, it’s stayed strong… we met each other when I was 18-years-old and we were making student films on video and that relationship has evolved into us shooting a film in Belfast with Natalie Portman and James Franco. So, those sort of things are always very surreal… down to the cinematographer of the movie, Tim Orr, to the sound mixer – these are all guys that we went to film school with, so for us it’s always crazy to be dealing with a big budge and all this talent and knowing that years ago we were all just at film school learning how do to this stuff together. It’s a good reward.

Q. Was this a difficult pitch to bring to a studio?
Danny McBride: It was easier than I thought it was going to be. This was an idea that was so outside the box and so kind of nuts that we never really thought that anyone would give it a true shot. Yeah, we brought it to Universal and they saw something in the idea and let us do it, which we were very grateful for.

Your Highness, Danny McBride

Q. How far is too far in terms of the swearing and dick jokes? Is it something you had to place a cap on?
Danny McBride: I have a very… my sense of humour is very odd and so I don’t really have much limitation. I’m good with anything. But you’ve always got to get those options and find that balance of what’s pushing the audience off too much and what’s just enough.

Q. So, what’s the most satisfying reaction you’ve had to Your Highness so far?
Danny McBride: I think, for us… to David and myself this is a movie that is inspired by some of the films that first got us interested in making movies, so whenever you get a chance to kind of pay homage to that it definitely feels great.

Q. I have to ask about Eastbound & Down… where does Kenny Powers go from here?
Danny McBride: Well, this season we started writing about a month ago and we start shooting in the summer. At the end of last season, you find out that Kenny Powers is going to be a dad and that he’s been given one more shot at the majors via a minor league team in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach, which is like the red-neck Las Vegas in America. So, he’s going to be balancing both of those duties this season.

Q. How do you find your new status now, given that you can get people like Don Johnson and Matthew McConaughey guest starring in your show? Does that still give rise to some pinch me moments?
Danny McBride: It is, for sure. When you’re on a set and there’s Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice, it definitely is a pinch yourself moment of: “What is going on? What’s happened in the universe?”

Q. Will you ever direct?
Danny McBride: I’d love to. That’s what I’m going to try and focus on next. I met David and Jody Hill, my other collaborator on Eastbound, in film school and I was going to school to write and direct. So, yeah I’d love to get behind the camera and give it a shot.

Q. You’ve just done 30 Minutes or Less with Jesse Eisenberg… Can you tell us a little about that?
Danny McBride: Yes, 30 Minutes or Less comes out in the States in August and it’s directed by Ruben Fleischer, who directed Zombieland, and it’s a fun movie, a good time… it’s a bank heist thriller and comedy and it’s cool.

Q. Will you slowly branch into more dramatic roles as you move forward, such as the type of thing we saw you do in Up In The Air alongside George Clooney?
Danny McBride: I would love to. To me, I’m always just attracted to the type of movie that I would want to see and I like dramatic films as well as comedic, so if something were to come my way that was dramatic, I would definitely not be afraid of taking a bite out of it.

Your Highness is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday, April 13, 2011.