Interview with director David Gordon Green

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

David Gordon Green returns to the Wexner Center for the Arts to present two "Eastbound & Down" episodes - the first and last he directed - and then participate in a discussion after the screening. The event takes place at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29. During a recent phone interview Green talked about why he chose the two episodes for this event, the legacy of the outrageous HBO comedy and working with his close friends.

After the Directing "Eastbound and Down" event, Green will premiere (and introduce) his latest film "Joe" starring Nicholas Cage. The "Joe" screening is at 7 p.m. Saturday, and open to Wex members and Ohio State students only.

How did you choose these two episodes for the screening? Was it because these were the first and last "Eastbound and Down" episodes you directed?

It's funny, in almost of my professional life I never look back on projects I've done. I push them out the door and then let them live, and I disappear. I thought it would be fun, just as a conversation, to see how that series evolved and where I went as a director from my very first episode to the last one.

It wasn't an enormous period of time, but I do feel like there's probably some substantial evolution of the show. We got bigger budgets for the seasons, a bit more ambitious with what we could pull off and more comfortable and confident in the characters; as the audience embraced the show we thought we could get away with more and more.

I haven't revisited them, but I'm looking forward to that opportunity to see where I began and ended with the show.

You and "Eastbound and Down" creator Jody Hill directed nearly every episode, except one [Adam McKay directed "Chapter 5"]. Was that something you two had planned on?

I wasn't going to direct any of them. I was just supportive of the show; Danny, Jodi and I have a company together and have been great friends since college. Jody directed the pilot and then the show got picked up … and maybe a year later they got a series order. [Jody] was filming "Observe & Report" and couldn't get away to do it. They let him out for one more episode. So I ended up taking two, three and four. Adam did five and Jodi did the last one.

We all just had such a great time tag-teaming it creatively that we just handled the rest in the same way. Adam's schedule was always just too busy to return. Jodi and I really liked the hand-off where we could board it like we were doing a movie. If there's a couple bar scenes throughout the season, I show up at three, do my scenes and leave to go hangout at the beach. It was kind of fun to have civilized work days.

The other thing that's interesting is I feel like there's a different directorial touch. A lot of shows you watch, the showrunners run it so you have to shoot it like everybody else shoots it. But Jodi and I were always pushing each other to do our own thing, and I think we like the distinctive quality. Somebody who's a big fan of the show or knows our body of work can tell five minutes into an episode who [directed] it. I think that's a fun part of it; bringing our own signature, but still feeling like it's still a part of the bigger picture.

You have experience directing both comedy and drama films. And "Eastbound and Down," while outrageously funny, has some real pathos to it. Was that something you, Jody and Danny wanted to present?

Danny and I have been best buds for 15 years, so you get to know someone and what buttons you can push … I've always really believed in Danny as a dramatic talent. The more he became comfortable with Kenny [Powers] and the more the audience became, at least accepting of Kenny. I don't know if anyone ever gets comfortable with him. But people do come to accept him, and we were able to challenge the dramatic elements and push him a little bit further.

Season 2 is a little darker season; you can see these moments of reflection. Season 3 has some real sensitivity and a strange emotional growth. Season 4 there was some real key dramatic scenes I loved being able to tackle with Danny. The scene where he's interrupting the karaoke night at April's celebration, he gives this monologue where there's not a joke - there are some things to laugh at because he's saying it in front of people and some eyebrows are being raised - but I got chills in the production of that; the beauty of dramatic work coming out of a comedic force.

And it's tricky because people grow to accept a character. It's not necessarily the stuff you're quoting at the water cooler on Monday, but I think it gives the show more substance and separate from some of the more outrageous comedies out there.

We have two editors that we work with too, Travis Sittard and Jeff Seibenick, and they come from very different schools editorially. When you need to beef up jokes, you turn to Jeff. When you want to find that pathos and those little lingering moments, that look in the eye, you turn to Travis. I really think they're responsible too, for finding some of the structures and details that bring the show to life.

You've worked with Danny McBride on a number of projects, is he someone you often think about for roles in your work?

I do. He came out to Austin last week and we got to hang out and be casual buds; just sitting on the porch at my ranch and drinking beer. We haven't done that in a while because we'd been so busy in our professional lives, [it's] had so much momentum over the last few years.

Typically when we're hanging out we're making company decisions, a new slate of shows or movies that we're working on. It was nice to have that human brotherhood that we have and thrive on. We're just sitting in the breeze talking about what's next, what our goals are and what we want to do. And how to maximize having a good time while trying to challenge ourselves, and bringing the audience some unexpected pleasures from time to time.

What do you think is "Eastbound and Down's" legacy?

It is the most idealized form of creative collaboration amongst comrades that you could ever imagine. You look forward to going to work every day, and can't imagine what's going to be at the table when you sit down. At the end of the day, you feel proud, exhausted because you worked hard, but you've had a lot of laughs.

One of the things I'm most proud about the show is how the audience has evolved. You watch the pilot and think it's just going to be this crass show about sports and this vulgar dude who is so despicable. As people started giving the show a chance and letting us evolve with the characters, seeing dramatic moments and the human side of an arrogant asshole, it started really getting somewhere.

It was going to be a three-season show, but in the third season Katy Mixon who plays April was tied up in a network conflict and they wouldn't let her out to come fulfill the series arch that we had intended for her character. So Season 4 was an opportunity to let us flesh that out because they let her out of that contract. So I feel like we got a great, fulfilling conclusion with what we could do with those characters at this point in their lives.

Do you have plans to do more TV directing?

Danny, Jodi and I are working on our HBO follow-up that's going to start shooting at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. It's being written right now by a great crew of writers; a lot of "Eastbound" folks are returning.

I think it'll be very much in that flavor, but we're looking to show a new side of ourselves at the same time. Other than that, we're just collaborating on some movies. We've got another animated series on FX right now called "Chozen," and some other projects we're chewing on. I think Jodi is going to direct another movie this year with Danny in it.