Interview: David Gordon Green
We’d like to ask director David Gordon Green a certain question after watching his smoke-swaddled medieval comedy Your Highness, but finding the right words is hard. Green, you might recall, is the filmmaker who wowed highbrows with his melancholic debut, George Washington (2000), as well as its character-driven follow-up, All the Real Girls (2003). Both of those films earned him comparisons to Terrence Malick. Lately, though, he’s carved out a niche for himself with the success of the stonerific Pineapple Express (2008). Your Highness, a lark that would make Cheech and Chong smile (even more so), stars Danny McBride as a pot-addled prince: a royal layabout who must enter into armed combat to save his brother’s virginal betrothed.
Helpfully, Green asks the hanging question for us. “Am I a pothead?” he offers, laughing. “No, not at all. That’s what’s even funnier.”
Green—a quick-witted Arkansan who, when asked how he was doing, replied “Magical”—isn’t completely persuasive. He demurs. “Every now and then, pot’s an enjoyable escape, fine. But it’s by no means a part of my character, or who I am.”
The truth becomes apparent as he goes on. Your Highness is, indeed, an escape for Green, but to a place he’s always wanted to be, the position of unpredictability. “I like getting a little absurd within a genre like that,” he continues. “You can take chances. It’s a license to be random.”
Getting reflective, Green believes the typecasting came long before his stoner-comedy phase. “I made four indie movies that very few people saw,” he says, pausing. “And it was really challenging to find money for my taste in drama.” (The director refers to them, affectionately, as his crybaby movies: George Washington and All the Real Girls, along with 2004’s Undertow and the depressing 2007 domestic drama Snow Angels.) When an opportunity to step into a Hollywood production came around, he lunged at it.
“It does get disheartening making movies that nobody shows up for,” he continues. “The best thing was to try to make a comedy and, within a few meetings, it was surprisingly easy to get Pineapple Express going.”
“He’s not going to be classified by anything,” McBride says of his director and longtime collaborator (recently on the edgy TV series Eastbound & Down), a friend who first put him front a camera after they attended film school together. “He used to make these strange Coen brothers-esque comedies and then shift over to these really dramatic pieces. David’s a guy who likes to defy expectations.”
Green doesn’t see his newfound commercial success as anything but a door opening. “It’s all a series of battles, just different levels,” he offers. “Even though you’re getting $60 million to make a crazy sword-and-sorcery film with your buddy in Northern Ireland, there’s very little difference in the struggle.” (For all the fun they're having up onscreen, McBride relates that the shoot was unusually disciplined.)
Your Highness evolved as an in-joke between Green and McBride through a game they used to play on the set of other projects, in which they kicked around potential movie titles without scripts. “We’d come up with a lot of titles and then go backward,” Green recalls. “It’s a very primitive marketing exercise: What’s the poster? What’s the tagline?” (McBride remembers a potential TV show, The Face of Danger, about a crimebusting plastic surgeon, David Danger.)
The result, 15 years later, is Your Highness, successfully pitched on a whim and a Hollywood comedy that feels unusally personal, filled with quirks that often soar and sometimes go splat (lovably). Green hopes to shift again to a remake of the Italian art-horror classic Suspiria, for which he has secured Dario Argento’s blessing and even the rights to Goblin’s score.
“When I think of the all the different filmmakers that have come before him,” McBride says (showing off his geeky roots), “the career that I envision for David is something like Robert Altman’s, where he can go from Popeye to MASH and Nashville and kill them all. He’ll keep surprising people for years.”
Green, a modest and easygoing interview, certainly has some of the late master’s irreverence. “Until somebody tells me no, I can get away with anything,” he says. “So let’s try to commit murder.”