If you judged Danny McBride only by the characters he plays, you might think the comedian is a bully and a jerk. From 'Eastbound and Down' to 'Pineapple Express' to 'Due Date,' this is a guy who really seems to enjoy pushing the buttons of his fellow performers. In his latest film, David Gordon Green's new comedy 'Your Highness,' he does that a little bit with his audience as well, taking the template of a fantasy film and transplanting hilariously modern reactions onto its sorcery and swordplay.
Cinematical sat down with McBride at the Los Angeles press day for 'Your Highness,' where the actor was in terrific spirits as he talked about the film. In addition to discussing the development of this oddball project, he talked about defining the family dynamic between himself and his on-screen brother, played by James Franco, and offered a glimpse at a few of the ideas they feared might push the film too far.
Cinematical: How does a movie like this come together -- how do you combine a classic, almost mythical setting with these more contemporary reactions?
Danny McBride: The idea in itself was conceived as a joke. David and I were on the set of 'All the Real Girls' and we'd play this dumb game where we'd come up with a title for a movie and then try to figure out what that movie is. David came up and said, "Here's the movie -- it's called 'Your Highness.' What's it about?" Off the top of my head I was like, "It's about a prince who gets stoned all of the time, and he fights dragons." That was just something that we joked around about for the longest time, and to us it was such a weird, dumb idea that we never really imagined anyone would ever give us an opportunity to make that. So it was something that was always on our back burner, but weirdly enough, as the years went on, it was always an idea that me and him would come back to.
And it was really after we did 'Pineapple Express' and we worked with James that the next part of the kernel came together -- it's not just about a prince that gets stoned. What if it's about two princes, and these guys have to go out? It started to become more formed, and to us what was exciting about the idea ... [the movie] was about a relationship between two brothers. And I think that was how we balanced the story always -- it was, let's make sure this isn't just a spoof; this movie should be a legitimate fantasy film and a legitimate adventure film, and at the core of it, it should be about a legitimate relationship, too. So with everything, we were walking that balance of, let's push the jokes and let's make it work. But this time, let's not destroy the image of this fantasy world that we're trying to set up -- and that even came into the language with it, where we were like, let's make these people talk like they're in 'Lord of the Rings' but at the same time let's give ourselves opportunities to make jokes by being free enough to put in all of these sort of modern references, but disguise them in these terrible accents.
How precise do you have to be in terms of that language? Do you have to do research to make sure that you're not crossing the line being too contemporary with your dialogue?
That was a constant process that never ended until we locked the picture. David and I, when we work together, we improvise a lot, and we don't just improvise for jokes; we'll do improvisations based on the tone. There would be takes we would do where it was like, no cursing in this -- everything is period -- and we'd do that version; and the next take would be like, curse as much as you want, say as much inappropriate stuff as you want. So we were constantly giving ourselves all of those options, so that when we get into the editing room, we can balance things out. And if we score a joke from something that feels modern in one line, then maybe we'll pull back on a modern joke in the next line so that we can kind of keep that balance of not making sure the movie falls too much in one direction.
What was a bigger challenge, to create those comedic opportunities, or fully render a believable world? Especially since the effects are very sincerely designed.
That to us was what actually made the movie interesting, because we really couldn't think of a time when anyone had done this recently. We looked at things like 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail,' which was one of my favorite movies when I was growing up, and they were so brilliant with how they made jokes about the fact that it was low-fi, and they had the coconuts for the horse hooves. But that joke was done so well in that that if we're going to do this, we can't be making jokes about the same things; the joke can't be that we don't have the money to pull this off. The joke needs to be that we have the money to pull this off, and then there's one character that does not belong in this film. So that was always kind of where we were rooted at, and I spent the most time on the script working on the adventure and the action and the fantasy of it.
We never would beat ourselves up over the punch lines in the script; I mean, we would make sure that the script was a funny read, but what was more important to us was that the characters, the structure and the story, all that stuff felt like it was legitimate. And knowing how David works, I knew we would top the jokes on the day, and we would figure out that balance of what's appropriate and what takes us out of the movie.
How tough was it to define the relationship between the brothers, since you want your character to change, but it might seem false for him to become a full-fledged hero?
That was always the idea -- that at the end of this movie, it's not like Thaddeus is going to suddenly become this amazing swordsman; his growth is through his relation with his brother. So for us it was like, let's constantly keep track of where these brothers are in the relationship and really try to explore how it would be lame if you were Conan the Barbarian's brother, because chances are you're not as badass as he is. ... And I think that's where we found a lot of our comedy between those two guys.
When you're satirizing a genre like this one, do you have to be careful not to deconstruct it so much that people can't take seriously straightforward versions of these kinds of films?
We don't really think about what's coming after us or anything. We were just kind of figuring out how to stay afloat the whole time we were making this movie, and I think the fantasy genre is something that has been around so long that I don't think it will be just one comedic version of it that will derail it. I mean, as long as people have imaginations, they'll be into fantasy films and adventure stories; for us, it was, how do we put our stamp on one of those stories -- and hopefully this is what we've done with this.
In this movie, was there an idea that you worried you might not be able to pull off, or was going too far, and how did you work that out?
The minotaur scene. That was always something on paper that even when I had it written, I was like, I can't imagine what this will look like, and I can't imagine that someone will let us do this. Somehow, people have let us do it, and I'm very surprised that we pulled it off (laughs).