Danny McBride is best known for his foul-mouthed, egomaniac Kenny Powers, the character he played for four seasons on the HBO series “Eastbound & Down.” But there’s a lot more to McBride than raunchy one-liners and an incredible head of hair. And audiences are going to realize that very soon.
First, McBride will show his action-hero chops in Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” (opening Friday), in which he plays Tennessee, the pilot of the colony ship Covenant. He gives an impressive dramatic performance on top of kicking some alien butt. Then through his production company Rough House Pictures, he’s directing episodes of HBO’s “Vice Principals” (season two premieres later this year) and currently writing the screenplay for a “Halloween” reboot he’s making with director David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) and producer Jason Blum (“Get Out,” “Split”).
McBride talked to Business Insider about his evolving career and why we will never see a Kenny Powers movie.
Jason Guerrasio: Did getting cast in “Alien: Covenant” start with Ridley reaching out to you?
Danny McBride: Yeah. I got a call that Ridley wanted to meet. At the time my agent was a little coy about it and didn’t really say what it was in reference to. So being a humongous fan of Ridley’s since I can remember, being able to sit down with him was a no-brainer. So we just started talking about the directors we like and then he suddenly pulled this giant book with sketches of giant spaceships and I just lost my sh–. I just had to pull everything in and act like I was totally cool with it, but I wasn’t, I was screaming inside. I just couldn’t believe it, I was like, he’s talking to me about “Alien”! I was just excited that it sounded like he was going to make another “Alien” and then I was like, “Oh, you’re considering me for it?” So he cast me in it. It’s surreal. Never in a million years would I ever imagine ever showing up in a Ridley Scott movie, especially a Ridley Scott “Alien” movie.
Guerrasio: Did you say to him you didn’t want to be the comic relief in the movie or was that not a concern of yours?
McBride: That conversation didn’t come up and and he immediately came to me with the role before I saw the script. I just assumed he’s going to give me a script and watch it be basically a Kenny Powers character, but then when I actually saw the script and what he wanted me to do, I was excited. It’s not like I didn’t know that I could work in a movie like that, but the idea that someone like Ridley Scott believed that I could, that was awesome.
Guerrasio: Did the Tennessee role change through making it?
McBride: What you see on-screen is very similar to what was on the page. The script was just so well-written. This is one of the few films I’ve been on that the final cut really reflects the script. It’s not like there’s a bunch of stuff left on the cutting-room floor, they just really knew what they were doing.
Guerrasio: Was the hat your idea?
McBride: The hat was Ridley’s idea. He talked about that very early on and he wanted it to be an homage to some of the things in “Dr. Strangelove.”
McBride: It was crazy because the hat had a professional wrangler on the set. The person would sit there on set and made sure the hat was folded properly.
Guerrasio: You’ve been on big films before, but this must have been an experience to live through just because of its scope.
McBride: I went to film school and making movies has been a real passion of mine. I’ve been really fortunate that the acting career has been able to give me a front-row seat for all sorts of productions and directors and people I’ve admired, so every movie I act in I’m always excited by how things unfold. But a movie like this with this level of set design and spaceships and visual effects, you just look back and take it all in. I mean, that cargo mover I’m on at one point in the movie, when I came to the set they built that ship for real and had it on a 50-foot gimbal that went up and down and shook, it was awesome. I was strapped into that thing for a week and it was like you were riding an amusement-park ride all day long. [Laughs] I mean, the production design of the Covenant bridge, it was insane and it just screams Ridley Scott and the original “Alien.”
Guerrasio: And they even built an alien to chase you guys so you weren’t just acting across from a tennis ball that would become a monster in postproduction. There was something really chasing you.
McBride: For sure. In fact, they had a 6’5″ contortionist with an alien costume on doing crazy alien crawls and sh–. It was fun. They would say, “Here comes the alien,” and you would look up and yeah, it was there. It struck fear in your heart. [Laughs]
Guerrasio: Can any of that trickle down to what you, David Gordon Green, and Jody Hill do on the shows and movies you make with your production company Rough House Pictures?
McBride: It always trickles down. You would be a fool not to take the things you see and how you see guys like Ridley Scott working and apply that to what you do in your life. I think how much fun I had on something like “Alien” and being on the set where people are getting killed and you see Ridley getting excited over the gore, watching that I just thought to myself David is going to love getting dark like this for “Halloween.”
Guerrasio: You originally wanted to get into this business as a writer-director. You finally have a directing credit on an episode of “Vice Principals” from last season. What finally led to you doing that?
McBride: Acting happened accidentally for me. We started out making low-budget independent films and we didn’t have access to incredible actors so we settled on our friends sometimes and that got me into this. I was in LA quite a long time writing at night and waiting tables and doing PA jobs and doing camerawork and after “The Foot Fist Way” came out I started getting offers to act so it was a no-brainer to follow that path and see what happened. As the years went on, the acting took over and didn’t allow time to direct things. Then on “Eastbound” I loved that collaboration with David and Jody so much that I never wanted to direct an episode. Kenny Powers is in every frame of that show and I just thought it was always better to have another voice of reason on the set and not make it some one man-driven thing. But when it came to do “Vice Principals,” both those guys said, “You should direct some of this,” so I had a blast doing it. I direct an episode in the second season and it definitely has sparked my interest back in directing and maybe pause on the acting and really get into it. So I’m trying to direct a feature next year and we’ll see what happens.
Guerrasio: Something you’ve written?
Guerrasio: Is “Halloween” where your head is at right now?
McBride: Yeah, we’re on that full-time. We’re trying to shoot this fall so we’re jamming away to continue this saga of Michael Myers.
Guerrasio: Would it be correct to say this is a continuation of “Halloween” and “Halloween II”?
McBride: Around that era, yeah. Definitely a continuation and a little bit of a reinvention, but it’s like we’re really trying to take it back to what John Carpenter originally started with and what was so horrifying about it. I’ve always loved those films and it’s been awesome to watch, because we’re writing, we’re devouring all the sequels and all the versions of “Halloween,” and at the end of the day you’re dealing with a masked man who killed people and it’s crazy to see all the different versions of what people tried to do or what might have been lost from the original in the hopes of creating more story. So we’re just trying to learn from that and I feel what happened with Michael Myers, unfortunately, is in those later sequels he almost became a Frankenstein’s monster. He became this superhuman — nothing could really kill him. And that doesn’t make him scary anymore. For us, we look at it and it’s much scarier to just have that man who is hiding in the shadows as you’re taking the trash out in the backyard as opposed to a guy who could be shot a bunch of times and still keeps coming back to life. So David and I are really trying to get it back to that grounded, original, scary version of Michael Myers.
Guerrasio: What is John Carpenter’s involvement right now?
McBride: David and I had our pitch of what we wanted it to be and we wrote Jason Blum to also pitch it to John because that was important to David and I. Both of us were just as wary as any other filmgoer of all the reimagining of all these classic films we grew up on. We as fans weren’t going to do this unless we really thought that we had a cool way to take this and give something to “Halloween” fans to be excited about. And so we had to make sure there was that but we also wanted to make sure it was something that John Carpenter liked as well because he’s the master, he’s the creator of this. So if it’s an idea he thinks is sh– then we wouldn’t have any interest in spending any time on it.
So we went to him and that was incredibly nerve-wracking and as soon as we got to this office I was just thinking, “Damn, what the fuck? What kind of nerve do we have? We’re walking into John Carpenter’s office to tell him what we want to do with Michael Myers, this is crazy.” And we sat down with him and he was f—ing cool and funny and smart and we pitched him our take and he dug it, he was into it, and that’s cool. He understood why we were an interesting choice for this. He was just talking about how close he thinks horror and comedy work. Both require pacing and knowing when to release tension and when to build it and it’s really about orchestrating an audience’s reaction whether it’s to make them laugh or make them scream and sh– their pants. It’s all in the engineering of the pace, and it was cool to see that he got that and didn’t think we were being brought on to make the franchise funny, because that really isn’t me and David’s ambition for this at all.
Guerrasio: Do you really think he will do the score?
McBride: In the meeting he said he would, yeah. So we hope that we don’t let him down and deliver a piece of sh– that he wouldn’t want to score. [Laughs] In the room he definitely said that that would be fun so we’ll see if his enthusiasm maintains after we hand in the final product.
Guerrasio: So you’re planning to start shooting in the fall?
McBride: Aiming to shoot this fall. They want to release it on the 40th anniversary of “Halloween,” which is next Halloween, so we’re trying to zero in on that.
Guerrasio: I have to ask you about Kenny Powers. Is he completely out of your system or would you and Jody consider a movie version of “Eastbound & Down”?
McBride: You know, I don’t think we would do a movie. I always get weirded out when I see a TV show that then has a movie. I don’t know, it’s just odd. I think part of why “Eastbound” worked is the idea that it was a 30-minute format and that requires an acceleration of the storytelling. I think part of the comedy is that you could get so much jammed into 30 minutes. I think if we were ever to go back into it, it would definitely be another season. But we just had a blast doing that show and feel comfortable where we left it. So having stopped working on that, we’ve been able to do other things like “Halloween” and “Vice Principals” so I think those opportunities are a little more exciting than going back to something we’ve already done.
Guerrasio: With what Rough House is doing and being in an “Alien” movie, life has to be really good right now.
McBride: I love it because we’re having fun and finding people who are willing to let us have fun and that’s always been the goal for us. We were guys from North Carolina and Virginia — far, far away from Hollywood — who have always loved to do what we’re doing right now. It’s awesome to be answering questions about “Alien” and then looking at note cards for “Halloween.” It’s pretty surreal.