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Although he was born December 29, 1976 in Statesboro, Georgia, Danny McBride grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "There's a lot of Civil War action there," he told GQ. "George Washington's mom lived there. So there's a lot to live up to." He hasn't done too badly so far, and is almost certainly funnier than George Washington or his mother.

 

“I grew up in a really small town,” he recalled to Seth Rogen in Interview magazine, “so your choices of things to get into were, like, maybe hunting or football or drugs. Or drama.” Having made movies on VHS as a kid, most with clay figures or fireworks, and having no interest in attending a traditional college where “you have to write papers all the time,” he enrolled in film courses at the North Carolina School of the Arts. “I can’t even remember not wanting to go to film school. Ever since I was born, I was like, ‘I’m going to go to film school. One day, I’m going to go to film school.’” McBride did not envision a future as a filmmaker, however, but thought, “Maybe one day I can teach film.”

 

After leaving school, though, he began shooting film with his friends, including Jody Hill with whom he would frequently collaborate in the future, while surviving by working a variety of jobs which included a stint as a production assistant on Battle Dome, an American Gladiators style exercise in machismo. “Our finest day was when one of the Battle Dome warriors broke his ankle, and we had to form a line around him so that the audience couldn’t see him cry.”

 

McBride’s breakthrough would be awhile in coming, but when things began to happen for him, they seemed to happen fast. “It seems like overnight,” he said, “because all the successes and opportunities are coming at once, but we’ve been working at this since we got out of school, getting nowhere with it.”

 

They finally got somewhere with The Foot Fist Way, a zany comedy shot in North Carolina for $70,000 on a 17 day schedule. In a script he co-wrote with Hill, who also directed, and Ben Best, McBride was cast as Fred Simmons, an obnoxious and fascistic tae kwan do instructor. In short, a jerk who is unaware that the world is laughing at him. The film received a midnight screening at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival where the audience reaction was disappointing. “Before anything even happened in the movie, all these people were getting up and leaving and going out,” he remembers. “But to the people who were left, it seemed like the movie played okay.” Eventually, tapes and DVDs of the movie began to make the rounds in Hollywood.

 

“I don’t remember who called, but one day I flipped,” McBride says. “Will Ferrell has seen this movie and liked it and wants to put his name on it.” Through Ferrell and Adam McKay,  The Foot Fist Way (“The story of a man who teaches people how to kick other people in the face,” read the poster’s tagline) was picked up for distribution by Paramount Vantage. Finally reaching theaters in 2008, the film’s humor was an acquired taste.

 

“I cannot recommend this movie,” Roger Ebert wrote in The Chicago Sun-Times, “but I can describe it, and then it’s up to you.” Ebert found the hero “loathesome and reprehensible,” but admitted that “I laughed in spite of myself,” while praising McBride as “appallingly convincing” playing a character “who might almost exist in these vulgar times.” Variety agreed, saying “Simmons will make audiences cringe - but there’s undeniable humor in his blithely unaware repulsiveness.” Peter Travers in Rolling Stone gave the film a rave (“This hilarious high-kicking nonsense costs two cents and looks it, but you’ll laugh helplessly, anyway”) and so did The New York Times which called it “an itsy-bitsy, ultra-indie, super-silly comedy packing huge laughs and unexpected heart.” McBride would briefly reprise the role in a February 2008 segment of Late Night with Conan O’ Brien, an appearance that was probably seen by more people than saw the film in theaters, but bootleg copies were finding their way to an appreciate and influential audience.

 

Producer Judd Apatow saw the film when an agent gave him a DVD copy. "He has his own comic sensibility," Apatow observed. "Danny is a nice and easy and well-mannered Southern man with a very disgusting, hilarious sense of humor." After seeing The Fist Foot Way, Apatow thought, “How can I get Danny into one of my movies so that people will think that I discovered him, even though I didn’t?”

 

Apatow cast McBride as Red, the dope dealing pal of James Franco and Seth Rogan, in the pro-pot comedy, Pineapple Express, directed by David Gordon Green. “You know, actually, I went to film school with David my freshman year of college,” McBride said, “so I had been friends with him for awhile and written a bunch of stuff together.” McBride’s part in the film was brief, but he improvised some of his funniest lines, and says, “I’m lucky that all I just get to do is get shot and do stuff, so it’s kind of easy. You don’t have to carry any of the weight of the exposition or anything.”

 

McBride did feel pressure when his uncontrolled laughter ruined several takes. “David would leave the set sometimes, so it was a little disheartening.” The filming was also dangerous with most of the cast suffering injuries during the stunts. “(James Franco) busted a bong over the back of my head and split my head open,” he recalls. A day later, Franco split his head when running into a tree. “So it just seemed kind of like it was par for the course. If you didn’t have an injury, you weren’t really part of the film.”
 

Pineapple Express was warmly received. “It’s a quality movie even if the material is unworthy of the treatment,” wrote Roger Ebert. “As a result, yes, it’s a druggie comedy that made me laugh.” It made audiences laugh, too, grossing more than $80 million in the U.S. He also had a role in Tropic Thunder whose director, Ben Stiller, said of McBride, “He’s one of the most uniquely funny guys to come around since Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.” Appearing in two such high-profile Hollywood comedies brought McBride into the public eye like never before. "I guess it's my big summer," he told USA Today. "I don't know. I feel like I've had more eventful ones when I was a kid. I'm just lucky that I was able to land in these two movies."

 

McBride took to television with HBO’s East Bound and Down, a series co-produced by Will Ferrell. “I play a major league pitcher who has lost his fastball, and he’s spent all his money and he’s just down on his luck,” McBride said in explaining the show. “So he comes back to the town that he grew up in and crashes with his brother.” In reviewing the show’s premiere episode, The San Francisco Chronicle called it “mostly stupid, frequently unfunny and covers for its lack of original comic material by dropping f-bombs all over the place.” Despite the critical drubbing, East Bound and Down had its devotees and was renewed for a second season.

 

He was back on the big screen in Land of the Lost, one of the most anticipated films released in summer 2008. “As big as this movie is, there’s really like only four actors in it, so it feels really small," McBride said. "So it still feels intimate, but it’s just gi-normous.” The film starred Will Ferrell who played such a pivotal role in McBride's career, "but this was the first time I got a chance to really work with him, and he was awesome." The big-budget revision of a kid’s show from the 1970's was also an awesome dud, a flop with critics and audiences alike. “If you don’t find Land of the Lost, you won’t have missed much,” Claudia Puig sneered in USA Today.  As Roger Ebert observed, the movie “inspires fervent hatred,” but he was one of the few critics to give it a pass.

 

McBride had a smaller role in the same year’s Up in the Air. The most prestigious film in which he had yet been cast, it was attracting serious award buzz from the moment it was released. It would prove to be a contender for the 2009 Academy Award for best picture.

 

“When you make a choice to be in something, you always hope that it resonates with people,” McBride said. The Jason Reitman-directed film with George Clooney as a corporate hitman who travels the country to fire people, had a lot of resonance in an era of greed and corporate downsizing. “There was always something special about this,” McBride said of the film. “I remember when I first got the script, when Jason sent it to me, I really responded to it. It was an intelligent piece of work. I liked the tone, and how Reitman intercuts real people who’ve been laid off with the rest of the movie.”

 

What's next for this new comic wunderkind?

 

There's Your Highness, a comedy he co-wrote with Ben Best that stars two of this year's Oscar nominees, Natalie Portman and James Franco. "It's an idea that David and I had back in film school. The concept then was just, like, I'm a knight who gets stoned and kills dragons. I look at the footage and like 'I can't believe a studio paid money for us to do this.'" 

by Brian W. Fairbanks


 


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