HeyUGuys (and a group of select other bloggers) caught up with the star on the eve of the release of his new comedy fantasy spoof Your Highness (another collaboration with director and close friend from college, David Gordon Green) to talk about his working methods and inspirations behind the film. At the actor’s insistence, the roundtable interview was staged in the somewhat quirky environment of the upstairs of a pub named (appropriately enough) The Roundtable. The drinks flowed fast and freely (as did the expletive-ridden conversation!) and McBride was an affable, down-to-earth presence. It’s hard to imagine A-list ivory tower inhabitants like John Travolta and Jennifer Lopez ever arranging such a fun get together. Hooray for the new wave of unpretentious, fanboy-infused Hollywood players!
McBride’s co-star and man servant from the film (young, upcoming British actor Rasmus Hardiker) was also in attendance.
Your Highness is on general release from tomorrow but beware of some mild-ish spoilers below.
HeyUGuys – I’ve read that David Gordon Green likes to do a lot of improvisation on set. You’re the co-author here (alongside Eastbound & Down writer Ben Best). Do you get precious about the written stuff at all, or are you open to changing it?
Danny McBride – No, No. I’m open to whatever. All the stuff we do this way – the Eastbound stuff, Pineapple (Express), even David’s dramatic work – the impro is all part of the process. The script is a good way to get the tone down and make sure the story and characters are there and it’s a good blueprint for everyone else who is working on the movie, but we don’t rehearse or anything. All the rehearsals happen in front of the camera. For the most parts we do cross-camera coverage so you can always cut around the improv and that’s also what’s exciting about making it – just kind of finding and inventing and you can use the chemistry as well. We don’t even do it just for jokes either. We’ll have scenes that are dramatic and not comedic at all, and David will just want us to approach it naturally because it kinda keeps everyone on their toes and makes you get to the heart of what you’re trying to do in the first place.
We’ll also do stuff that’s on the page because sometime you want that option and sometimes that will be the most concise way to get the message across, but we always construct the story from writing it, to improv and then into the editing room, figuring out what works that’s off the page, and what doesn’t.
Does that happen on Eastbound too? I know there are a couple of director involved there.
Yeah, we do that on Eastbound all the time. We’ll do maybe one of two takes of what’s on the page first.
Presumably there must have been a lot of cut scenes because of this method, and when the DVD comes out, they’ll be a load of extra material?
There’s a lot of alt riffs and stuff, but there’s not too many straight up scenes that have been cut out. The most significant scene which was cut out involved (the film’s villain) Leezar. Towards the end, he drinks from this chalice which turns his sperm to dragon sperm and that’s why his fingernails and shit were going crazy and then when James stabs him, originally he didn’t turn into the embers. He died by falling off the bridge and there was this scene that happened right at the end when everyone is congratulating each other over their victory, and Leezar comes back alive and his stomach starts inflating and basically he lays an egg out of his asshole and a deformed baby dragon bursts from the egg and burns his face off (laughs).
There is some risqué humour in the film. Did you run into any problems with the rating board? I mean, you have a Minotaur with a huge erection in there!
We got around that with the MPAA (American equivalent to the BBFC) by saying that it was an animal. We said that was the bull in him, not the man (laughs). Weirdly enough though, that was the studio’s note. We originally had all the chase scenes involving the minotaur with him stomping through with this big dick swinging between his legs and that was going to the extent of it, but when we got into the cut, the head of the studio said “I feel like you show the dick so much, you get desensitised to it. You should never show the dick in any of that and then only show it when he pulls away and let’s CG a hard-on.” That’s when we knew we were with good collaborators and with guys who were willing to push things. David’s principal is let’s not just tap the audience repeatedly – let’s punch them once in the face (laughs).
It’s hard to imagine stuff like that getting past the censors a couple of years back.
The whole movie and the fact that it exists blows our minds. It was something that we always thought was a crazy joke and there was no way a studio would take a risk with a movie that was so out there and nuts, but for whatever reason they did and we definitely feel we got something over on everyone, for sure.
Have you always wanted to do a fantasy/sword and sorcery-type film?
I did, but I never thought there would ever any reality to it. It was just one of those things when you’re trying to think, what kind of movies do they not make anymore and wouldn’t it be dope to make one of those fantasy films. It was always like a pipedream.
I don’t think any have really been done since the eighties.
Yeah. When you watch them you kinda see why. Most of them do suck. They don’t hold up, but I fucking loved them when I was a kid. They really captured my imagination. We though this would be such a crazy genre to do. Much the same way as Edger, Simon and Nick did on Shaun of the Dead with zombies, we wanted to apply the same principal here. Those guys didn’t really spoof those films, but just made their own, and that’s what we wanted with the fantasy genre. He said lets just make one of the movies and find our own sensibilities within it.
The mechanical bird reference from the original Clash of the Titans is hilarious.
What’s funny about that was it wasn’t the vulgarity which we got the most studio notes from, it was that bird! They didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. They were like “why is he a robot?” and we were like, I dunno, why the fuck isn’t he a robot – there’s also two moons in here too (laughs).
But soon as audiences in the know see the character, they get it.
Yeah. That was important to us. We didn’t necessarily want the audience to say “oh look, that’s from this movie, there’s another reference over there”. It’s not totally obvious. David wanted to keep that balance. He didn’t ever want to just make it seem like we were doing a scene from another movie, but at the same time, he wanted people to know we were inspired by those certain types of films.
James Franco’s performance is really reminiscent of that sort of overly-earnest hero from those fantasy flicks.
That was what we talked about with him. If this was a regular fantasy film, Franco’s character would be the guy the audience would usually follow, but the focus is on his younger brother who is really not all that. We were channelling everything from The Neverending Story to Beastmaster and Conan, just trying to embody this guys that, morally, always tries to make the right decisions and choices and he’s perfect and he has all these abilities and then there’s the guys who has to follow that up.
How was working with Natalie Portman?
Natalie was awesome. I didn’t know what to expect from her. I’ve always respected her work and she’s an incredible actress, but I didn’t know if she’d be stiff or insulted by the humour, but she has a great sense of humour and she’s as cool as you’d hope she would be.
Rasmus Hardiker – I loved it! The guys created a great environment where you can do that. Everyone was pretty much up for it too. There’s a scene which didn’t make it into the final cut, where James Franco and I kind of go off together and have a big cry about how things are working out and it just gets worse and more emotional. That was a lot of fun.
The film was shot over in Ireland. Is that correct?
Yeah, the majority was done on location over there. Everyone was really kind and accommodating. Sometimes you read about Ireland and the troubles, but it was my first visit over there, and I found it to be a lovely place. All the cast and crew lived together for the duration and when you doing long, sometime 15 hour days, it’s nice to spend any free time with a great bunch of Brits and Americans.
What’s next for you?
I’m starring in a British comedy called Cockneys vs Zombies, which has a fantastic cast. It’s been incredible watching the legendary Honor Blackman killing the undead.
Do you have any good kills in the film?
Yeah, I destroy one zombie by taking a spade, putting it to its neck and bringing my boot down to take the head clean off (laughs gleefully).
Thanks to Badger Brewery for the ale which accompanied the evening and Lost in the Multiplex for the above images.
Also, check out this Your Highness-themed alternative to our upcoming royal wedding.
You can read our review of Your Highness here.