A few hours before the premiere of Pineapple Express at the Festival du Film de Juste pour rire, I got to interview Danny McBride, who pretty much steals the movie as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to interview Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow as well, naturally, but was turned down (James Franco and David Gordon Green didn’t make the trip to Montreal). Still, I got to ask them a few questions at the press conference, which went as follows:
Pineapple Express is a Freaks and Geeks reunion for you and James Franco, but with you as kind of the straight man and Franco as the funny sidekick. How did that come along?
SETH ROGEN: “You know, me and James always got along well, I always thought he was really funny and I was kinda shocked that, after Freaks and Geeks, he took this more dramatic direction career-wise. We kinda lost touch for a few years, and I just assumed he was really happy making Tristan & Isolde, Annapolis, Flyboys… I didn’t know that he also thought that Flyboys, Annapolis and Tristan & Isolde were not great films. Then I ran into him and he was like, “I don’t like any of these movies!” I went like, “Oh, that’s good to hear.”, and he expressed that he kinda wanted to work with us again. So we sent him the script, we wanted him to play Dale, the role that I ultimately played, because we had written his role for me, but when he read it, he said something to the effect that, “I like it, but I wanna play the other guy, that’s the funny part, I don’t wanna play the straight guy.” So that’s what we did, we switched roles and I thought it worked out great.”
Was it The Foot Fist Way that made you wanna work with Danny McBride?
JUDD APATOW: “Well, I got Foot Fist Way, one of his agents gave me a DVD, but I get a lot of DVDs, I had this big stack, and Foot Fist Way did not stick out of the stack. It was just written in marker on the DVD, there was no label… So I did not watch it for a very long time, and then finally I looked at it and I was like, “Holy shit, this is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen! Who’s doing it?” And they’re like, “Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay] just bought it.” So I was like, “Shit, I should have looked at the stack!” And then we invited Danny to come to the set of Knocked Up, we were trying to find him something to do, and it worked out that we were like, “Why don’t you be a drug dealer [in Pineapple Express]?”
I know Danny and David Gordon Green are old friends, did he also bring him along with him?
S.R.: “He actually did. It’s like the first time ever in movies, I think, where a guy who’s like the third biggest part in the movie got the director hired. That doesn’t happen very often! But yeah, we met Danny and Jody [Hill, the director of The Foot Fist Way], we became good friends and they started saying, “You know, David Gordon Green is a really funny guy, if you guys are looking for a director for this movie.” And we met him and he was a real funny guy. He’s like the weirdest guy ever, he’s really strange, he looks like he’s 11 year old… But he’s a really funny guy and we thought, visually, he’s clearly talented, he will be able to bring a sensibility to this that we don’t have. It worked out great, and we were very thankful to these guys to turn us on him, cause we would have never thought, “Yeah, that’s the guy to make this movie!”
At some point during the press conference, before anyone had asked anything to Danny McBride, Judd Apatow asked whether anyone there had seen The Foot Fist Way. I was the only one to say yes, which led me to me asking Apatow that question above about whether that was the film that got him interested in working with McBride. So when I walked into the room later on for my one-on-one interview with McBride, he recognized me as seemingly the only guy in Montreal who had seen him in that movie:
DANNY MCBRIDE: “Hey man, you’re the one that saw Foot Fist Way! I had no clue that we had reached the great city of Montreal! You know, we made that film for next to nothing, came to Sundance and we didn’t have a domestic distribution deal, and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay saw us, so they picked up for Paramount Vantage, which then just… I think Vantage was waiting for other things I’d done to hit… Honestly, I don’t really know what the plan was, but then, it’s kind of like, all right, the plan is to release the movie a week after Indiana Jones comes out, in the middle of the summer, and not to do any advertising for it. Which is a pretty good plan! But you know, it was made for so little, that even just being out for 2 or 3 weeks, everyone has made their money back. And it’s given us careers and jobs and, with an independent film, that’s all you can ask for, and I just kinda hope that it’s one of those things that when it comes out on DVD, it finds its audience.”
Going back before that, I had seen you in All the Real Girls and, you know, when they say that David Gordon Green’s movies before Pineapple Express weren’t funny, I think there was funny stuff in them; your character Bust-Ass was funny!
“I think that’s the beauty. Even in Snow Angels, which is one of David’s heaviest films, there’s definitely points in that movie where some of the characters, like Nicky Katt’s character, where you still find this humor, and that’s what’s amazing about it.”
I thought that Katt’s character was kind of a Danny McBride part, you could have played that part!
“That would have been fun! So, you know, that’s why I knew when I met Judd and these guys that they would get along so well with David because, really, how he approaches his dramas is really similar to how these guys approach comedy, where it’s just, you find people that you trust and believe in and then you just get out there on the day and make it happen. You let the cameras roll and let people go where they’re really not expecting to go and just kind of sort out all the pieces in the editing room. When I went and visited those guys on Knocked Up and saw them working, it was just like, ah, this is great, this is exactly how we work on David’s films. And you know, a lot of David’s movies in college were comedies. They were pretty weird movies, but they were all really funny. And then George Washington, we actually shot that literally the week after I graduated film school, David graduated a year before me, and I was a 2nd unit director on that, and that thing just really took off for him in a way that I don’t think anyone had anticipated and kind of put him in this sort of dramatic area, you know, where people were looking at him as like a Terrence Malick or something like that. But I knew that he was always itching to get his hands on something like Pineapple Express, so it was great that it was able to work out.”
And in Pineapple Express, the fact that it’s a stoner comedy, it fits with his style, which is whimsical, kind of quirky–
“Dreamy, yeah. The first time I saw that scene where Seth and James were leapfrogging over each other at sunset with that nice music playing, that was really when I was like, god damn, this is what David brings to this. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time to show you these sort of moments, and that’s what David is so brilliant at. That really just elevates the film.”
In many of the films I’ve seen you in, you have smaller parts, but you steal every little scene you’re in!
“You know, it’s one of those things where that’s just the size of role, honestly, those are like the easiest roles to do, because you don’t have the burden like Seth and James of having to carry exposition along. You literally just come in and deliver jokes.”
Beside getting the director hired, did you get to add a lot color to your character?
“These guys are completely collaborative, and that’s one of the things that’s also awesome to work with them. They literally just said, “What do you wanna do with this guy?” And David and I just looked at all this costume stuff and, for some reason I felt like he’d wear Rocawear jeans and sandals… David’s only direction that he was really serious about was that he was like, “Your character is going to have his armpits shaved.” And I was like, “What? That’s kinda weird, why is that?” He said, “That’s what you have to figure out, that’s really the essence of Red.” Well, that’s an interesting place to start things off. But yeah, Seth and these guys, they’re not precious about any of the words, it’s like, get that stuff out in the first take and then just take it wherever. They embrace that kind of stuff.”
Your character seems to die early in the film, and I had the feeling that he was supposed to originally, but then they just wanted to have more of you in the movie so they brought him back.
“You know, that’s what they told me, it was just supposed to be like a really violent death that would kinda shock the audience, but yeah, I guess that they wanted to keep me in. I can remember when Seth was telling me about the script, saying he’d love me to play this part of Red. Then I got the script and read and I was like, oh, this is cool, I die in 5 pages. So I was excited to know that Red does come back.”
When you shot the action scenes, was David at ease?
“He was completely at ease, it was cool. A lot of the guys that were on the crew, from the cinematographer Tim Orr to the sound guy, are all guys we went to college with and that have worked on all of David’s films. So when we were on the set, and there was like a fight choreographer and stuff, it was pretty surreal when you’re looking around and it’s just these guys you went to film school with, when you all were doing this for nothing, peanut butter sandwiches, and now everyone is getting paid, it’s on a lot and there’s Seth Rogen and James Franco in it and Judd’s producing it. It was definitely surreal. And you know, that big fight scene in the apartment? We shot that for a week, it was a pretty sloppy fight, and kind of the way David talked about it was that he just wanted to cover it with big masters, so it would look even sloppier, just like a bunch of guys who don’t know how to fight, who don’t have the ability to knock each other out, so the fight just keeps going on and on. Seth actually got a hairline fracture on his hand, and I got my head fractured by Franco with a bong! It was a breakaway glass bong, but they put a little water in it so there was some weight to it, so when it hit… And that’s the shot they use in the movie!”
One thing I love about all these Judd Apatow / Seth Rogen movies is that, ultimately, they’re oddly heartfelt. Like, Pineapple Express is really about friendship.
“Yeah, this just appears to be a weed movie, but there’s these relationships that are taken seriously underneath, which is ultimately why it can translate to people who aren’t into pot culture. It can really appeal to anyone who wants to go have a good time, not just if they wanna come after they’ve smoked a big blunt. It works with blunts or without blunts.”
Well, I saw it at 10 in the morning with just coffee and I laughed my ass off. It made me think of some of my favorite films, like Pulp Fiction or The Big Lebowski.
“They talked about those on the set, they were definitely inspirations for those guys. It’s an odd cross-section, I’ve heard Seth say Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and then things like Tango & Cash and other 1980s action movies! And you can see, it’s all in there.”
So who are you, Tango or Cash?
“I think Seth and James are Tango & Cash, I’m just the weird bad guy!”
I heard you wrote a script that David will direct?
“Yeah, we wrote this script Your Highness that we’re trying to do next year. It’s kind of our take on movies like Krull or Clash of the Titans, just some sort of fantasy film that doesn’t really make fun of those movies but kinda becomes one of those movies. It’s pretty wild, and David says he’d love to try to play around with special effects, but he’s more interested in like the old school methods as opposed to CG stuff. It will be kinda refreshing to see.”
And you have a TV series coming up?
“Yeah, the guys that I developed and shot Foot Fist Way with, Jody Hill and Ben Best, who are also college mates, with those guys, we sold a TV show to HBO called East Bound and Down that we’re writing now and that we start shooting this fall down in North Carolina. So that’s gonna be keeping us pretty busy trying to get that out.”
CO-WRITER EVAN GOLDBERG ON…
The random Godspeed You! Black Emperor reference:
EVAN GOLDBERG: “It’s because Jay Baruchel is from Montreal and loooooves Godspeed, so we dit it to poke at Jay. But I like Godspeed, Godspeed’s good.”
How Pineapple Express is to action movies what The Big Lebowski was to film noir:
“We realized as we we’re doing, what movie is like this, with weed? And I realized that The Big Lebowski was the one. When you think about it, how many joints does The Dude smoke in that movie? He smokes weed non-stop: he’s smoking weed in the bathtub, he’s smoking weed in his car, he’s smoking before he goes bowling… He’s smoking weed the whole movie! So if Pineapple Express is a weed movie, so is The Big Lebowski.”
Being a huge action movie fan:
“I like action movies more than comedies. Nothing’s better than a good action movie, or a bad action movie, I don’t care, I just love action movies. I specifically seek out bad ones, I get a huge kick out of bad action flicks. I loooooove that shit. Pineapple Express is largely influenced from bad 1980s action movies. David Gordon Green, the director, has all these crazy great ideas for bad action movies to make… That guy loves action flicks.”