From creator/executive producer/writer/director Danny McBride, executive producer/director Jody Hill and executive producer/director David Gordon Green, the HBO comedy series The Righteous Gemstones tells the story of a world-famous televangelist family that has as much of a tradition with greed and deviance as they do with charitable work. And with blackmailers seeking to sully the reputation of eldest son Jesse Gemstone (McBride), patriarch Eli’s (John Goodman) plans to expand the family’s empire could be in jeopardy.
While at the HBO portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with actor and funnyman Adam Devine (who plays the youngest Gemstone, Kelvin) about how much fun he has making The Righteous Gemstones, why it was important to him that this show not just poke fun at religion, what made this a role unlike anything he’s done before, his sexual chemistry with Tony Cavalero (who plays Kelvin’s best friend and ex-Satan worshipper Keith), what he drew on to bring this guy to life, working with such a funny cast, balancing the seriousness with the crazy, and that big baptism scene. He also talked about being a part of the voice cast for the upcoming Netflix animated series Green Eggs and Ham, and expanding Dr. Seuss’ world.
Collider: This seems like such a fun show, with a fun character and a crazy fun cast. Did you know what the full package would be, when this came your way?
ADAM DEVINE: I knew everybody, but [John] Goodman. I was just such a fan of Danny [McBride]. Before Workaholics and before anything, Anders [Holm] had a friend that worked at an talent agency and got an advanced copy of Foot Fist Way, which Jody Hill directed and Danny starred in. We were like, “Oh, you can make comedies like this? We can be this funny in it? It doesn’t need to pull punches?” So, I’ve been a huge fan of, of Danny and Jody and David [Gordon Green], ever since. So, as soon as he asked me to do the role, I was like, “Yes, please.”
What did he tell you this would be? Was he very descriptive, as far as who this family would be and who this character was?
DEVINE: Yeah, and he really put my worries at ease. I knew that they have a steady hand and could handle it. I have family members that are really religious, and friends of mine that are definitely more religious than me, so I was like, “I don’t want them to feel like we’re making fun of their beliefs,” because who are we to make fun of what anyone believes? We don’t know. No one really knows. So, just believe what you want to. And Danny said that exact same thing and was like, “This is just about this family and the hypocrisy that some of these uber wealthy, mega churches have. That’s what we’re gonna be making fun of.” And I think any religious person, across the board, doesn’t like the hypocrisy, at the top end.
It seems like there’s a definite difference between religion and faith, and evangelicals.
DEVINE: For sure. Especially growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and seeing the mega church preachers crying on TV because they slept with a prostitute, or about some coke scandal or, or the fact that, when we were shooting the show, some preacher got in trouble for like saying that he needed multiple private jets, in order to spread the word, that’s what the show’s about. It’s not about religion, in general.
There’s endless comedy in that, but also among this family.
DEVINE: Yeah, the family dynamic was so fun to play. I’ve never really had a chance to do that, in anything that I’ve done. It’s usually more of a friend dynamic, or a boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic. I’ve never gotten to play the younger brother who’s so put upon that he feels like he has to be like the righteous one of the family. I’m not like the wild man, in this family. Danny’s character and Edi [Patterson]’s character get to be the wild, crazy ones, and I’m the more reserved straight man. People know that I can be the wild, crazy guy, so it’s fun to pull back on that and play it more straight.
And it’s particularly funny that Kelvin Gemstone has this friend in his life who’s an ex-Satan worshipper. How did that happen? How did the two of them end up in the same orbit?
DEVINE: We don’t really go into detail about it, but I know that Kelvin saved him and brought him into the light, and is showing him faith. Keith is such a weird dude, and there’s kind of a will they or won’t they vibe to it. There’s weird layers to their relationship, for sure, and that was definitely fun to play. I feel like I got to know Tony Cavalero on a much more personal level than I thought I was going to.
Did you know that odd dynamic was going to happen, or did that develop throughout the season?
DEVINE: Yeah, Danny told me. We knew that, going in. That was one of my favorite parts of the season, for something that I got to do. My storyline was our relationship. So, he told me, early on, that that’s what it was gonna be, and I was excited. It’s a weird thing. When people watch the show, they’re going to be like, “But what’s up with Kelvin and Keith?” And the sexual chemistry between me and Tony Cavalero, as humans, is palpable, so just imagine what the characters will be like.
You get to do some crazy stuff in this. What were the rock star church moments like to shoot?
DEVINE: That was really fun. I do stand-up, so I know what it feels like to stand in front of crowds, but not like that. Those days were always really fun ‘cause there were hundreds of extras there and a band playing. You’d walk out and hear the roar of the crowd, and as an actor, there’s not often people applauding when you walk onto the set, but that would happen on those big days, which was pretty fun, just to feed the ego.
Did you study any specific evangelists for this, at all?
DEVINE: It was a composite of a lot of different people. John is definitely more old school, and Danny’s even of an older generation and pulling from that. I wanted my guy to almost be reaching down and pulling from youth culture, which I think is a lot of what like the younger, cool ministers are doing now. One of my favorite Instagram accounts is this account called Preachers and Sneakers, and they just show these preachers with thousand dollar tennis shoes on, and how fashion forward and hip these guys are. So, my guy is fashion forward and hip, but has horrible fashion choices and fashion sense. It makes going to church cool again, for young people. I totally get what they’re doing. That’s why Kelvin is trying to appeal to the youth.
What was it like to find your dynamic, among these actors?
DEVINE: John has such gravitas to him that, immediately, you would respect him, as an authority figure, no matter what room he walks into. It was very easy to be like, “He’s the dad that I’m kind of scared of, but I love.” So, that was pretty easy. And Danny always plays these brash characters that you might not necessarily, and then they grow on you, but he’s the exact opposite. You love him, from the second you meet him, and he’s like the nicest guy. He really made set feel really welcome, and like a place that you could just have fun and improv, and not feel like you’re gonna have an idea that gets shot down, or that you’ll feel dumb for coming up with something. He runs a set the same way that we ran Workaholics and Game Over Man, which is just that you write the script and you stick to it, ‘cause you work really hard on the script, and then they go, “Okay, let’s have fun with this one,” and you have a couple of loose takes, where you can improv a lot more. It felt pretty natural to what we already do. And Edi is a cast member from The Groundlings, so she’s such an improv pro, and she was always adding perfect little gems. We all come from like comedy backgrounds, and Danny and I come from the same school of having to create your own stuff and facilitate your career, in that way. I think that’s why it clicked, in such a way. No one was taking themselves too seriously, and that made a really easy, fun set.
It was such a perfect way to start this show and set the tone by having that big baptism in the wave pool. What was that like to shoot? How long were you stuck in that pool?
DEVINE: We shot that last summer, and it was the end of June in Charleston, South Carolina, so it was so hot. Even though we shot it all night, and it was 5 am when were shooting some of the parts of that scene, it felt good, being in that pool. Normally, if you have to get in water when you’re shooting, you’re just wet all day and it’s a nightmare, but that day was awesome. We were swimming in the pool, in between takes, and we had balls that were throwing to each other. That was a fun night, for sure. You definitely had to know all of your lines ‘cause there wasn’t hiding any sides in your pockets to look at. You had to know your stuff, before you got in that pool.