Jennifer Irwin, Danny McBride, Bo Mitchell
Baseball has had it rough this week, and it's about to get even rougher on Sunday when Eastbound & Down (10:30 pm/ET, HBO) hits the airwaves and introduces the world to the man, the myth, the legend that is Kenny Powers. Washed-up, cocky, uncensored and 100 percent redneck, Powers (Danny McBride) is a former hot-shot pitcher who finds himself back in his North Carolina hometown teaching gym after hitting the skids. McBride (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder) created the six-episode series with his college buddies Jody Hill and Ben Best, and chatted with TVGuide.com about the comedy's inspiration, his awesome hairstyles and why it's about time the bad guy finishes first.
TVGuide.com: Did you always want to do TV?
Danny McBride: I made The Foot Fist Way with [Hill and Best], and at the time, we would watch a lot of [British series] The Office, Edgar Wright's Spaced, I'm Alan Partridge. That format of a six-episode season, keeping the season small, just really appealed to us. We like how The Office could highlight all these different characters and tell this crazy story. We also wanted to stay in control and have our hands in everything, so [doing a six-episode show] just seemed more manageable.
TVGuide.com: How did the concept come about?
McBride: The initial concept was [based on] me. I had been living in Los Angeles for a while and hadn't really found my stride out there, so I packed up my stuff and moved back to Virginia, where I came from. I was living in my parents' house, substitute-teaching in the daytime and bartending at night. I remember the first day I went in to substitute-teach. I'm introducing myself to the kids: "Yeah, I'm Mr. McBride." And I found myself justifying why I was there, like, "This is really not what I'm all about." [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Were you teaching phys. ed.?
McBride: I wasn't teaching phys. ed.! I think that day was German and the next day was math. It was always stuff I didn't know anything about. There wasn't a lot of teaching going on when I was there. [Laughs] It was just supervising. But I had a good time. I was writing at the time so it was good to observe the kids, but I was thinking, "God, this would be terrible if you didn't like doing this. This would be the worst job in the world." ... We met Will Ferrell and Adam McKay after The Foot Fist Way. They asked if there was anything else we wanted to work on and this was an idea that always chipped at us, so we were like, "Let's give that a shot."
TVGuide.com: So Kenny Powers — was he based on any player specifically? John Rocker? Pete Rose?
McBride: There was no one in particular. We just chose the greatest hits of all the shamed baseball players and just formed the ultimate shamed ballplayer.
TVGuide.com: It's hard to imagine, but besides teaching, are you similar to him in any other way?
McBride: Uh, my hair's curly. That's about it!
TVGuide.com: Your hair is amazing in everything I see you in. And you have a mullet here.
McBride: [Laughs] I have the worst haircuts and I love having to wear them through the whole course of productions. With this, luckily, the hair on top is mine, but the mullet is an extension, so I can take that off at the end of the night. I should say I did [grow it out], but unfortunately I didn't.
TVGuide.com: When you hear the premise, it sounds like this guy is going home to "do right," but it's not that kind of redemption.
McBride: Kenny Powers views himself as an epic hero. He would equate his life to reading The Odyssey or something, and he looks as this trip home as: "Well, this is what epic heroes go through. This is my darkest moment." But he never takes a moment to look around to see what his life is really about. This guy is looking for redemption in all the wrong ways.
TVGuide.com: This guy is really unlikable, and we know people love good guys. Are you worried about how people will respond?
McBride: That's what we find interesting. To us, it's challenging to take a complicated character that's abrasive, despicable with his moral values and try to figure out a way to get the audience to get behind this guy. We're not afraid of how people will respond. Hopefully they'll see what we're doing and get on board. If not, then, you know, I feel sad for them for not being able to fight for the bad guy! [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Kenny's most prized possession is his jet ski... which has an animal print on it?
McBride: The jet ski is the last piece of who he was and he just holds a lot of stock in that. It's actually called "The Panty Dropper." It was something made for him. Those [prints] were all Kenny's detailing choices. He basically assumes women will drop their panties when they see his amazing jet ski. And you're not done seeing the jet ski! The jet ski is essential to Kenny's quest.
TVGuide.com: A bunch of you working on the show went to school together, so how crazy did it get on set?
McBride: It's pretty crazy. We shot in North Carolina and I think a lot of the crews down there were used to working on PG-rated stuff, like One Tree Hill and Dawson's Creek. Then they get there and it's like these foul-mouthed dudes from L.A. that are just wrecking shop. We had a great time down there with all those guys. It was really important for us to shoot in North Carolina. We wanted to populate this world with real Southerners, real Southern kids... and HBO never fought us on it.
TVGuide.com: You guys improv a lot on your films. I'm assuming you did on the show as well.
McBride: We do improv a lot. We really put a lot of care and time into the character arcs and the story, and to us, if that stuff is there on the page and is working, the jokes are just jokes. We're never precious about that kind of stuff. We're not so egotistical to think that what we come up with in a room on a computer is gonna be the funniest version of a joke. We usually do the first take with what's written and after that, we just go. It becomes trying to make the person you're in the scene with ruin the take. That's everyone's motivation.
TVGuide.com: You were adamant about only doing six episodes. Could you tell all you wanted to tell in six? And if you come back, would you stick with six again?
McBride: I feel like we did a good job. Every episode picks up exactly where the last one left off, so it all works together like a three-hour movie. We didn't want to turn this into a sitcom where it's just a situation of Kenny being here and that's where all the comedy's from. We wanted to tell a real story. We would just do six again. It was the perfect shooting schedule. Nobody got burnt out. We had a good time writing them. I think it would be good to keep it like that. People would be hungry for more. If they don't like it, then we're not on the air long enough for people to make fun of us!