From his earlier, more consciously arty films with which he first made his name (his 2000 debut, George Washington, and the little-seen but much-praised follow-up, All the Real Girls) to the latter mainstream Hollywood fare like the Judd Apatow-produced stoner/action flick, Pineapple Express, he is seen as someone who likes to experiment with each film he makes and refuses to be tied to one genre.
His latest (the comedy fantasy, Your Highness) is released on DVD and Blu-ray next week, and we recently had the chance to chat with him about it.
Undervalued during its cinema release, the film should find a healthy audience via the small screen, where it’s quirky humour and sometimes weirdly off-kilter tone (it features the world’s first pederast puppet!) should satisfy fans of cult, left-field comedies.
We asked the director about his thoughts on the film’s future, and he also revealed his unique working methods and plans to continually play by his own rules when it comes to the film making process.
We talked a little with Danny McBride during the press junket about the film’s origins, but I was wondering how you got involved with it?
Danny and I have been talking about the idea since college (they both studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts) of making a medieval movie and homage to the fantasy films we loved as kids. Danny and [co-writer] Ben Best were guys I met at school and we had very diverse tastes in what we wanted to see and what we wanted to make so this was an idea we had been batting around for 10 years but back then we never imaged Danny would be an actor, much less a star of this movie because we were all just writers and directors in film school together. When people started looking at him as an actor and looking for us for ideas, this was just one where we felt like time had come and if they’re gonna allow us to make it, lets just give it a shot and see what happens. It was definitely the one where we talked about how we could play it safe or we go with Your Highness, and we wanted to take advantage of the doors which had been opened for us and make this film.
It’s hard. There’s quotes going around that the film is highly improvised but that’s not really the case. There’s a lot of stuff we made up on set but in my own process with improvisation, it doesn’t really count. There was definitely more of a script here than anything I’ve ever worked on because of what you’re saying, all the logistics involved in a big shoot. If you were to adlib the movie, it would be extremely hard because of all the stunt work, special effects and everything that has to go into the technical preparation. You’ve got to know what you’re doing to some degree, so you can’t just throw the script out of the window. That being said, I’m really open to letting the moments breathe and the ideas from actors happen, and I’m never one to say you must do what’s on the page, but in terms of my own work, it’s definitely the movie which took the most preparation and storyboarding and had the biggest crew. There were a lot of people asking tons of questions about how to get this thing made and a lot of money was being spent, so we tried to do everything as responsible as we could and we wanted to educate ourselves about this process.
The film didn’t really find that Pineapple Express-size audience at the cinema. Did you always envision that it may have been a tough sell?
It’s a lot weirder of a movie I think. I wasn’t really surprised by that but at the same time, I think there was a perception of the movie that came through the marketing and advertising to some degree, and also people’s expectations of what the guys behind Pineapple Express were gonna do and if it was going to be more of a spoof. Our inspirations were far more legitimate than comedies. We were thinking of movies like Beastmaster, Krull and even Barry Lyndon in the design of the movie. I don’t think I’m saying that with any sort of pretension about it because we knew we were making a very ridiculous, absurd and vulgar movie, but it was never designed to be the accessible and commercial vehicle that ‘Express’ was. It’s a very different movie.
I was hoping it would find a bigger audience because I really wanted the opportunity to make a sequel which would have been even better than this one, so I’m a little disappointed it didn’t find a bigger crowd but maybe it will on video, you never know. Opening weekends these days are so much about how many commercials you have on TV and critical responses, but there are movies like The Big Lebowski and Office Space and some of my favourite comedies, which took a while for people to adjust to what their specific, peculiar sense of humour was, and I think Your Highness may fall under that category.
Another thing, which I was talked to Danny about in hindsight, is this movie has a lot of things which make people uncomfortable, and maybe they’re less comfortable watching something that’s a little twisted amongst a big crowd of people. Maybe watching it at home may be more appropriate for them, so I don’t know, but I hope what you’re saying is right, I hope it finds a cult audience. It’s a movie in which people will stop me in the street and already quote from, so that’s really nice when you find fans of the film.
It’s not the kind of film which people were jumping in line to see, but I think it’s a film which people saw as having a unique vision and it’s helped build their curiosity with what we have got coming next. We’ve kept really busy in trying to crank out some stuff, and not necessarily always comedic. We’re developing a lot of dramatic stuff. I’m working on a horror film now (a remake of Dario Argento’s supernatural giallo classic, Susperia) so for us, this movie was just a great experience to be able to accomplished what we did in trying new things and taking risks. We could have played it safe and made a Pineapple Express sequel and gotten rich off it but then there’s the inner nerd in us that wants to try everything and leave no stone unturned, and this is really an industry where that is accessible if you want it, work at it and have the right partners in crime to try and get stuff down, then you can.
You’re a busy guy at the moment. You have all the Eastbound & Down stuff on the go and your new comedy, The Sitter. How do you find the time to develop other stuff? Is it much better when you’re working with someone like Danny? Are you able to get things made faster or more efficiently?
Yeah. We’ve got a great group of people and a lot of our crew from film school we still work with – the same cameraman, sound mixer, production designer. You do have shorthand having worked with these people for 15 years, and that also enables us to find time to delegate and discover new voices to help motivate us in keeping things fresh. I’m up in North Carolina doing ‘Eastbound’ season three right now, and there are probably 20 people within a mile from where we’re filming who we’ve been working together with for that period of time. It’s inspiring and helps us to be that much more ambition because we’re not sitting there knocking on Hollywood’s door asking to be given an opportunity. We’ve here with our buddies trying to do exactly what we want.
I can’t imagine you get much interference from the studios. Are they pretty happy for you to get on with things?
We use it for what it’s value is and sometimes there are some smart executives and creative people that we’ve worked with and we’re really fortunate that they have supported us, and we’ll collaborative with them when it works for what we’re trying to do, but if nobody wants to give us 40 million dollars to make a movie, we’ll put 40 thousand together. Not only that, we also have other interests outside the movies, so sometimes if we don’t want to film anything, we’ll just grab a six pack of beer and an inner tube and float down the river. That’s the nature of us all being friends. You’ve got a group of guys who like to work hard and play hard, and hopefully if that can continue and you can keep ego out of the way, then you’ve got a real solid army of people that can accomplish a lot of things. We look to each other and say, are we pushing ourselves enough, or are we playing it safe?
We haven’t sound mixed it yet but we just finished the edit a couple of days ago, so we’re in good shape. It comes out in the States in December
I’ve heard it compared to an R-Rated version of Adventures in Babysitting. Can you elaborate?
It’s more like an After Hours type of movie. It’s a dark comedy and it basically has Jonah Hill taking three kids on a cocaine run. It’s a very weird and surreal life that they have trying to get drugs (laughs). It’s different from the other things I’ve made and I made it as a kind of homage to something like Risky Business and a lot of the John Hughes movies that I loved. It’s a very eighties movie.
David, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thanks for taking time out today to do this.
Thank you. Hopefully speak to you again sometime soon.
Your Highness is released on DVD and Blu-ray on the 8th August.