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By: OnWriting

Promotional poster for THE MIGHTY GEMSTONES

Entertainment Weekly’s Derek Lawrence sits down with Danny McBride—the creator, writer, executive producer, and costar of the dark comedy series THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES.

Danny McBride is a writer, actor, comedian, and producer. He wrote and starred in the HBO television series EASTBOUND & DOWN and VICE PRINCIPALS, both of which he co-created with Jody Hill. He’s also known for his appearances in films like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and TROPIC THUNDER as well as for his voice acting roles in films like THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES.

His current project is the HBO dark comedy series THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES. The show tells the story of a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed, and charitable work.

THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES premiered in August 2019 on HBO. Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on HBO Max, and the show was renewed for a third season in early 2022.

Seasons 7-11 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received a Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys.

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OnWriting is an official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, East. The series was created and produced by Jason Gordon. Associate Producer & Designer is Molly Beer. Mix, tech production, and original music by Stock Boy Creative.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Intro: Hello. You’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America, East. In each episode you’ll hear from the writers of your favorite films and television series. They’ll take you behind the scenes, go deep into the writing and production process, and explain how they got their project from the page to the screen.

Today, our guest is Danny McBride, the creator, writer, and executive producer of The Righteous Gemstones, whose second season is now on HBO and HBO Max. The Righteous Gemstones tells the story of a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed, and charitable work. The interview is conducted by Derek Lawrence, writer for Entertainment Weekly and host of SiriusXM’s The Filmography. Here is the interview.

Derek Lawrence: Hey, how’s everyone doing out there? Me and Danny are going to talk and then we’ll answer some of your questions, [inaudible 00:01:03] some As for those Qs. Feel free to add the hashtag #EliGemsHome, right Danny? We could…

Danny McBride: Yes!

Derek Lawrence: Let’s go viral with that, you know?

Danny McBride: That would be appropriate.

Derek Lawrence: Well, yeah, thanks so much, Danny, for chatting. Always excited to talk Gemstones with you. I assume… Are you deep in construction right now on McBride’s Landing? Is that where we’re talking to you from?

Danny McBride: Yes, exactly. We’ve created a wonderful resort here. Yes. Exactly.

Derek Lawrence: So yeah, excited. I know you’re in a bit of pre-production on season three, getting ready to start shooting that, but we’re going to get kind of deep into talking about season two and just the unique, I guess, creative process that went into this one.

I guess, starting from the top, we’ll get into all the delays and maybe the changes you had to make, but when you set out on moving into season two with the Gemstones, what was the initial idea and thought process for this season?

Danny McBride: Well, one of the things that attracted me to doing Gemstones was just the idea that, from Eastbound & Down it was such a one-man show, and then adding Walton in Vice Principals and Edi Patterson and sort of expanding that and creating these other characters, and creating a story that centered around more than just one crazy individual, it just felt appealing. So with Gemstones I really wanted to just tackle an ensemble. I wanted to tell the story of a family and have a lot of different personalities in there and a lot of… you know, just a lot of different material to be mined in the seasons to come.

And so, it was always the thought process that in the second season we would start to make good on that and start exploring and pulling back some of the layers on these other characters. So Eli felt like an appropriate place to start. We always sort of had the idea that, yeah, that we would start to learn a little bit more about who this guy was and how he got here.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah, how much of that with the Eli backstory were you sitting on, even coming into the show, and then how much of it was just stuff you guys came up with as you were building season two?

Danny McBride: You know, it was a combo of it. As we… You know, like… For some reason, I always imagined that Eli’s story was that he was an old wrestler. I’ve always been fascinated with Memphis wrestling. I just think it’s a very… That late ’60s/’70s Memphis wrestling, there’s just a lot of cool stories out of there of what was happening. I don’t know how familiar you are with that, but… I don’t know. I grew up as a kid watching wrestling in that particular time period. It always just felt a little fascinating to me.

And in my head always was bouncing around some concept about enforcers who were wrestlers in Memphis and that they were wrapped up with the Dixie mafia and, I don’t know, it was just a story that was always bouncing around in my head and as we started opening up Eli and trying to figure out where he came from, suddenly that concept started to feel like it made sense here, you know? Like it would be a fun layer, a fun world to sort of connect to Eli.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, I will say I wasn’t very familiar with the Memphis wrestling scene, but now I feel like I’m more fascinated but also scared at the same time after seeing-

Danny McBride: Well, what always got me into it is because there’s this very specific moment in Memphis wrestling where basically whatever league you had, you owned all, you had all the big venues to go to and so that was your territory. And there was a war for territory in Memphis around this time period, and basically it was storytellers that had to go head-to-head. It was like which league could create the best villains and characters and whoever got the most seats got to keep Memphis as their territory. I’ve always been fascinated by that part of Memphis, that you have this, these fake fights that are kind of being orchestrated by a writer at the end of the day. It felt-

Speaker 4: You want to try to do it, Bill?

Danny McBride: … there was something about that that I just always loved.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. Obviously, as a professional TV watcher, I guess I’ve noticed over the years it feels like to me season two is a lot of times when a good series goes to great. There always seems like a big jump going into season two. I mean, like I said, you’ve made now three season twos of television over the last decade-plus. What is it, you think, about going into a second season that kind of allows people… I’m sure it’s, you know, now that the world’s built, you can kind of run with it from there, but what does a season two allow with opening up your, kind of, the world?

Danny McBride: You know, the thing that’s kind of fun about a season two is that everyone knows what it is now. You know what I mean? When you’re making the first season, the showrunner might have the concept of what it is, and then as you make it everyone else starts to kind of figure it out. But having that full season for everyone to see how it all came together, what the vision was between the different directors, between how it’s scored, between what performances we used or didn’t use, it feels like there’s just a level of understanding that comes when you start making that second season, and we’re just really lucky that our actors are all just game. And they’re so much fun, from Goodman to DeVine, to Edi, everybody is just having fun. So I think that getting into that second season, that just sort of became the mission, it was just, give these people more fun. Let these actors get a little wilder. Let’s tap into what they’re good at and expand it.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, you mentioned Eastbound was kind of… obviously you had a great supporting cast, but a lot of the times that was changing year to year. Obviously, Steve was a regular, but then other than that, people were coming and going. Vice Principals, you and Walton but then also bringing other people too, Edi included. And then this one, this is probably the biggest ensemble you’ve had on any of your shows. What’s it like making sure in 10 episodes you’re satisfying each character and giving each actor their own couple moments?

Danny McBride: You know, that’s been the most difficult thing about writing the show, is that HBO still is concerned about running times and stuff. These things still air at programmed times, where on some of the other streamers maybe things just… the running times don’t matter as much. But it still does matter there. And we appreciate being able to air that way. We like being able to premiere at 10:00 and people have to wait for it.

But I think with that you have to kind of play the rules a little bit; and so this show’s tricky in that regard because there’s so many characters to service and you really do have to plan the season out almost like a mix tape or something. You have to figure out, all right, we could hit Baby Billy hard here, and then we’ll have real estate to go to someone else here, and then we can come back to Baby Billy here or Judy here. And so, you do try to figure out how to track everyone and how to keep everybody alive so you don’t just sort of end up in these scenes where it’s just… you’re just checking off; like, all right, there’s one scene with every character and all your favorite characters are just nodding and standing around while one person talks. Trying to make it feel like their stories are still alive.

And that’s the trickiest part about writing the show. The way we write the show is we write it all together at once. We keep open everything. I mean, I’m on the last two episodes right now of the third season, and of course the first draft of those come in, and now we’re going back and rewriting all this shit in the first half. And so, I’m sure it’s not uncommon, but that’s just sort of how we operate, is you’re just constantly trying to figure out how you keep these characters alive. Sometimes it’s taking an episode heavy with one character and then figuring out how to spread those beats out over a few episodes. You know, it’s almost like playing Jenga or some shit. It’s like we’re always just trying to get the tower stacked just precisely.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. You mentioned, I feel like, the scripts are never locked for you. But you probably went to maybe the extreme with season two, just… I know you guys were, what, three days into filming on season two when all the COVID shutdowns hit? And then you were… Everyone’s just at home and you, you probably went… Take me back to the moment where you decide, “Okay, I’ve played enough board games with the family. I need some me time. I’m going to go crack open these Gemstones scripts.” What made you decide that you were kind of going to… Because it feels like you rewrote, you and the team, rewrote a lot of that season. So just take me through that decision and then that process of rewriting.

Danny McBride: Well, I’ll take as much time as I have to write. To me, it would never be finished. And so, when I realized that we were going to be sitting on our ass for most of 2020, I really wanted to make sure that I didn’t spiral and go into the mouth of madness and just move commas and periods around for fucking six months on the scripts. So I forced myself just to push the scripts away and not to look at them. And as we sort of were waiting to see if we were going to be able to shoot that year, or what we were going to be able to do, it became apparent as the year went on that COVID was a much bigger deal and that we wouldn’t be shooting that year.

So we talked about, well, maybe we shoot something smaller that just keeps the audience connected to these characters. And so I actually went and wrote an hour-and-a-half Christmas special that sort of followed Jesse and Gideon in Haiti. And we were going to shoot it in July of 2020, but as soon as we were getting ready to, the numbers in South Carolina started blossoming and it just didn’t seem like it was appropriate or safe for anybody, so we put it to bed.

And then after that, it became apparent we weren’t going to be shooting again until 2021. So in that fall, I finally, after not looking at the scripts, I just said, “I’m going to open them back up now that I’ve had some time, and just sort of see how they sit with me.” And it was kind of incredible because I felt like the scripts were good to go when we shot, and then after taking those few months and not looking at any of them and then coming back and reading them again, it became very apparent of what was working and what wasn’t working, and what I wanted to try to challenge or not. I don’t know, it was cool because you don’t really usually get that when you’re writing for television. You’re writing to production. Everyone’s asking for pages now, now, now. So, we’re lucky to just get the scripts finished. It was kind of awesome to have them finished and then to have that extra time to really kind of sit with them and to really make sure that everything was working as efficiently as it could.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah, what was that process like? I know you have… You said you kind of have a small team that you’ve been working with for a long time. I know Edi’s in the mix too. So I know you guys were on Zoom, probably, for a couple months just… What was that like, cracking those open and then rewriting and doing what you wanted to do with them now?

Danny McBride: Well, I didn’t tell all them that I was planning on rewriting them all. I had just kind of opened them up and one day I sat down and read through everything we had and then just sort of made notes. And then I kind of sat on that for a few days and then I kind of just drafted up a document of what I would do in season two redux and just laid out all the points, and called up the writers like, “Listen, I’m thinking about diving back into these scripts again. Here’s what I’m thinking about doing.” And everyone was game. They all kind of read it like, “Yeah, this doesn’t sound like we’re being crazy. It does sound like it’s fixes for things that weren’t working great.”

Yeah, and everyone just dived back in and we did it completely on Zoom. That was the first time we had done that because the previous season we were in a room and, I don’t know, I kind of liked the writers’ room on the Zoom. I thought it was kind of, I don’t know, efficient. You miss out on some of that banter that you have in the room, but you can spit out a few ideas and then boom, you’re instantly writing them and you’re off to the races.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah, it feels like you probably save a lot of time too. You’re like, “All right, we don’t got to force it. We could all just log off and log back on later if we want to.”

Danny McBride: Yeah.

Derek Lawrence: You mentioned the Christmas special. So are we just… Is that still somehow maybe possible or have we just like… Is that just the untold Gemstones Christmas Special that only you and a select few will ever know what happened?

Danny McBride: I think that’s it. It’s just the untold. I feel like the story has moved past there. It was going to be sort of a bridge between season one and two, but I feel like now that story is not needed.

Derek Lawrence: So obviously, to go backwards with Eli in season two, and you have… In the first season, you had the interlude episode. You have another interlude episode in season two mixed in with other flashbacks throughout the season. What do you love about writing those interlude episodes, and how is that… how do you guys approach that differently, if you do, than the regular episodes?

Danny McBride: You know, with the interlude in the first season, we weren’t sure if we were going to ever do that. We had gotten to episode four in the first season and we were ahead of schedule. It was the only time that we’ve ever been ahead of schedule. We actually had like… I was a week ahead of where I wanted to be. So John Carcieri and Jeff Fradley, the other EPs who I write the show with, we were sort of just joking around about how it would be fun to see what this used to be like. What was it like with Aimee-Leigh and Eli? What was it like with Baby Billy? We’re just writing all this stuff in the present, but what’s it all based in? So we kind of were like, “Let’s just write an episode just so that we know what that is, and it doesn’t have to be in the show or anything. It just can be us understanding what this is.”

And it was funny, we came up with that idea at like 10:00 in the morning. We outlined that episode and were done by 11:00 in the morning, and we broke up the scenes between us three and then we wrote them all independently and then we just sort of combined them together just to get a rough draft to read it; and we did that in four hours, and then what we combined was what we shot. We never went back and rewrote it or anything. It just… the story literally just came out from us and it made sense to us and it made the show make sense to us. It was kind of cool. It helped us, and it was a fun way to crack it.

And so, we’ve kept that. And kind of our only rule with it is that we don’t want to ever outline what that interlude is. We want to write the show, and then sort of when you get to the middle, then let yourself think about what happened before. So you’re not trying to be too clever by connecting too much stuff; that things maybe tangentially sort of connect thematically and in subtler ways, I guess. But it’s been kind of fun because you’ll start writing the season, you’ll kind of get to that point in the middle of the season where you’re trying to figure out what the hell it’s all adding up to, and it’s kind of nice at that point to press pause and go back somewhere deeper and fill in the blanks.

For us, those interludes are… I mean, this is just kind of in our heads, but it is a generational story and a lot of religion we look at as a way of… it’s just one generation telling the next generation what the rules are, what you’re supposed to do. You know? So for us, being able to tell this story where you’re seeing how different generations handled this sort of profession, it just, I don’t know, it felt like it made sense and it felt like it was what it’s about. It’s about passing things down to your kids, good and bad. And so it felt appropriate to sort of get into that.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I rewatched the season two interlude episode ahead of talking to you, and I will say, I think maybe the hardest I’ve laughed in a while was Baby Billy telling young Kelvin that Baby Billy’s wife hated Kelvin’s haircut. Just that… That was a thing that maybe I missed the first time around, but I just… It kind of killed me. It’s those little things that you guys keep in. Is some of that stuff just things that make you guys laugh and you’re like, “We’ve just got to sneak these little things in even if we’re the only ones getting anything out of it”?

Danny McBride: A hundred percent. I mean, I feel like when you’re watching the stuff that Jody, David, and I do together, everything is constantly us hitting a spitball against the back of each other’s heads; just throwing something in there just to make our buddies laugh or this sense… I don’t know. Just pushing each other’s buttons creatively, I guess.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, as someone who has watched the Ashley Schaeffer outtakes from Eastbound season one 50 times, twice in the last year, I’d be curious how much improv is done on Gemstones. What’s your philosophy when it comes to that? Is it like, “All right, we’ll do this how it’s scripted and then everyone will get a chance to kind of add something if they want to”? How do you approach that on this show?

Danny McBride: You know what? There are no hard rules because I don’t ever want anyone if they’re feeling the inspiration to feel like they can’t go with what’s in the moment. And so it sort of ends up evolving into a natural rhythm without it being too much. Like, if Edi or Adam throw out a line in a first take of something that’s not in the script, it’s like everyone just rolls with it. But I feel like what’s… Eastbound, we would improv so much. We would get… Sometimes we wouldn’t even get one time what the hell was written. People… We would have these 10-, 15-minute takes. In VPs, we improv’ed a lot. And then I felt like with Gemstones, because there’s so many plates spinning and we’re also dealing with trying to mix genres and things, that pace becomes very important in that, about keeping the pace of it. So yeah, we’ve kind of improv’ed less on this show than on anything we’ve done before.

It’s not… Anyone can, and there’s definitely improv stuff that’s in there. I find that the more improv that gets in there is the stuff usually at church lunch because you have every character in the show there and on the script, if you let everyone talk, that scene would become suddenly a six-page scene. And so, we sort of write what’s efficient, and then know that as we shoot this scene all day long any of these personalities that want to chime in or expand, it’s welcomed and encouraged.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. You mentioned kind of mixing genres a little bit. Obviously… and I feel like you’re someone who maybe doesn’t necessarily like to put things in a genre box, but obviously you’re mainly dealing with a lot of comedy, but then you’re adding in mystery, both in the first season and the second season, and then you’re adding these action set pieces like Gideon’s motorcycle chase down here in season two. So what’s the balance in trying to figure out how to deploy all these different genres in the same project?

Danny McBride: You know, that’s a good question. I mean, I feel like we fumble our way through it and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Some of it comes from us just sort of loving making stuff and trying to create new obstacles or new things to sort of figure out how to do and to try. It was important to us with Gemstones that their world felt big. Vice Principals and Eastbound, those were very small men living in inflated egos, but their setting is very basic and humble and relatable; and with the Gemstones, it felt like they actually are living in a world that’s as big as they think it is. So, we always want that scope in there and I think embracing that scope does, it pushes us to try crazier things, whether it’s motorcycle chases or snowmobiles in… you know, with purple neon lights on. I don’t know. We’re just trying not to get bored, I guess.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I’m sure never that with Gemstones. You mentioned the word “crazier”. I remember talking to you for the season two first look and you described these episodes as bigger, crazier, and… I don’t even… I feel like there was another great word in there too mixed in with that. When you’re walking to planning out the season, is that something like, “Oh, we want to go bigger, crazier!” Or is that just something like all of a sudden you write all the scripts that you look at and be like, “Oh wow, this is bigger and crazier”?

Danny McBride: It’s that, usually. I mean, where we always start is just sort of, what do we want to see in terms of the characters? What growth do we want to see? What moment do we want to see? What backstory do we want to see? I feel like that’s what engages us and then everything kind of comes around there. Even with our comedy, we’ll strip jokes out of scenes if they feel like they’re too much. For us, we always just like trying to find whatever the truth is of the character, of how this insane character can somehow be presented as relatable. And so, I think it starts there, and then things come around.

And it’s funny; we throw a million concepts at the wall when we first start writing, and I’ll usually start with a cork board and just throw ideas down. I think “cycle ninjas” was an early card in episode two. We didn’t even know what the hell that was. It was just something like, maybe it’s like the four horsemen of the apocalypse but they’re on motorcycles, you know? And we’ll just have that board full. And it’s funny, by the end of the season, almost everything ends up getting used. And in fact, if you were to look at it in the beginning, it just feels like it’s vomit of a bunch of bullshit ideas from an old Cannon film or something in that. And then it all sort of ends up weaving itself in.

Derek Lawrence: I remember with the season one finale, with the great opening bee scene. You had previously told me that a lot of times with something like that, knowing that you wrote it but then you’re in it, you show up to set actually not knowing how it’s going to go, or if it’ll work. Was there a moment like that in season two where you had a similar feeling?

Danny McBride: It’s like that with a lot of stuff. Any time we take a big swing. I was really nervous the first season just about the interlude because we were writing this episode where we were putting on the couch most of our main characters and we weren’t going for the same tone, we were going for something a little different. And so, that was exciting to make that because we just hadn’t done it before and wondering if people would take the ride or if it would even connect. I think any time we dip our toes in any of this mystery stuff or even just the beginning of any of this action stuff, I always… I don’t know. That stuff’s exciting because, yeah, you don’t know. You have no clue if people will respond to it or not or if you’ll come out with egg on your face. So I think those sort of creative situations excite me.

Derek Lawrence: You wrote and also directed episode four this year, which was a bit of a BJ spotlight with most of the events taking place at his very expensive and flashy baptism. That one had to be a ball, both as a writer and director. What were you excited to explore with that one? And then I’m curious about the outfits that BJ and Judy wear in that one, like just killed the matching pink. Where do you even start? Obviously, you have Sarah Trost, who’s a great costume designer, and you collaborate with her, but when you’re in the scripts, what do you… I don’t even know… what would you even write for something like that? How… Take me through that thought process as well too.

Danny McBride: Well, we didn’t know what it looked like, but we had in our mind that it was romper. We always just knew that. I just felt like… I had this scene of someone being annoyed and being frustrated and going into the bathroom to take a shit and they have to get the romper off, and it’s giving them trouble. So that whole entire bit about that came from just that idea of wanting to see somebody getting out of a romper because they’re angry. And then it just started to make sense that BJ’s presented to us as a special little boy for his big day.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. Like season one, season two wraps up pretty closed-ended, no real cliffhangers, which feels like a rarity in television or even movies a lot of time now. I remember you saying with the season one finale you like to see things have a completion. Why is that so important to you in creating these shows?

Danny McBride: You know, for me it’s ultimately, I think, at the end of the day, it’s like when you make something you want the audience to come back to this thing. I didn’t want to make a TV show that you just watched one time and then that’s it, you know? It’s so layered with so many things. Whether it’s the performance or a weird look or it’s a sign that our production designer Richard Wright put in the background, or a costume choice that Sarah Trost our costume designer put on a character, it’s like there are so many layers and so much going on that I like the idea that a season can be looked at as a whole thing. That it’s something that…

Even keeping the episode orders down. Nine, I feel like, is as many episodes as I’d want to do because I feel like there’s nothing daunting about that. It’s daunting to dive into a show and you’ve got to dedicate an insane amount of time to catch up to where everybody else is. For me, because we create this as something that feels like a whole, I kind of don’t want it to be so big that you can’t almost watch it as a whole.

So I guess I don’t know. That’s just sort of where we go to is I think I just like the idea that somebody when this is all said and done could really like season two of Gemstones and could sit down for a weekend and watch the whole thing and feel like they went on a ride and not feel like they need to watch the whole series. I mean, they can if they want, but… I don’t know. I feel like it’s a way to make each season distinct and to make it feel like it’s its own journey. You’re given enough time to tell a full story. I mean, people tell full stories in hour-and-a-half movies. You’ve got four hours; you should be able to tell something that has an ending, it seems.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah, you would hope the content that came before would be enough to get people to come back instead of just-

Danny McBride: Yeah!

Derek Lawrence: … them wanting to know what happened the second after the cut to black went down.

One last one for me and then we’ll get to some questions that have been submitted. I remember Eastbound really felt like a show that was year-to-year. I remember even it was announced that it was ending with season three and then there was a season four that did end it. And then Vice Principals, that was always going to be a two-season-and-done thing. But with Gemstones now, with season three coming up and the show feeling like it really has some legs, what is it about this world and these characters that you’ve been really excited to just keep exploring, keep going deeper and deeper with?

Danny McBride: You know, I think it’s the nature of it just being an ensemble. All of these projects, what I like about them is I like just pushing myself as a writer. I like being able to write something brand new, and the trick with television is in essence you’re writing sequels every season. And it’s really tricky… We felt it in Eastbound when we would start getting so deep into that, and we weren’t that deep. We did four seasons of it, but even by the time we got to the third season, we would find that it wasn’t the best idea that was being used, it was just the idea we hadn’t done before. And that gets into a very tricky zone, I think, when you’re trying to create something because you’re fulfilling something else. You’re not just fulfilling what your gut’s telling you works. And you have to do it so it doesn’t become one note.

That was part of the idea of doing an ensemble was, with all these different characters and with the style of comedy that each of these characters are capable of, and even their stories, as a writer I just don’t get as bored writing for these characters. I can shift to Judy and her story can be completely different when I shift to Eli in the next episode or into Kelvin or even to Keith or… So I think it’s the characters that are dictating if this show has legs or not.

Yeah, absolutely. And that’ll lead perfectly into the first question we’ll take from Jordan Hicks. “What is your onboarding process like for bringing actors into your world and helping them understand your sense of humor?” He references Eric Roberts in Gemstones. Obviously, another Eric, Eric André, was a big part of season two. And then he also asks, “Are there any white whales for you as far as casting?”

You know, for us, it’s almost more important that the person is kind or they’re going to be fun to collaborate with. On this set, there’s so many people that have worked together for so many years. It definitely feels like it’s family and friends and we like that atmosphere. We like meeting new people and bringing them into the fold and letting them know that they can do what they want here. They can have fun. They can not feel judged and they can push this character and do crazy stuff. So I guess we always just look for who it feels like is going to be fun to play around with and who’s going to be game for it and not be a pain in the ass. I guess that’s the main thing. And if they can nail a great performance too, yeah, then that process really works!

Derek Lawrence: I remember seeing the announcement that Eric André was going to be on the show and I was like, “Perfect!” I was like that… I literally was like, “Okay, I can see it. I don’t even need to see a photo yet, I can just see it.” And then obviously Eric Roberts was incredible as well. Special shout-out to Schwartzman too. Jason Schwartzman was great-

Danny McBride: Yeah.

Derek Lawrence: … and with a bit of a smaller role.

Danny McBride: We were really lucky with all three of them they were great.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. Sarah Caldwell asks, “Everyone loves Misbehavin’. What is your process for writing songs for the show, and what have you learned about songwriting?”

Danny McBride: Misbehavin’ was kind of wild because, like I said, we had never really intended to write that interlude episode. All that stuff was going to be in the history. And we had just had this thing in our head that, yeah, Misbehavin’ was their hit song. We had just told that to our production designer and he mocked up an album of what that was, and it hangs on Baby Billy’s wall when you first meet him in the third episode of the first season. And when we started writing that interlude, it became apparent, oh, we should probably hear what this song was, you know?

And my first instinct was I want it to sound legit. It has to feel like it’s for real because that’s the whole point of this is that they’re famous for a reason. If they’re famous and they’re idiots, it makes the world not feel realistic; like, “Well, why would anyone like this?” So we really wanted to have something that felt like that. And I was talking with Edi when we were in the writers’ room and she was like, “Well, what do you imagine Misbehavin’ is?” And I just kind of riffed those first few lines: “Mama told me not to, I did it anyway, misbehavin’.” And then she joined in and we literally wrote the song in probably less than 10 minutes.

And then we hadn’t finished it. We wrote the basics of it and sent it to Joey Stevens who we’ve worked with on music since The Foot Fist Way. We worked with him on everything. He’s such a talented musician and just another key part of our little artistic army. We shot it to him, and about 30 minutes later he sent us back a file that had him playing guitar, he finished the song, and sang the whole thing. And it was kind of wild. I mean, it was fun. That was… What I loved about the songwriting was it’s sort of like instant gratification. You complete it, and you hear it, and it can be a joy. And what we do, it obviously takes so much longer to find that gratification sometimes. It was fun.

Derek Lawrence: All right, so Danny McBride’s album coming soon to Spotify! Let’s go with… David Angelo asks, “When you come up with a show, how do you get from a funny premise to a plot, both for the pilot but then a season one arc? Are you hanging it off bits or do you start with a story and then find the bits?”

Danny McBride: We never hang it off bits. Usually the bits will come last for us. Like I said, I just sort of put my mind in the zone of, what do I want to see? What have I not seen? What kind of character have I not seen? What do I… I will just start with more basic stuff of, what’s right in front of me that no one’s doing that’s so obvious that you can’t believe it’s not been done? And I’ll start there and then… I don’t know. I guess we just write to the characters and then as you write to the characters you start to find the voice and then that starts to inform where the comedy can come from. And then you start figuring out where the bits go after that, I think.

Derek Lawrence: We’ve got Jordan Barski ask, “It seems like The Odyssey was a formative book for you. What other books or art otherwise have been major influences on your work?”

Danny McBride: That’s… I love The Odyssey. That’s always been one of my favorite… I remember reading The Odyssey in high school and every day we would read it in English class and every day we’d come in and I was the only one that would be excited about coming to class to see what the hell was going to happen. And everyone else was like, “Oh, this is the 45 minutes where I sleep,” you know? I’m like, “What? How can you sleep? He’s returning home right now!” I was into it.

I guess that and we’ve definitely pulled from Don Quixote in Eastbound. I don’t know. With our stuff, I like to just keep people guessing. I like to be inspired by highbrow and lowbrow at the same time.

Derek Lawrence: Yeah. I’ll wrap up with a good one here from [Izar Hussin 00:30:16]. “Hi, Danny. Thank you for taking the time to share these valuable insights. Question: now that you have so much experience creating and working on subversive satirical comedies, is there any advice that your current self would give your younger self when you were starting out? In other words, what do you wish you would’ve known earlier in your career?”

Danny McBride: Nothing. I did everything exactly the way you’re supposed to. No, I feel like, you know what it was? I think in the beginning… When we first started Eastbound, we were so… And man, maybe we were right, I don’t know, maybe we were right. But I felt like we argued and fought with executives more when we first started. I feel like we were so… We were these guys coming from North Carolina, we were so worried that the people from Hollywood were going to ruin what we’re trying to do and I felt like we really closed ourselves off from them on that first season. We really… we weren’t good collaborators. We would just do what we wanted to do and that was it.

And I’m glad we did that, because I’m glad that we created Kenny the way we did, but I think we learned as we went along that it’s… When you’re fighting and getting into arguments, it’s zapping energy that you could be spending on the script. And so, for us, it was just a matter of like, there’s no reason to get into bickering matches about notes or doing any of that stuff. Everybody’s just coming from a place of wanting to make it as good as it can be, and you take what works and you don’t take what doesn’t work, and then you don’t rub their face in it when what they gave you doesn’t work.

Derek Lawrence: Well, it’s worked out. A pretty fruitful partnership, I would say. We’re at three shows and counting and countless episodes, so it’s worked out all right. Well, thanks again, Danny, for taking the time and chatting through Gemstones and a bit of the creative process. I know we all can’t wait for season three.

Danny McBride: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate it. Thanks for turning in.

Outro: OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America, East. This series was created and is produced by Jason Gordon. Our Associate Producer and Designer is Molly Beer. Tech production and original music by Taylor Bradshaw and Stock Boy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America, East online at You can follow the Guild on all social media platforms at WGAEast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. Thank you for listening and write on.

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