From creator/executive producer/writer/director Danny McBride, executive producer/director Jody Hill and executive producer/director David Gordon Green, the HBO comedy series The Righteous Gemstones (already picked up for a second season) tells the story of a world-famous televangelist family that has as much of a tradition with greed and deviance as they do with charitable work. And with blackmailers seeking to sully the reputation of eldest son Jesse Gemstone (McBride), patriarch Eli’s (John Goodman) plans to expand the family’s empire could be in jeopardy.
While at the HBO portion of the Television Critics Association Press Tour, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Jody Hill, David Gordon Green and actress Edi Patterson (who plays Gemstone daughter, Judy) about the appeal of a show like The Righteous Gemstones, why Judy Gemstone is “like a fucked up swan,” the endless possibilities with the humor, splitting up duties as directors, why this creative team has stuck together on a variety of projects over the years, the biggest production challenges with this show, and whether Judy thinks she could take over the family business.
Collider: This show seems like so much ridiculous fun to make. Was that part of the appeal of doing something like this?
EDI PATTERSON: Yeah, absolutely. So, I did Vice Principals with these dudes, and then Danny [McBride] and I wrote a couple of things, after we were finished with that. And somewhere in the midst of that, he started thinking about The Righteous Gemstones. Even back then, he mentioned playing his sister to me. Even before it was a thing, I was like, “Yes, I’m in, whatever it is and whenever it is.”
When you found out who Judy Gemstone would be, what was your reaction? What did you like about her, and what did you see as the challenges of exploring her?
PATTERSON: I think it’s awesome that she’s so frustrated, but she’s really trying. I like that she really wants something, through that much frustration, and is not gonna stop. And I like that she’s off the rails and a little bit wild and drives people crazy, a little bit.
JODY HILL: She’s like a fucked up swan.
PATTERSON: Okay, I’ll take that.
Jody and David, what did you guys see, as far as the possibilities with this world? Did it just feel like there was endless humor, when it comes to a family like this?
HILL: You saying a family is the right thing. The whole mega church thing is definitely the backdrop, but the comedy really comes from having all of these characters together, and this big ensemble of everybody and the relationships between the characters. That, to me, was the most interesting thing because I’d never really worked with such a big ensemble before.
DAVID GORDON GREEN: The idea is that, by making it a family show, it’s relatable. I was home for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary a couple weeks ago, back in Dallas, Texas, where I grew up. I have three sisters, and one of my sisters informed me that I’m not my mom’s favorite anymore. She was giving me the hard news, and the fact that I thought it was funny, insulted her. She was upset about it ‘cause she’d never been the favorite. So, just think about the childlike manner how, as grown people, you immediately get thrown back into that, and it’s so sad and funny, at the same time.
PATTERSON: You stay a kid with your siblings.
GREEN: And I was like, if I’m not the favorite now, I will be next time I see my mom. I have to figure out how to get back on top.
PATTERSON: I like her being offended and hurt that you blew it off.
GREEN: With her on top, we have to take her down. That’s how I look at it when Judy’s like, “Slap my face, too!” It’s like, “What’s wrong with these people?!”
Edi, is it ever hard to find your voice, working amongst such incredibly talented people, and you’re all are so very different, especially when you’re improvising and playing?
PATTERSON: Honestly, my whole journey with these dudes – Jody, David and Danny – has been magic that felt like it was meant to be. I immediately felt like, “Oh, shit, these guys are my brothers.” I get them, and they get me. I’ve never felt like it’s hard to find my voice with them. I feel like I can let my voice rip, and they get it, which is the greatest gift ever, in my life.
HILL: I agree. It’s always super easy to work with Edi, but she’s so on it that it helps. Every time she has a line, she genuinely makes me laugh. I go there because I want to, and not because it feels like we should.
Everybody in this family is so interesting that you want to know what sort of insane shit they’re off doing, when we don’t see them.
GREEN: Everyone that pops up, even the characters that are an undercurrent of things, you want to see more of.
PATTERSON: Because these people are so interesting and flawed and weird and fun, you could just keep watching them. And there’s such a big group of them that the ideas seem endless. It’d be the best to go to their church lunch.
Jody and David, how do you guys figure out who’s going to direct which episode?
GREEN: I think Danny has some recipe that I’m not privy to. It seems to work out great, though.
HILL: Danny has told me, and it’s really not complicated. It’s more like he tried to divide it evenly, so that we weren’t that stressed. He set it up so that David would have a couple of busy weeks while I had time to chill, and then I’d have a couple of busy weeks. It’s that sort of thing.
You guys definitely have a great little family going on, with all of the work that you keep doing with each other. What have you enjoyed about that collaboration?
GREEN: Beyond just the core group, in talking about the show, there are so many people that have been with us for these years, who are incredible, from the production sound mixer to so many people behind the scenes. There are probably 25 people that went to film school with us that are working on this show, either as a writer or in any number of capacities. So, for me, there’s obvious camaraderie, but there’s also a trust, especially when you’re making comedy that rides the line. With this show, it’s aggressive comedy. We’re here with great intentions. We’re all really good people with the great intention of making people laugh, and making a show that cuts through the noise, and it’s radical and taboo and provocative, but it comes from a good place. And if you don’t have people that you trust and you don’t trust that their intentions are your intentions, it’s dangerous to make dangerous things. So, we go to work, every day, safely making dangerous things, if that make sense, because we know that we’re all good people, with the best of hearts, trying to make things that are complicated and ride that line. If you’re making movies that have a fucked up sense of humor, and you don’t know who you’re around, who you’re dealing with, and what their real attitudes and philosophies in life are, you’d be like, “What am I doing, and who am I doing it with?” But here, we’re pretty safe in knowing that these are wonderful human beings that are also challenging the way that some people see the world and some people behave in the world, and that things that we find either offensive or provocative can also be funny, we wanna be the guys doing that.
This is a show with quiet family moments balanced with big moments that are wild and crazy. What are the biggest production challenges of doing a show like this?
GREEN: It’s not a little show.
HILL: The tone of something is always a challenge. Sometimes it’s easy, I guess. I don’t know. I was gonna say it’s the hardest thing to get right. I’ll be like, “This is funny, but is it too dumb? Is it based in reality?” If something is really wacky, I just try to find like how it would be in real life, and then shoot it that way. That’s one of the challenges.
GREEN: We want to keep it grounded. You want to find something grounded about something so outrageous.
Edi, are there are a lot of things that you still feel like you want to learn about who Judy is and what she’s willing to do?
PATTERSON: Yeah. Her driving want is to be important, and it doesn’t even have to be with specific things. Her mom saw her, and now her mom’s gone, so she’s a little bit lost and mad. She wants to be seen and thought of as important, like her brothers. She’s really smart, and maybe the smartest of the three [siblings].
HILL: We really focused on her career trajectory, this season. Not to give anything away, but we really opened her up to show where she’s gonna go after this. She grows a lot, and yet she’s still probably far from her destiny and where she’s like to end up.
Is Judy somebody who would like to take over the family business, if the opportunity should arise?
PATTERSON: Yeah, I think she thinks she could, for sure. She, for sure, thinks she would be better at it than Jesse or Kelvin. Whether she would or not remains to be seen because she’s a wild cat and a little bit off the rails, but she thinks she could, for sure. She’s like the lava in the volcano that spits out sometimes, against her will.
How does Judy feel about Amber, who’s a part of the family, but by marriage, so she’s still an outsider?
PATTERSON: I think Amber drives Judy fucking bonkers. I think she drives her crazy. Here’s this chick who’s got all of her brother’s attention, and even though her brother drives her crazy, she still idolizes him. I think she’s probably jealous of a lot of things about Amber.
The Righteous Gemstones airs on Sunday nights on HBO.