Danny McBride has a habit of creating ultra crappy men for himself to play. Men who possess an unwavering belief in themselves, even when said belief is unwarranted. Through them, we’ve seen the embodiment of toxic masculinity and a sense of entitlement, presented in a way that seems as though it is aimed at lampooning them. But with The Righteous Gemstones (which premieres this Sunday at 10pm ET on HBO) and Jesse Gemstone (a megachurch pastor profiting mightily off of peoples’ faith), McBride has found a bigger target (and story) and one that feels like such an intrinsic fit for these times: power and hypocrisy.
We met with McBride in New York earlier this week to discuss those targets, the scale of this story, and why religion isn’t something he’s looking to attack. We also discussed his penchant for lingering near the third rail when it comes to comedy in the nuance-free age of outrage and a world where the President can pressure a film studio to shelve a film.
What was it about mega-churches and corrupt preachers that made you want to base this story in that world?
I feel like a lot of the stories we tell are always about complicated protagonists who have a lot of qualities and things on the surface that might turn the average person off. So just this idea of a pastor who flies around on private jets and has this immense wealth from ministering the word… they instantly felt like characters that were right for the sort of universes we explore.
You got a nice bit of free advertising from that Kenneth Copeland private plane thing a couple of months ago.
What’s crazy is that I wrote the pilot two years ago and had that joke in there about the family having three planes before I had read anything about that minister. Then, once we started seeing that, I was like, this is crazy that people will think we stole this from that, but this was from my own imagination and this is a reality.
What kind of research did you do? Did you go to mega-churches?
I went to a few different mega-churches and talked to a few different pastors there and my aunt is a minister at a pretty big church in Atlanta. So yeah, I did try to research it and figure out what goes on in someone’s head when they’re creating something like this. What are the expectations of it and how do you do it? How do you grow something like this? What’s the trajectory?