Jody Hill Exclusive Interview EASTBOUND & DOWN

     September 23, 2010


Eastbound & Down. If you’re not excited for the second season, then maybe it’s time to catch up with Kenny Powers (as played by the always amazing Danny McBride). The first season follows Powers – a one-time champion baseball player who’s pissed away his career and savings on drugs and women – as he’s forced to move in with his brother and work as a P.E. teacher, and is trying desperately to get back in the game. The second season finds him in Mexico, starting the new season as a cock fighter who is lured back in to playing baseball for a rinky-dink Mexican team.

One of the key creative figures behind the show is writer-director Jody Hill. Hill caught the attention of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay with his film The Foot Fist Way, and it launched both Hill and McBride into the mainstream. McBride has been playing comic support for many in the Ferrell and Apatow-centric comedies, while Hill directed the cult classic Observe and Report. But the two found their greatest success with this HBO show. And with season two starting up this Sunday September 26 at 10:30 pm, the very friendly Hill sat down for a half hour to talk about the show, its fans and what’s next for him and for Kenny Powers. As for the discussion, the only real spoilers are casting-based (if you don’t know who’s in the season, I guess that can be a spoiler). My interview with Jody Hill follows after the jump.

jody_hill_01How you doing?

JODY HILL: I’m good, man, I’m good. Kinda waking up slowly, we did reshoots, so I’m coming off that big rush.

How many episodes long is this season?

HILL: Seven. We know people wanted more so we decided to deliver on that with an extra episode. One whole one.

When did you guys decide “yeah, let’s do this, let’s do another season.”

HILL: We always wanted to do another season. We want to do a limited number of seasons, but we weren’t sure the first season was going to catch on, so we wanted to end it in a way that if we didn’t get to do any more you’d still feel fulfilled, but it’s still open ended. So I’m glad we got to do the second season. I would like to able to finish Kenny Powers out.

Do you see this season as the end?

HILL: Again, it could be, but I don’t think this is. Personally I would like to do one more season and then call it. We still don’t want to go too many seasons, but there’s a place for Kenny to go that we’ve talked about – I don’t want to give it away – and I would like a chance to take him there.

The response to season one was really good – people love it. Are you surprised the show was embraced by the sports community?

HILL: Totally, I don’t know anything about sports, neither does Danny. None of us know anything, we’re not baseball fans, or know any baseball facts – seriously – so when you hear about athletes liking the show it is pretty surprising. It’s a community I didn’t think I’d ever reach. It’s crazy that the show has taken off, because I’ve never had anything that’s gone to a level like this, so it’s pretty thrilling.

One of the notes I wrote for myself was to thank you for directing Observe and Report, because I love that film.

HILL: Thanks, man. It was on HBO a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t watched it since it came out, it was such a crazy thing, and when it came on I sat down and watched it for a bit, and it made me pretty happy…. That it was on HBO and that people were going to watch it, yeah.

Watching a dude run around with his junk out to “Where is My Mind…” You’ve made an impression, an indelible impression. I have to ask, because I have the Blu-ray, the pineapple glasses… so awesome (Hill spends more than half the commentary wearing jokey glasses).

HILL: You know what? We were making a joke because we didn’t know they were filming us for a little screen. None of us knew, Seth (Rogen) didn’t know, Anna (Faris) didn’t know, so we were joking that we should have worn cool sunglasses and Anna had just done a photo shoot with those glasses so I put them on as a joke, and Seth said “keep ‘em on.”

They had a food tray, that’s got to be difficult, because you’re on camera, but food.

jody_hill_02HILL: Exactly. Those things aren’t cool, right? Is that neat or a lame thing? I couldn’t tell, I thought it was kinda lame.

From my perspective, having listened to a shitload of commentaries going back to the laserdisc days, commentaries are only as good as the people talking. And so watching them, I guess there’s an appeal to that if it’s Tom Cruise, because you’re there to see them and hear them talk, but most commentaries suck anyway. The visual is unnecessary, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing.

HILL: I’d like to break the trend of sucky commentaries, but I don’t think that’s happened yet.

I liked your commentary; I also liked the one on Foot Fist Way, maybe partly because you can hear people taking bong rips. It adds something, I feel. And I thought the Eastbound and Down commentaries has great moments – Ben Best has one of the best statements ever, when he says “I don’t know why people would do cocaine in a town like that because what’s there to do?”

HILL: A truth from Mr. Best there.

Speaking of Mr. Best, you didn’t write with him on this season.

HILL: Ben’s been hanging in Charlotte a lot, I think he’s playing music down there. I mainly wrote this season with Danny and our buddy Shawn Harwell, who wrote a number of the episodes last season with us.

Obviously there were some changes with everything this season. Did you shoot the cameos (the main characters from the first season show up briefly at the beginning of Season 2) at the end of season one, or did you bring everyone back?

HILL: We brought ‘em back.

Obviously it’s still Kenny, but it’s a different location, and somewhat different goals. How different was your approach this time?

HILL: The approach was the same in terms of the process, but we definitely wanted to open it up in terms of scope and size, and just what the definition of what a TV show could be – the rules of the format. It was important for us to say “this isn’t just a show that has a sitcom format” this isn’t just about a fallen baseball player who takes a job teaching P.E. at his former middle school. We thought “that’s how you get hooked,” and then “are we really going to follow this character no matter where he goes in life?” So we were testing those waters.

When was the decision made to bring back Stevie (Janowski, played by Steve Little)

HILL: I don’t know if it was ever not made. It was always “oh, he’s coming back.”

Because – besides Kenny – he one of the only returning characters. Did you ever flirt with other characters coming back?

HILL: There were some flirtations I guess, but in the end it didn’t make sense. It seems like Stevie’s the only guy who would follow Kenny off a ledge. This is his idol, the man who saves him from a life of boredom. So it made sense in our heads that he would track Kenny down.

Last season David Gordon Green directed a couple of episodes, and Adam McKay did one, this year do you have any guest directors, or was it you all the way through?

HILL: No, it’s David and me again. We asked Adam to, but he was so busy with– he was in the position I was in with Season one (Jody was working on Observe and Report while Season One was shooting) because he was editing The Other Guys, so David and I take on the directing duties.

How do you break that up?

eastbound_and_down_season_two_poster_02HILL: David’s one of my best friends in the whole world, so it’s really easy between us. We kind of split it down the middle, I did four this season. It was easy, and a lot of times it was so crazy because of how much material there was to shoot. We did 210 pages over thirty six days – or something like that – so there were times I would ask David to shoot something from one of my episodes, or give me a shot of this, and he would do it. He would do the same to me, so it was that kind of relationship where we could lean on each other and just embrace the chaotic nature of it all.

So you treated this as one big movie?

HILL: One big movie, exactly. The idea was with last season that we would start the next episode right where we ended the last, or sometimes it would take on the next scene. So if you were to watch it all together it would play like a movie with no breaks. So we tried to follow the same thing this season, and you could probably edit both seasons together and watch it as a giant movie or a giant mini-series, and it wouldn’t throw you. So we kept that rule. But we shot 35mm this season, which is something we wanted to do last season but there was still a lot of convincing HBO that it’s not just a handheld, digital camera kind of show, it’s a big film. So we were actually able to do a lot of those things this season.

Well, the show has blown up pretty big, how much easier was it dealing with HBO this season?

HILL: In all fairness to HBO, they’ve always been pretty cool with us, we certainly never had any major issues, but first season I don’t know if anybody knew if the show was going to work. Because when you explain it, it doesn’t sound like it should work. He’s the worst person, and there’s no redemption, and the character doesn’t really change. And all these sorts of worries rise to the surface, and I don’t think it was a clear cut victory. So I think that’s it’s been able to gain a following has helped us, but honestly, HBO has been nothing but supportive. There have been no content arguments or anything like that. It’s been a good working relationship, and I’d like to make shows with them, because if they’re on your side it’s a format like no other. There’s these long blocks of TV that you can do that don’t have commercial breaks, that you can break all the rules of storytelling…

Nudity, swearing, everything.

HILL: Exactly, everything. It’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of nudity, I was very impressed with Ana de la Reguera… her introduction is… (Jody Laughs, I pause) I… yeah. I’m glad she was willing to play. Much like Katy (Mixon).

HILL: Kenny’s got to face a moral crisis this year. Is he a tit man like he always thought he was or is he a butt man? He has to face some inner demons.

You’re getting me excited for the new season. I hope there’s more Michael Pena (Pena shows up in Episode 2)

HILL: Yeah, we used him this season; I think you’re going to like his role. He goes to some dark places.

Is this a dark season?

HILL: I don’t think anything is, really.

You’ve got three chapters, so is this Empire Strikes Back?

HILL: We’ve actually said that, that this season is Empire Strikes Back – nobody loses a hand, but there definitely is that kind of tone. It’s not as clear cut.

On Funny or Die, I saw the K-Swiss clip. Does that end up in this season?

HILL: K-Swiss approached Danny and me about being the spokesmen for the tubes, and they were really cool, they let us control those projects, and really go out there with the content. And they agreed to help advertise the show, and we thought it would help our show get out there. And it ended up being a lot more fun than we’d thought it’d be, and we really got to do some wild stuff. They’re actually going to release a few more.

Yeah, K-Swiss or you guys sent a blond girl to my place to give me shoes.

HILL: NICE! That’s cool, that’s more than I got. How was that?

The neighbors loved it. I was told there was to be a special delivering regarding the show and the shoes… maybe it was just the show, and I thought if this is Eastbound and Down I’m either going to get a half naked woman or Danny McBride, so I better do some cleaning. I got the half naked woman. Speaking of you guys have been really active on twitter (with @KFUCKINGP and @SFUCKINGJ)

HILL: You know, that’s somebody else doing the twitter thing. We don’t even have twitter accounts; I mean I don’t know, people ask me about that guy. I haven’t read his stuff, but people seem to like it. So that’s good.

The nice thing about the K-Swiss stuff is that they seem to be in on the joke.

HILL: It was a really good experience. The guys we made the commercials with are super funny and they were happy for once to say bad words and do all the fucked up jokes they wanted to do. What’s weird is the CEO of K Swiss was fraternity brothers with Will Ferrell, so I think he’s probably a really cool dude. They’re going to release some more unrated versions of the commercials, too. That was part of our deal. The online campaign would be made of the unrated version.

Marilyn Manson has professed himself to be a big fan,

HILL: He was at our premiere a couple nights ago.

How’d that go?

HILL: It went well. He’s not the fan I expected.

Have you had any other strange celebrity fan encounters?

HILL: At our premiere Ke$ha was there, but I didn’t know who she was. I guess she’s a really big pop star. I didn’t know who she was but everyone was talking about it.

I was at a premiere with Katy Perry. People were freaking out, but I had no idea who Katy Perry was. “She looks like Zooey Deschanel with boobs.” I’ll go with that.

HILL: It’s sort of crazy, the cross section of fans we have. It’s not just thirty-year-old rednecks without jobs.

It’s a show you can show to anyone with a dark sense of humor, or sports fans, I guess. So, Deep Roy… were you looking specifically for a midget?

HILL: Yeah, we were, we auditioned a bunch of people. We knew who he was, but when he did it, he was by far the best – there was no competition. He was happy to do this because he’s a really cool dude and he’s in all the Tim Burton films. I would say that Tim Burton doesn’t even know he cusses. He was excited because he never gets to do anything like that, so he was super-psyched and took it to the next level. He was like a wild animal. If you’ve ever worked with an animal, you give them a general area to be in and get out of the way. That’s kind of what it’s like working with Deep Roy.

eastbound_and_down_powersfuelsAre you pretty much done now? You said you just did some reshoots, but do you have the seven on lock, or almost?

HILL: Everything’s done but some car driving stuff, which we have to pop into place. But the last episode is the one that we’re still editing right now. So hopefully in a couple weeks it’ll all be locked up tight.

Well, the first two episodes are great and Steve Little (who plays Stevie), he’ll go there.

HILL: I really think that after the first two, because we have a new location and new characters, it feels like a first episode, and maybe even the first two are a pilot. I really feel that as the season goes on the episodes will get better and better as the story unfolds. Glad you liked the first two, I think you’ll like the rest of the season.

I can’t wait; it’s one of my favorite shows on television. Now that you’re wrapping up with that, what’s next?

HILL: I’ve intentionally kept everything free and up in the air until I finished this. I gave Eastbound this last year to really focus on it. I’ve gotten into the habit of picking one project and then doing the next one. Going one to the other instead of developing a bunch of things.

Is that because of the crossover between Observe and Report and the first season?

HILL: Absolutely. That was really tough. I have projects with this company Rough House that I started with Danny (McBride) and David (Gordon Green) that have been getting developed, so we’ll see. Maybe I’ll choose one of those. In the next month I should know something.

And have you seen Your Highness, because I keep hearing it is filthy (we both laugh)

HILL: I’ve seen it a few times and honestly it is brilliant. It’s one of those movies that just going to freak out many generations to come.

That’s the poster quote!

HILL: Yeah. “This will freak your grandkids out.”

And with that I said thanks. Eastbound & Down’s second season premieres this Sunday, September 26 on HBO at 10:30 pm.