Southern comfort

American actor Danny McBride, a Southerner, wants to erase the redneck stereotype of people from his region

Danny McBride plays a foul-mouthed but ambitious school vice-principal in Vice Principals.
Danny McBride plays a foul-mouthed but ambitious school vice-principal in Vice Principals.PHOTO: HBO


American actor and screenwriter Danny McBride is tired of seeing the redneck stereotype in the media.

You know, those characters from the Southern United States typically depicted as unattractive, uneducated and possibly racist.

That is why McBride, who hails from the Southern state of Georgia, tries to ensure that his portrayals of Southerners are more nuanced and realistic.

"A lot of times, it's just lazy, the way that Southerners are portrayed in TV and movies.

"The 'Southern idiot' is the one stereotype that Hollywood, for some reason, just doesn't want to get rid of, even when they're doing a great job of getting rid of so many other stereotypes.

"So I think it takes Southern writers and Southern performers to represent themselves, and not just let other people dictate what the South is like," he tells The Straits Times in a phone interview.

The 40-year-old, who is married with a six-year-old son, has certainly made good on that mission.

He has written and performed a number of Southern characters in his career, such as that of Kenny Powers in the TV series Eastbound & Down (2009 to 2013) and Will in the film Land Of The Lost (2009) - all of whom are a lot more complex and three-dimensional than the typical TV hillbilly.

The most recent example is the role of Neal Gamby in the comedy TV series Vice Principals, which is in its second season.

Gamby is a foul-mouthed school vice-principal who is not only egotistical and ill-tempered, but also ambitious and driven in his goal to get promoted to the principal's chair.

Throughout the show, he and his colleague Lee Russell (played by Walton Goggins) get up to all sorts of hijinks to try to get rid of the principal.

McBride, who co-writes all the episodes with other writers such as John Carcieri and Jody Hill, says: "We embrace these crazy characters, and I feel like for them to really work comedically, you need to place them in a world that feels realistic and feels normal, so that their behaviour can be shown as not normal.

"I grew up in the South, so I know the subtleties of the South, and I know how to make it feel like a real place."

1 From the start, Vice Principals was planned as a two-season show. Do you think it will see a movie version down the road?

There will always be TV shows for which we should make it a point not to pursue a feature version.

There's something about the pace of a TV show that works for a show like this.

I think it's best to spend short amounts of time with someone such as Gamby, rather than sit in the cinemas for two hours - it's better for your soul.

Having said that, if done right, some TV shows can be great as films, such as Star Trek.

2 Vice Principals is known to be extremely unpredictable. Was that a conscious decision when you were writing the episodes?

I think it's about wanting to always keep audiences on their toes.

We're not always trying to make something funny, but we want to create something that isn't the same dribble as what you see elsewhere. We wanted to make something that we would want to see as well.

3 Do you think raunchy comedy films and TV shows are becoming too one-note?

When you have somebody do something really well, there's no doubt that for years, people will just emulate it.

So I think what Seth McFarlane and Will Ferrell and other amazing comedians have been doing for the last 10 years is now seen as being mimicked by other people.

It's not even interesting to watch those films anymore. I do think there's a void with comedies right now.

4 What genre do you think best speaks to audiences now then?

I think for American audiences at least, they're all about horror films now.

Horror and comedy have always been the two things that are the most fun to watch with groups of people because you want to laugh or be scared with other people.

Since the comedies being released are not achieving much, audiences are now turning to horror.

5 You had a role as a chief pilot in Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant earlier this year. What was it like, working on a movie on a massive scale like that?

It was just crazy. The Alien movie franchise is something I grew up with, so it's just crazy getting to be a part of it.

And the set is the real deal - they actually built the ships and so we're not acting in front of green screens. It's mind-blowing and amazing.

But once you get into the zone of these films, whether it's big or small, it's about you and the director and the core, intimate team of people you're working with.

6 Do you remember what went through your head when you got that call from Scott to be in the movie?

I just couldn't believe it. It was not anything I could have imagined and I was just so grateful.

I didn't know what he wanted me to play at the time when he called me in for a meeting, but I was just thrilled at the opportunity to work with him.

7 You are scripting a new instalment for the iconic Halloween film franchise. Most people would not want to touch cult films for fear of ruining their legacy, so what made you decide to do this?

The studio approached David (Gordon Green), whom I collaborate with often, and he's like, 'hey, why don't you come on board'.

My first instinct is that you shouldn't mess with Halloween (1978). There's been so many bad versions since then.

But then I'm like, I think I'll know how to make a good one, because I'm such a huge fan. So if there's going to be a new movie, then I'd rather be the guy crafting this than let someone else f*** it up (laughs).

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I don't think about stuff like that. If I'm remembered at all, that's good.

•Vice Principals 2 airs on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) today at 10.30am and 11.30pm. It is also available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602) and via streaming on HBO on StarHub Go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline 'Southern comfort'. Subscribe