August 15, 2008

Danny McBride’s One-Two Punch

By Donna Freydkin

NEW YORK -- Danny McBride, who made his leading man film debut in a little-seen 2006 tae-kwon-do flick, is packing a powerful punch in theaters this summer.

"He's the guy everyone will be talking about. That guy is unstoppable," says comedian Bill Hader, one of McBride's co-stars in Tropic Thunder.

The husky funnyman, 31, has earned major notices for his back-to-back performances in this summer's big-ticket comedies: Pineapple Express, with McBride as the fickle, underhanded but oddly indestructible drug dealer pal of Seth Rogen and James Franco. And Tropic Thunder, in which he blows stuff up -- and gets tied up with Nick Nolte -- as an accident-prone explosives expert.

"I guess it's my big summer. I don't know. I feel like I've had more eventful ones when I was a kid," jokes McBride. "When we went to Nags Head or something."

Seriously, though, McBride owes all his recent screen time to The Foot Fist Way, which he co-wrote with two film-school friends and made for about $80,000. They took it all the way to Sundance.

"We were so excited," McBride says of his trip to the festival that celebrates independent film. "We got all this free (stuff) but left without a deal and went back to our jobs. But Foot Fist was being passed around town, and we didn't even realize how much it was being passed around until we started getting calls."

Somehow, Foot Fist ended up in the DVD players of some of Hollywood's comedy kings, including Will Ferrell, Pineapple's co-writer/star Rogen and producer Judd Apatow, and Tropic Thunder's director/star Ben Stiller.

Foot Fist was released to little fanfare or box office (grossing $233,727 domestically), but it led to more work and an in-character appearance as obtuse, delusional Fred Simmons, the "king of the demo," on Late Night With Conan O'Brien in February. (Watch it at

Yet McBride never aspired to movie stardom. He went to the North Carolina School of the Arts, along with Pineapple director David Gordon Green, and had every intention of working behind the camera. But he kept getting sidetracked "by all these awesome opportunities to work with people I've always admired."

The admiration works both ways. Apatow calls McBride "a remarkable improviser. He has his own unique comic sensibility. It's hard to describe. He's able to capture these bizarre characters that you don't see often in film. Danny is a nice and easy and well-mannered Southern man with a very disgusting, hilarious sense of humor. He seems to find the worst possible behavior really funny and take it a step further than I ever would."

In person, McBride is courteous and witty, with just the slightest hint of a Southern drawl. "I'm from this town in Virginia called Fredericksburg. George Washington's mom lived there. There's a lot to live up to," he quips.

In Pineapple, some of McBride's most memorable lines -- including bits about a cake he baked for a dead cat and his oddly logical reasons for shaving his body hair -- are improvised. McBride, says Rogen, is "just really absurd. A lot of the funniest stuff in the movie, he came up with it. It's amazing. He's absolutely nothing like his characters in any way. He reads books without pictures in them, where no one wears capes. He's a sweet Southern boy."

Just don't call him the new king of comedy. "I'm afraid of things like that," McBride says. "I'm just lucky that I was able to land in these two movies."

McBride just wrapped Land of the Lost, opposite Ferrell. Next up? Writing and shooting the HBO series East Bound and Down, about a burned-out ballplayer. Working non-stop doesn't leave McBride much time -- or inclination -- to hit the L.A. scene.

"I've been writing around the clock," McBride says. "I do the same things I've always done -- watch movies and play video games and just do nothing, talk about ideas and write. Kind of boring." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>