Actor Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green visited campus Sunday night to promote their new film, “Your Highness,” which opens nationwide April 8. In the slapstick comedy, McBride plays Prince Thadeous, who must prove himself worthy of his royal status by venturing into the wild. The State News sat down with McBride and Green on Monday to discuss the film and their experiences working on set.
You said you’ve been working on the film for about 10 years?
David Gordon Green: We’ve been talking about this movie for a long time. Danny (McBride) and I worked on a movie in 2001, called “All the Real Girls,” and that was when the idea happened. We come up with a lot of ideas that end up just getting thrown aside on a barroom napkin, but this is one of those that, instead of getting thrown away, got stuck in someone’s butt pocket and ended up being a movie.
What sort of things do you have in common with your character in the film, Thadeous?
Danny McBride: Well, I’m a prince. A lot of people don’t know I’m a prince. I’m a monarch. No, not too much. I don’t have any brothers — I only have two younger sisters. But yeah, I’m terrible at sword fighting. I’m not good at sword fighting, so we have that in common. And I hang out with trolls and smoke a lot of weed with trolls all the time, right? Under bridges.
What types of people do you imagine going to see the movie in theaters?
DM: Grandmothers, babies, orphans.
DGG: Jerks, nice people.
Did you guys find anything surprising about working with Natalie Portman?
DGG: I don’t think there was anything too surprising. We knew she was really funny. But what we were more excited about was that we think the audience will find her comedic role surprising and exciting.
It’s kind of out of character for Natalie Portman to make this type of film. How did you reel her in?
DGG: We just asked her to do it, and she said alright.
It was that simple?
DM: It was that simple. It was strange. When she signed up for it, both of us kind of looked at each other, like this is really happening? We have Natalie Portman in our movie — it’s amazing.
James Franco also is in the film. What was he like during downtime on set?
DGG: He reads books. He doesn’t go to his trailer — he sits on the set and reads books.
DM: Yeah, and no matter what we’re in. I mean, the scene where he’s held up in that dungeon, and he’s strapped up in this really uncomfortable, old leather harness over a spike, and the whole time in between takes, he’s reading his homework.
DGG: And his books would get all bloody from the fake blood and stuff.
DM: But that’s the incredible thing about Franco. I think because his performance is so convincing in “Pineapple Express,” I think people tend to think that he’s a stoner. And that’s the incredible thing about him — he’s completely not. He’s so dedicated to his schoolwork. I mean, there was a teacher that he had at school in New York, and James (Franco) had missed a class or two because of filming, and (the teacher) basically said if he didn’t come to this class, he would be dropped from the class. So for the last half of the production, James (Franco) would finish shooting Monday night, get on an airplane in Belfast (Northern Ireland), fly to New York, go to the class, get back on a plane, fly back to Belfast and come back to work every week.
Gerard Butler visited our campus in the fall. What makes your guys’ visit more epic?
DM: These croissants are pretty epic. No, (it’s) the audience that saw the film. These are the kids that we made this movie for — for these college-age kids to go out and have a good time and watch this, so it’s always pretty gratifying to present it to the people that you actually made the movie for.
DGG: And it’s also like, Danny and I are buddies from college — we went to school together. So it’s kind of fun to be back in the environment and get back in that age group of people.
Have you guys had the chance to check out the campus?
DGG: Not too much — it’s been raining. But it’s been alright. We went to some bars last night and got a little local flavor. I went to the Tuba Museum (in Okemos) yesterday for lunch — that was kind of good.
DM: We went to Stober’s (in Lansing) yesterday afternoon, which is a pretty cool place — the oldest bar in Lansing, Michigan — 1933.
How was filming in Northern Ireland?
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DM: We shot it in Belfast and around Belfast, and we were there for almost six months. That was a long time to be away from home. But it was beautiful — that place was great. We had an amazing crew there. We just kind of fell in love with the landscape there. And, what we were saying with trying to keep the budget in a reasonable place — we really needed to get a lot from our production value. Belfast offered that — the landscape there was beautiful.
Are you guys doing a college tour?
DM: Yeah, we’re taking the movie around to a few colleges this week. So yeah, this was our first stop.
Are you visiting any other Big Ten schools or schools in the Midwest?
DM: We have University of Georgia-Athens. We go to Florida State. We go to (North Carolina) State University.
Is it weird to suddenly be on the other end and be promoting a film at a college together after attending school together?
DGG: Yeah, it is weird. I mean, we talk about the people that used to come to our school and talked to us when we were in school, and yeah, it’s kind of funny to be on the other end for sure.
Were there any scenes that you guys just could not get through because they were so funny to shoot?
DM: There was one scene, and it doesn’t even strike you as one of the funniest scenes. But the scene with Natalie (Portman) and myself sitting at the bar, and you (David Gordon Green) were telling me to call her a bitch and a whore and that I don’t like her, and I just couldn’t look at her in the face and say it to her. It took us so many times — it just felt so wrong to look at sweet, nice Natalie Portman and tell her that she’s a bitch and a whore and I don’t like her.
So what’s in store next on your HBO series, “Eastbound & Down?”
DM: We’re still writing it. But at the last season, we found out that (my character) Kenny is going to have a kid, so I think this season will deal with him dealing with that and will also deal with him trying to make one more run for the majors.
When you see the end result, is the film what you envisioned it to be?
DGG: I think it’s better. I don’t think I really had a concept at that time of what we could get away with, and we ended up making the movie that I think — I mean, it certainly evolved. The first draft of the script that Danny (McBride) and Ben (Best) wrote would have been a $200 million movie, and that would have been fun. But something about this feels more in the spirit of what we were talking about.
DM: When you have an idea like this, that’s so big, if you make a movie that’s that expensive — which I don’t think anyone would let us make a movie that was that expensive — but then you can’t take as many risks. So it was always important for us to try and find that happy balance between a budget that made sense to be able to push the comedy as much as we wanted to push it.
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