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.
UPROXX: What is your personal relationship like with Danny McBride? Does the hell that these two go through together ever take its toll when the cameras stop?
Steve: Danny and I are friends, but we didn’t know each other before the filming. Even when I auditioned, which was in 2007, it was before Pineapple Express, so I walked in that room and I didn’t even know who Danny was. But we’re friends in real life now, and I don’t think it takes a toll on us at all. You know how they say that you’re supposed to chase your character up a tree and then throw rocks at him to get him down? I think we both know that we want our characters to be in these crazy situations because that’s what makes it so funny. It not like, “Oh how could you do this to me?”
UPROXX: How do your family and friends react to each of Stevie’s depraved and strange new antics?
Steve: It’s funny, my mom doesn’t have HBO, so she goes over to my friends that do, and the three of them watch it together. My mom, who is 75 right now, tells her friends that if you can get past the swearing, it’s a great story and it’s about something. When the first season came on, she called people and one of her friends, an old woman, watched the first episode and said, “There was just too much swearing,” and in the first episode I’m a sweet guy, so she said, “I know Steven wouldn’t swear on TV” and then it was like her worst nightmare came true.
My mom gets it and my dad… I don’t know if he “gets it” but he sees that other people get it, and he understands that. He sees that it’s a special project and special in peoples’ lives, so he understands that. It’s nice to call my mom the next day and she’ll say, “When you shot yourself, I didn’t see that coming.” I asked her if she thought I would die, and she said, “No, I didn’t think you’d die.”
UPROXX: How hard is it to get through your scenes – especially those that feature Maria and her hilariously absurd fake breasts – without completely losing it?
Steve: What’s interesting about that is the hardest scenes to get through are the scenes that maybe I’m not the center of. For example, there’s a scene where Kenny’s addressing everyone, he’s taking over the show and he said he was brave enough to stand up to Guy Young, and I was standing off to the side. The hardest parts to get through are when you’re sort of part of the audience, like I didn’t have any lines and I was just enjoying it. Then you feel like an audience member and you’re laughing. When we’re in the scene, I’m pretty good, but every once in a while there will be something so incredibly stupid.
There was a scene in the third season, I was making a scrapbook for Maria and I asked Kenny for some advice and he said, “No doy!” I hadn’t heard anyone say that in 30 years, so I just kept laughing at that. But it’s still more of when I’m a part of the audience that it’s hard to get through and not when I’m participating.
UPROXX: Of all of the verbal abuse that Stevie takes, perhaps the most brutal comes from the kids. What is it like getting to work with young kids in that kind of role and teaching them how to say such horrible things to you?
Steve: On the show, there are Kenny’s kids and they are professional child actors and you can tell, whereas my kids, I still don’t think they even know they’re on TV. They’re like wild animals. What was fun about that was in that grocery store, the chaos was real. It was so hard to control them and have them do what you wanted them to do. The kids got to throw everything off the shelves and knock over bottles, which is something they’d never get to do in their lives. But then we’d say cut and “Don’t do that!” and they’d start pouting because they can’t destroy things. I was like, just be grateful that you got to do that once in your lives.
Then there was the day that we got them the bounce house and we thought that was going to be the easiest day, because they’re going to love bouncing around. All of a sudden, they didn’t want to do that.
The kids were really just the result of great casting, because the idea of me not being able to control them was legitimately what you were seeing. It translated because it was true.
UPROXX: A lot of fans thought that Kenny showing up at April’s door after faking his death was as close to a perfect ending as we could have hoped for. But this season has still been fantastic and proved there was more story to tell. With the final chapter airing on Sunday, without revealing anything, are you happy with the way that Stevie’s story ends?
Steve: I’m happy. I’m very excited for people to see the finale. But it’s kind of hard to talk about it without people actually seeing it.
UPROXX: A lot of times, when a series ends, you see those behind-the-scenes looks of all of the cast members crying and hugging each other. What was it like for you guys to film the last episode?
Steve: We shoot somewhat out of order, so the last shot that we filmed was Stevie and Kenny in that green Viper in episode 2 on the Charlotte freeway. It was completely anti-climactic because it was 10 AM on a Friday and we’re driving down the highway and we have no dialogue. There’s just a car with a camera in it following us, and we’re just trying to look cool. It wasn’t like it was my last line and then everyone takes a curtain call. On shows like Friends, there’s a live audience and everyone is crying, but with this, I was in a car and then they were like, “Get out of the car, we’re going to change locations, see ya, Steve, we have to go make lunch.” It was like, “Oh man, this is it?”
UPROXX: Did they at least let you keep the blue contact lenses?
Steve: I have a bag of blue contact lenses that is so big, because there were all these different kinds. It’s in my bathroom right now – it’s like a Ziploc bag that you can fit six sandwiches in, and it’s all blue contact lenses. I’ve got blue contacts for the rest of my life.
Again, the series finale of Eastbound & Down airs this Sunday night at 10pm EST. It will be missed.