Los Angeles, Aug. 16 (UPI) — Danny McBride is about to launch his third series for HBO. The Righteous Gemstones follows McBride’s Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals for the network, and with his collaborators Jody Hill and David Gordon Green.
Since McBride writes, produces and stars on these shows, and even directs a few episodes, they have kept him away from movies. That’s OK with McBride, though. He feels television makes a greater impact today than movies do.
“I just feel like TV has more power in culture right now,” McBride told UPI at WarnerMedia’s party for the Television Critics Association. “There’s so much competing for your attention that an hour and a half story, no matter how good it is, doesn’t seem to hold the resonance that capturing an audience for nine hours does.”
That’s not to write off all movies.
“One-hundred percent, it’s still possible, obviously,” McBride said. “Everything from Roma last year, there’s lots of movies that come out that do that for me.”
When it comes to comedy, it’s even harder in movies. This summer, Stuber underperformed despite having Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani in the leads. Even the franchise Men in Black International disappeared quickly. Yesterday has been successful, but McBride isn’t willing to take that risk with his comedy.
“I think as far as knowing I have limited time on this planet and what I want to put my energy into, there’s so much up in the air when it comes to right now especially comedies in the marketplace,” McBride said.
“People just don’t really show up for them. So you can make an amazing comedy, work hard on it, spend a year on it and then it eats [expletive] the first weekend it’s out and it goes away.
“I think [with] TV, the audience is more willing to give something the benefit of the doubt. They give it a chance and let it grow, and everything’s not so geared toward those numbers in the first weekend.”
Television itself isn’t a sure thing, either. A show has to have a platform like HBO to make sure viewers will give it a chance. Even on a platform as big as Netflix, shows like One Day at a Time or Tuca & Bertie don’t always make it, although Pop rescued One Day at a Time.
“I don’t watch TV at all, but I know I’m always interested in what HBO has on their slate,” McBride said. “I think they’ve done a really good job of keeping their quantity low and keeping their quality high.”
McBride also has lived the rocky road of comedy movies. Since his indie film The Foot Fist Way debuted, he has been in hits like Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder and This Is the End. He’s also seen his films Land of the Lost, Your Highness and Hot Rod disappear.
“I never imagined I’d be an actor at all, so the ability to go and work on sets with Ridley Scott [in Alien: Covenant] or Ben Stiller [in Tropic Thunder], that was all just a bonus and a way for me to be able to have a front-row seat to see how these guys work,” McBride said. “But ultimately I’ve always just wanted to create my own stuff. So luckily with HBO, we’ve been able to do that.”
McBride’s brand of comedy isn’t for everyone. Characters like Kenny Powers and Neal Gamby are abrasive and hostile. Such characters may have scared people out of the theaters, but HBO gets him.
“Luckily, they do,” McBride said. “We just have a good time working with them. All their executives there are smart and they’re not afraid of what we do. They’re OK with it.”
Jesse Gemstone is another classic Danny McBride character. Being a preacher doesn’t prevent him from using the F-word liberally. He’s really just looking for his father, Eli (John Goodman)’s approval.
“I think we all are to some extent,” McBride said. “I think as you grow up and you have a family, you are always looking to what came before you for a point of reference for how you should do it.
“I think for him, he’s following these traditions. Even down to like disciplining his kids by hitting them and it’s not doing anything. It’s not making his kids love him anymore, respect him. None of the traditions are working for him. He’s stuck.”
The Gemstones are a family of televangelists — the people who watch and donate believe in their gospel and enlightenment. Others may say they are shady opportunists. The truth is probably somewhere in between.
“I think it’s up to the viewer,” McBride said. “I think some people look at this world and are so turned off by it that I think they would see the Gemstones as monsters. And I think there’s other people that are more understanding. But I think with everything, we never sort of try to guide the audience, like ‘Accept these people! Like these people!’ “We always present them with their flaws and everything, and really make the experience up to the viewer of how much do you really want to invest in them or not.”
Jesse Gemstone’s world is rocked even further when he’s blackmailed over a video showing him doing drugs. Besides compromising the family business, McBride feels Jesse’s indiscretion speaks to the macro conflict in the Gemstone family.
“I think that’s part of Jesse Gemstone’s fatal flaw,” McBride said. “He’s the first-born son in this family that has this tradition of successful televangelism and he’s not necessarily cut out for it.
“And he’s just kind of following blindly these things when everything inside of him is telling him that this isn’t the guy he is. And he’s not being authentic to himself so instead it’s creating and festering all of these problems for him.”
For McBride, playing the Gemstone church shows does suit his showmanship.
“When you’re standing up in front of 1,000 extras and you have all their attention, it’s pretty insane,” McBride said. “We shot this in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a very religious town so everyone who was there in the audience, they go to church. They understand the experience and it was wild when you’d start preaching and they would throw you amens back and forth. It was a little empowering, like I like this. This is cool.”
However, McBride has not felt the spirit to improvise on The Righteous Gemstones.
“Weirdly enough, I think I improv’ed the least on anything we’ve ever done here,” McBride said. “I think it was just because of the nature of what the show is. There’s so many spinning plates. There’s so many characters that there needed to be an efficiency to the storytelling to make sure that everybody’s kind of checked in with.”
“We really stuck to the script way more than we normally do. We still will riff here and there, but this one probably stuck to the script more than anything else we’ve done.”
The Righteous Gemstones premieres Sunday on HBO.