Danny McBride had a hell of a 2008, what with scene-stealing roles in “Pineapple Express,” “Tropic Thunder,” and…well, okay, maybe “Drillbit Taylor” wasn’t everything it could’ve been. But, still, the guy’s definitely on a roll, and although 2009 was already shaping up to be a good year for McBride, thanks to his co-starring role in Will Ferrell’s take on Sid & Marty Krofft’s “Land of the Lost,” he can now also claim ownership of a lead role in an HBO series.
HBO’s Sue Naegle was able to sum up the premise of “Eastbound and Down” in a single well-constructed sentence: the hilariously tragic story of Kenny Powers, a former major league pitcher whose bad-boy ways have him down and out and teaching phys ed. at his old middle school in North Carolina. As a man who’s spent his entire life within a 30-minute drive of the Tarheel State (though this is probably the first time I’ve ever referred to it as the Tarheel State), I admit to a certain affinity for the premise, particularly after hearing McBride talk about his reasons for doing the series.
“These guys both grew up in North Carolina,” McBride said, referring to his collaborators Jody Hill and
Ben Best, “and I grew up in Virginia, and we all met at film school down in North Carolina School of the Arts. We weren’t really happy with the way the South was portrayed in a lot of film and television. It seemed like it kind of stopped at the ‘Hee-Haw’ kind of deal, which is overalls and Billy Bob, so we kind of wanted to find new things to make fun of in the South.”
By McBride’s recollection, the show’s actual premise came about while he, Hill, and Best were “splitting a case of beer, thinking of cool TV shows. We came up with this show, and a few years later, we were lucky enough to meet Will (Ferrell) and Adam (McKay), and we pitched them the show. They seemed to think it was a good idea, and they asked us if we were big sports guys, if we were really into sports. And we told them that none of us had ever played any sports. I didn’t know how to throw a baseball! But when we write things, especially to act in, you kind of want to write something to kind of fulfill fantasies, and being, you know, semi-athletic has always been a fantasy of mine, and so this is a way to act that out.”
“People are always coming up to us and asking, ‘Oh, is it this guy or that guy?’ I mean, I guess that would have been a good idea, but we really don’t know anything about baseball,” admitted Hill.
“What we knew about baseball…you know, we had seen things in the headlines about different stars who had kind of fallen from grace, and that always, to us, seemed like an area that was ripe for the picking,” said McBride. “Here are these guys who are supposed to be national icons and should be heroes to children, and yet, you know, there’s guys getting busted for cheating or for using steroids or gambling. And to us, that just seemed like that could fall into what we like to play with.”
Ferrell and McKay serve as the show’s executive producers, and Ferrell appears in the first episode as car dealer Ashleigh Shafer, whose blond-maned look was intentionally influenced by legendary wrestler Ric Flair. The Ferrell / McKay connection came about as a result of the duo seeing McBride’s film, “The Foot Fist Way,” after its appearance at the Sundance Film Festival.
“We just sat down for a dinner with these guys, and we are big fans of theirs, so we were surprised that they had seen our film and then even more thrilled that they were willing to kind of get into business with us on it,” said McBride. “And we just instantly dug them a lot, and we also looked up to them, so the chance to work with them on something else was a no-brainer.”
“Eastbound and Down” is, according to McBride, structured to be a story of redemption, but that the redemption lies in his own hands. “He’s given many avenues to kind of redeem himself,” McBride explained, “and he kind of makes his own choices.”
“He’s in the moment that he could redeem himself, but he always chooses the path that would lead him further down,” said Best. “So I think in each episode he’s thinking, ‘This is the lowest a man can get,’ and then you’ll see it’s like, ‘Oh, no, wait, this is the lowest a man can get.’ And that will just continue.”
And, ladies, prepare yourself for a Danny McBride nude scene.
“I actually shot one of the episodes,” said McKay, “and one of the things few people know about Danny is he has a lovely, lovely body. A very furry and enjoyable body. And we shot pretty much 200,000 feet of film on his naked body, black-and-whites, step frame. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous body.”
“It is,” agreed McBride. “It’s great. But, uh, that wasn’t even for the project, Adam. That was just for us.”
“Eastbound and Down” premieres on HBO on February 15.