This Sunday at 10 PM ET on HBO, Eastbound & Down will air its final episode, and it doesn’t look like Danny McBride and Co. will be surprising us with another season like last time. That means that it’s the end of the road for Kenny Powers and the cast of strange characters he keeps even stranger relationships with, from his on-again/off-again wife April, to his disapproving brother Dustin. But throughout this entire fourth season, I’ve maintained that one character has been above and beyond the rest in terms of depravity and absurdity, and that is Kenny’s sidekick Stevie Janowski.
If Eastbound & Down was the type of show that could ever earn Emmy consideration, I’d argue til my face turns blue that Steve Little deserves an award for his portrayal of the degenerate-douchebag-dork Stevie, because there has never been another character like him on television. Fortunately, Little offered me a few minutes to pick his brain about how he has managed to develop such a depraved and wretched loser, and he pulled back the curtain on what truly makes Stevie Janowski tick.
UPROXX: From a pure character perspective, Stevie’s regression and rise, breakdowns and evolution are absolutely fascinating. How much input do you have into the development of Stevie as a character?
Steve Little: It’s tough to figure that out, because on one hand, I play things a certain way and maybe that will lead the writers to come up with a certain plot line, but at the same time, they started out with a certain plot line about the nerd who kind of got crazy. It’s kind of like a symbiotic type of thing. I definitely choose to play things a certain way, but it’s kind of like a “chicken or the egg” thing, if that makes any sense. It’s hard to answer that question.
UPROXX: Looking back on the first season and when Stevie’s story began, did you have any idea how crazy this poor guy’s life would get or did you kind of get to watch his evolution with us?
Steve: I did the pilot, and in that I only had one scene, but I auditioned with two scenes. Shooting the pilot, Danny was like, “We’ve got so much in store for you,” so he had an idea. Also, at that point, the original story line was that Stevie was going to have a Christian rock band, and Kenny was going to get Stevie to cheat on somebody. Actually, in the pilot I was supposed to be married, but then Jody was like, “Oh man, we forgot to give you your wedding ring!” It’s interesting because later on that would become a big plotline, so if I had been married then, it would have changed a mess of things.
UPROXX: When talking about this show with friends who haven’t watched it, I have tried to explain just how lowly and depraved Stevie is, but I can’t compare him to any other TV characters. Did you have any character inspirations from other shows or movies with the way that you’ve played Stevie?
Steve: At the time that I auditioned, there were a lot of guys playing nerds on TV, especially network TV, where you had guys like Chuck or, I don’t know, some nerd on Friends. They’re playing nerds but you know they’re really a cool dude. You can watch the actor and you can imagine that the performer is a cool guy in real life, and he wears cool pants and has cool shirts. You can see who he is and that he’s not really fooling anybody. When you audition for an HBO show, you think that it’s going to be harder to get because it’s a prestigious network, but on the other hand they also pick types that might look more like the parts.
One of my inspirations was to hopefully make it so that you never see Steve Little, so you’re watching the role and thinking, “Stevie Janowski’s crazy, I bet you Steve Little’s insane. I bet you he can’t go into a grocery store without telling somebody to fuck off” or whatever. If I’m going to play a dork, hopefully he’s the dorkiest at everything, every step of the way. The funniest thing about Steve is that even though he’s a geek or a dork, he’s not even a smart geek who scored 1600 on his SAT. He’s just the worst of all worlds.
UPROXX: With everything that this character has been through, has there ever been a moment in these four wonderful seasons that you said, “This is just too much”?
Steve: I don’t know if you saw, but I was on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Danny, and I told a story on there about the one thing that I refused to do. There’s a scene in the third season where I’ve shaved my head bald, and I’m supposed to walk out of the bathroom naked and throw up on my dick. I come out of the bathroom and my line is “What’s up?” and he says, “Nothing, just watching you throw up on your dick,” and then it was going to be a cut to black. That was supposed to be the very last line of the show, and I was like, “I don’t know if I want to be the guy who threw up on his dick.”
There was another scene in the third season, where Maria pretends to put a dildo in my butt because I cheated on her, and that scene was a closed set, so there were only like 10 people in there. David Gordon Green is directing it and he says, “I want to know how you feel about this, how are you feeling right now?” And I was like, “You want to know how Steve Little is feeling right now or Stevie Janowski? Steve Little doesn’t really want a dildo all up in his mouth or anything.” And he’s like, “No no no, Stevie Janowski. Steve Little’s not here!” So in the scene, the original take, there’s a dildo in my mouth to lubricate it, and I was thinking, “Have I ever seen an actor on TV with a dildo in his mouth? No, I don’t think I have. Well, if there’s going to be an actor to break down this barrier, it might as well be me!”
But then they cut that part out, so you don’t see the dildo in my mouth in the scene. So there have been a few times, to answer your question.