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Exclusive Interview: Danny McBride for "Up in the Air"

By Paul Fischer Friday December 4th 2009 06:11AM
Danny McBride for "Up in the Air"

One of the new voices of movie comedy these days, Danny McBride proves himself to be both an innovative comic actor and a dramatic actor as he proves with his subtle performance in the critically acclaimed "Up in the Air".

A busy man on the big and small screen, McBride talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.

Question: Now was the attraction of doing this film the piece as a whole, or did you really like your particular character?

McBride: You know, I think it was a little bit of all of it, you know? I had been a fan of Jason’s work, and when he reached out to me and sent me the script I read it instantly and just really responded to the material. I thought the movie just felt really special, it popped off the page to me and this character seemed interesting. Also, it was a chance to toss it up and do something a little different. Then get to work with Clooney. It seemed like a no-brainer.

Question: In fact, you’re not known for doing this kind of part, actually, given recent films that you’ve done. What did Jason see in you, do you think, that made him want to cast you in the role of Jim?

McBride: I think Jason was a big fan of All the Real Girls, has comedic elements to it, but it also kind of balances where tragedy and comedy meet and to me, that’s the stuff I find the most interesting. I think in Eastbound, we tried to find those moments where we could, where the comedy kind of gave way to tragedy, and it just kind of folds into itself. So I think he had saw that we were doing that kind of stuff, and I think that maybe that just gave him a notion that perhaps I was capable of more.

Question: How did you find Jason as a director?

McBride: Oh, he’s great. I mean, he was above just being a really super nice guy, and laid back, very collaborative, and he’s also just icy smart.

Question: Is he an actor’s director?

McBride: Oh, most definitely.

Question: Clooney is known for being a bit of a practical jokester on the set. Did you two have a lot of laughs?

McBride: We had a good time. I wasn’t the brunt of any practical joke, but it I had a good time meeting him, and getting to hang out with him down there. He was definitely a good guy.

Question: Your career has gone in leaps and bounds. Before we talk about all the movies that apparently you have in development, why was it the best time for you to return to television with Eastbound? And was that a hard sell?

McBride: No. You know, I mean, Eastbound was something that we set up in the very beginning of everything, before any of the other opportunities were kind of coming around. I created that show with buddies of mine from film school, so getting a chance for someone to pay for you to work with your friends, and to say bad words, is always a pretty cool thing. And the chance to go back and finish what we started, and continue it, is definitely something I’ve been looking forward to. To us, going to TV isn’t like a step down, or anything. We really embraced the format a lot, and like it and it’s just a whole different ball game than a movie. A movie, you go to it, you sit in there for an hour and a half, and you take it all in, but with a TV show, especially with the way we’ve kind of designed Eastbound, where it kind of is a continuing story, it just kind of stays with you each week, and you get it in parts. The idea of telling a story in that way has always been something that we’ve liked, so it’s exciting to get back into that again.

Question: Was Kenny Powers an extension of you in any way?

McBride: You know, not really. I think that it’s an extension of me in the form of, like, I find people like Kenny Powers funny, so maybe it’s an extension that way. But I’ve never called a girl a dick head before.

Question: Oh, you haven't?

McBride: No. Not yet.

Question: [LAUGHTER] What’s the future of the show? How does it stand?

McBride: Well we’re coming back for another season. We’re actually writing on it right now, so it’ll be out next year.

Question: Now on the big screen, you’re a voice in Despicable, which looks really a lot of fun.

McBride: Yeah. It’s a great idea, and I had met with the guys earlier on, and they showed me some of the drawings, the conceptual stuff for it. I have some young nephews, so it was something I always wanted to kind of give a shot at. And it was a good time.

Question: What are the challenges for you, doing a vocal role? Obviously it requires different acting muscles than anything else.

McBride: Yeah, it definitely does. I find that a lot of the stuff that I really kind of like, comedically, is like, playing off of the awkwardness or the reality of the situation you’re in, of really being there with those actors. So when you’re doing just voice work for animation, you don’t have that, because you’re in the studio by yourself, just kind of getting a bunch of different takes on lines, so it’s a different deal. But it’s still fun. I mean, it’s good to be able to go on there and you just will say the same line in a million different ways, and let the animators sort it out.

Question: Do you like the isolation, or do you find it frustrating?

McBride: I didn't find it frustrating. It wasn’t gruelling enough to be frustrating. If I had to do it day in and day out for a long time, I could imagine it could wear. But it’s always good, on a film, to be able to get to from everyone to the different actors, to the different places you’re at which is all part of what makes making movies fun. But it’s cool to see a cartoon version of yourself.

Question: Do you notice any similarities between the character that they drew, and any aspect of your physical self?

McBride: No. It’s a totally different deal. But it was just cool and I’m looking forward to seeing the image and the voice married as one.

Question: Now, you also worked on this film, Your Highness.

McBride: Yeah. We shot it in Belfast this summer. I actually just got back about two weeks ago, to the States, from doing that. We had a great time. It was David Gordon Green, who directed Pineapple Express who’s an old buddy of mine, from film school and it was written by me and Ben Best, who’s one of the creators of Eastbound and Down. And we got Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel and James Franco and we were all wearing armour and swinging swords around and killing shit all summer. It was good.

Question: How much of this is an action film, and how much of it is pure comedy?

McBride: You know, it’s such it’s a crazy blend. I mean, David really approached this as if it were just a fantasy movie and that the characters and situation are what makes it funny. He didn't lead it being a comedy. I think it’s kind of what he does with a lot of his stuff. With Pineapple Express that kind of just evolved into an ‘80s action movie, without kind of making fun of ‘80s action movies and that’s the same thing, I think, he’s done here with the fantasy genre. It was really important for him, for it to kind of survive as a fantasy movie as well as a comedy so he didn't sacrifice the tone to make jabs or punches at the fantasy genre. He just embraced it.

Question: Now, you are continuing to partner up with David. And I’m not quite sure how much of this is happening, but have you finished writing The Precious View yet?

McBride: Yeah, The Precious View is a script that David and I actually had written a few years ago. It’s a demolition derby movie. And just as things have started to kind of pop for us a little bit, we’ve been able to kind of sell some of the stuff that we’ve been working on. But David and I have been collaborating on screenplays since we were in college together, and living on the same dorm.

Question: And a lot of these things just seem to be coming into effect. Are you guys still doing Mr. Machine as well?

McBride: Yeah. Mr. Machine is another script that we’ve written together, and right now it’s kind of just trying to pick out what we want to do next, and so you hope it doesn't slip too far down the line. But all the projects we’ve sold are things that we are excited about, and would love to have a chance to actually bring to life.

Question: Do you make sure that when you’re writing a script, that you create a character that is interesting for you as an actor to play during the writing process, or does that come later?

McBride: You know, like, with Precious View and Mr. Machine, we wrote those things before I really even had any sort of acting career. So I never really thought that I would be in any of these projects that we were doing. I just was kind of on board as a writer. So, it’s interesting to kind of go back to these scripts that we’ve written before, and be like, “All right. Well, who would I want to be in this movie?” And – so that’s been interesting. But, you know, from the get-go, I didn't really have any designs to really be an actor. I met David at film school, and was studying screenwriting and directing there. And – you know, so the acting thing has definitely been a – you know, it was a surprise. But if it could help me and my friends get films made, then I will gladly step into the spotlight.

Question: Since you did study it at film school, what are your aspirations in terms of filmmaking, beyond screenwriting and producing?

McBride: You know, I mean, I would love to get back behind the camera. Jody Hill and David Green and myself are starting a company together and we want to help other writers, and get other projects get off the ground. So, I think we would really like to kind of move into producing, and directing’s just the whole gambit.

Question: When you attended the University of North Carolina, did you know at that particular point in your life what it is you wanted to do? What were your aspirations?

McBride: You know, since I was a kid, I always wanted to be involved in films, but I didn't really imagine that it would be with acting. But I just loved movies and I went to a film school. So it wasn’t like I was going to graduate from film school and then become a doctor. I knew from an early age – I was lucky enough that my parents, like, were supportive of it and they didn't tell me to maybe pick it back, up, or anything like that. They just told me to kind of go for it, and embraced it. And luckily, it’s paid off.

Question: How does a kid from Statesboro in Georgia become so beguiled by film? Where does that come from?

McBride: I think it’s the birth of cable television. When I was a kid, I can clearly remember the first day my parents got a VCR, and the day that we got cable, and HBO. I was just always taken by films and – you know, and then with the birth of VHS, I just devoured films when I was a kid. I mean, instead of playing outside or doing that stuff, I would just have my eyes locked to the TV, just watching movie after movie.

Question: What are your favorites, amongst your favorite films?

McBride: Oh, I have so many. You know, anything from stuff that I liked when I was a kid, like The Goonies, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, that stuff still holds up now. And then I love everything from Annie Hall, to Nashville, to Goodfellas. It’s a pretty wide range.

Question: Is there a comedic actor or writer that you would say has influenced you specifically?

McBride: When I was a kid, I was a really big fan of Bill Murray. And it’s been really interesting to watch how his career has been able to sustain all this time. And – you know, I find the stuff that he does just really entertaining, and how it balances the comedy and tragedy. That’s the stuff that I find the most interesting.

Question: Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next, immediately? I mean, are you – you’re juggling a lot of things. I mean, what looks like being an absolute go project?

McBride: You know, right now, we just finished Your Highness. And I’m involved with post on that. So, we’re in editing on that. And the next thing will probably just be the second season of Eastbound and Down. We’re writing that now, and we’ll go into production on that early next year. So, that’ll keep our plate pretty full for the next half of the year.

Question: This movie, Up in the Air, has been tipped for a lot of Oscar contention. Why do you think that film has struck such a chord with people so far?

McBride: You know, it’s always baffling to me, of the movies that rise to the top. I don't know. I mean, there is something about this film. I mean, from the moment that I read the script, it felt special and it just felt like a really good movie. From the moment I read the script, I could see it translated. I don't know. I don't know what it is. I think that it’s a great movie. I think the performances are great and I think that the subject matter people can relate to it right now, like the boss, and layoffs, and dismal times, so maybe that has a little bit to do with it. But I think, above all, it’s just a solid film.

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