Why Danny McBride happy to be hated
Danny McBride knows his new comedy The Righteous Gemstones is going to put a few noses out of the joint, but quite frankly - to hell with the haters.
The biting satire follows the big business of televangelism through the lens of the world-famous Gemstone family. These one-percenters live in rarefied opulence replete with mansions, luxury cars, and private jets, at the expense of their congregation.
The Righteous Gemstones will no doubt polarise the Christian community, but the irreverent comedian says he's not on a mission to enrapture the faithful.
"Well, we've never really made anything that's been universally liked," McBride says of his and his partner Jody Hill's, work, which includes Eastbound and Down (2009-2013), and Vice Principals (2016-2017).
"We have a very strong voice and a sense of humour that's very specific. I'm comfortable with creating something that might raise the hair on the back of some people's neck."
Though the premise is ripe for comedic exploitation, and although it invokes a healthy dose of scepticism, The Righteous Gemstones doesn't view religion in a derogatory manner. He isn't interested in taking the easy route.
"I feel a lot of times Hollywood takes on religion with such disdain for people of faith, and that takes the fun out of it. I didn't want to create comedy from what people believe in. That would be a cheap way to get laughs - to insult people's faith, because everyone walks a different path."
Emmy-winning TV and movie veteran John Goodman is perfectly cast as Eli Gemstone, the brash patriarch who conducts arena-sized church services. He preaches the good word with his two sons in tow, Jesse Gemstone (McBride), the troubled elder son next in line to take over the family empire, and Kelvin (Adam Devine), who is in a state of arrested development and whose desperation for his father's approval often clouds his judgment.
Also vying for their father's attention is their under-appreciated sister, Judy (Edi Patterson), the brains of the family. She runs the business while this dysfunctional brood contend with issues concerning sibling rivalry and petty jealousies, all the while running amok jetsetting around the globe and living the high life.
McBride, who has also appeared in films such as Pineapple Express, This Is the End and Alien: Covenant, and endeared himself to Australian audiences opposite Chris Hemsworth as Brian "Son Of Mick" Dundee in a Tourism Australia campaign last year, says the idea for the show came straight from his childhood.
"I grew up in the South and my parents were really involved in the Southern Baptist Church, and we attended services every week. Actually, my whole family is pretty religious, my aunt is a minister. So when I was back in Charleston, South Carolina, otherwise known as 'the holy city' - where there are no buildings taller than the church steeple, and there's a church every mile - it got me thinking about it," he says.
"I've lived in LA for 20 years and I forgot that people even went to church," he adds with a laugh. "And so coming back to the South, I discovered this megachurch phenomenon and this idea of how big [popular] they've gotten. It seemed an interesting world in which to set a story."
Likewise, Goodman had a similarly religious upbringing.
"I was brought up in the Southern Baptist Church and I'd been watching these televangelists my whole life. When I was a kid, faith healing was a big deal," he says.
"But I'm an old guy, so I remember Billy Graham. He always seemed very sensible to me. Now, my guy, Eli, his father was a preacher, and he was more fire-and -brimstone, more Pentecostally-inclined. Eli is trying to get away from that, to hip it up a little bit, maybe bring some show business in, and sand some of the rough edges off."
As a kid in the '80s, McBride recalls seeing evangelist Jimmy Swaggart crying on TV while apologising for having sex with a prostitute.
"It blew my mind thinking that this is what these guys do for a living, and then this is what's happening behind the scenes," he says, shaking his head.
"I think that just stuck with me as I got older. It always seemed like such an eye-opening experience, people not really practising what they preach, presenting themselves one way and behaving another."
Now, more than 30 years later, the world of stadium-sized evangelism has only gained in momentum, and no arena is too big, no event too commercial.
"There are Baptisms performed in wave pools in water parks because the attendances are so big," McBride says. "It might seem like we invented the stuff on the show, but it's real."
Goodman puts the phenomenon's ever-growing popularity down to people feeling like they want to belong to something.
"It used to be local churches, and now they can get their faith on television," he says, leaning forward. "People get lonely and they want to believe in something. It's a big, spread-out country, and this is one way to almost have your own personal minister, at home, to yourself.
"And if you don't want to stay home, it seems these huge megachurches have found a way to market themselves. I heard they even have a rock-climbing wall for the kids at these events. There's just a lot going on. And they're trying to tailor what they present to a modern audience, which likes a lot of distractions."
McBride prides himself on his refusal to cater to the masses and on having made something authentic and original, regardless of the reaction.
"I'm sure there'll be some outrage simply because of the territory that we're dancing in," he says. "But I know in my heart that I'm not trying to do something destructive. I'm not trying to go after someone for what they believe in," he says. "Simply, I've created a fictional family in a world that I feel is ripe for satire."
The Righteous Gemstones, Tuesdays, 8.30pm, Fox Showcase