There are heroes, there are antiheroes and then there’s Kenny Powers. Guy Davis pitched a few questions at Danny McBride, star and co- creator of the riotous pay- TV comedy Eastbound & Down. DANNY YMCBRIDE MCBRIDE, EASTBOUND & DOWN
Television has off ered up buff oons, bastards and even serial killers as central characters in recent years. But even the most tolerant of viewers may have an issue or two with Kenny Powers, the protagonist of the new pay-TV comedy Eastbound & Down.
A pro baseball pitcher who shipwrecked his stellar career in a whirlwind of egomania, steroid abuse and politically incorrect statements to the media, Kenny is a full-throttle jerk.
And even when he’s forced to return to his home town and start over from scratch, he still lives by the motto, “ I am better than everybody else”.
Don’t be fooled, though. Kenny may be a fi rst-class dipstick but there’s more to him and his story that meets the eye, something the six episodes of Eastbound & Down gradually reveal. And that’s what makes it one of the most brutally funny and unexpectedly insightful shows of the year.
Danny McBride, the scene-stealing star of Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, plays Kenny, and also co-created the show. Here, he talks about the creation of Eastbound & Down and what Kenny Powers says about the US.
Like all great ideas, Eastbound & Down started with beer and an infl atable swimming pool, right?
I’d lived in L. A. for a while and ended up moving back to Virginia, where I grew up, just to save some money. I was living hand-to-mouth in L. A. and I needed to get ahead of my bills, so I moved back to Virginia, stayed with my folks and picked up work as a bartender at night and as a substitute teacher during the day. As I was there, I was still trying to write screenplays, so I formulated this idea about a guy who’s teaching as a part-time thing. And one day I drove down to North Carolina, where a bunch of my buddies from fi lm school were, and we sat around one day in this baby pool out the back of this house, getting drunk and talking about ideas. [ Laughs] This brainstorming session is where the character of Kenny Powers kind of came from.
Was Kenny always a sportsman?
We wanted to have someone who felt like they were above everything and take them back to their roots. None of us are athletes – we didn’t know much about baseball before we started writing the show – but for us, some egotistical jock seemed like a fun character to play around with. As we went through the various sports, a baseball pitcher seemed like an interesting choice. All eyes are on them; they’re in the middle of the fi eld and everyone in the stands is looking at them. For a guy who’s used to that much attention, to suddenly fi nd himself in a place where no one is paying him any attention seemed like an interesting situation.
We learn more and more about Kenny as the show progresses but there are times when he’s a hard guy to warm to. Was that ever a concern for you?
In a weird way, we thought Kenny represented what a lot of people around the world probably think of Americans. And Kenny is probably emboldened by people thinking of him as so crass and egotistical. From the time we fi rst pitched the show, we were used to getting notes from executives on how likeable Kenny would be. So we’d always be doing variations in scenes – in some, he’d be a bit more quiet; in others, he’d be taking no prisoners. We’d always give ourselves options.
And it often seems like you chose the take-no-prisoners option!
People could write off the early episodes as relying on vulgarity. But to us, Kenny’s vulgarity is an illustration of this guy’s personality – he doesn’t know what’s appropriate, he doesn’t know how to function in regular society. And it was always our intention that we would maintain that crass tone but also reveal a lot of other things about Kenny as well. Exploring the diff erent layers of this guy and revealing diff erent things about him while balancing a kind of tragic tone with the comedy was the most fun for us.