Over the course of two films and one TV series, Jody Hill has shown a predilection for anti-heroes—characters who are deliciously, comically flawed. The protagonists in his work—Fred Simmons (Danny McBride) in The Foot Fist Way, Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen) in Observe and Report and Kenny Powers (McBride, again) in HBO’s “Eastbound & Down”—are loudmouth losers and louts who believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the universe centers around them. And yet, as seen most clearly in “Eastbound & Down” (which Hill co-created), we begin to feel a strange sort of empathy for these lonely, emotionally damaged trainwrecks.
In season one of “Eastbound & Down,” Kenny Powers, a disgraced, former pro baseball player, returned to his hometown in North Carolina to become a high school gym teacher. The season ended on an ambiguous note, Kenny’s dreams dashed, as he drove off to an unknown destination. The second season of the show—which premieres on HBO on September 26th—moves the action to Mexico, where Powers joins a new baseball team for a shot at redemption. New cast members this season include Michael Peña (Observe and Report, Crash) as the owner of the team, and Ana de la Reguera (Nacho Libre), as a new love interest for Kenny.
Just before the season premiere, Hill spoke with MM about the new direction “Eastbound & Down” takes in its sophomore season, as well as why he’s always drawn to such flawed characters.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Can you tell us what we can expect in season two of “Eastbound & Down?” How does the shift in location from North Carolina to Mexico affect the show?
Jody Hill (JH): In Season Dos, as we call it, Kenny is living the life of a fugitive down in Mexico. He’s not really a fugitive, but sees himself as one—like one of those cowboys out of an old western who has no place left to run. We completely change locations this season and hardly use any of the cast members from the first season. If anyone thought this was a show about a former baseball player who teaches PE, then it’s time to think again. We set out to make a character piece and this season we test how far people will follow Kenny Powers. We’re hoping to steer as far away from conventional television as we can.
MM: Kenny Powers obviously isn’t the most likable, well-adjusted person in the world, yet at the same time the audience roots for him. Is that a difficult balance to maintain—a character who can act in very unpleasant ways, but is still compelling enough for audiences to tune in to see every week?
JH: Most of the credit there goes to Danny McBride. For some reason, he’s able to take a character that most people would find repulsive and give him heart, humor and charm. Kenny always wants something and Danny knows to follow his character’s lead. I’ve always felt that if a character has a goal or drive or code, then he doesn’t need to be the most polite person on the planet. He just needs conviction and the audience will follow.
MM: Are there any character traits you share with Kenny?
JH: We’re both from the South and I enjoy the color black. Besides that, we’re night and day. Especially sports. I hate sports and suck at them… all of them.
MM: In addition to “Eastbound & Down,” you’ve worked with Danny McBride and Ben Best on your films as well. What’s the key to maintaining a successful collaboration?
JH: The biggest thing is probably mutual respect. It’s easy to get personal with writing and ideas, so you have to have respect for each other or else you’ll never get to the end and still be friends. When I work with my friends, when one of us has a better idea, then that’s the one that usually gets picked. We’re honest and gentle. We try to have no ego.
MM: What’s the worst piece of career advice anyone’s ever given you?
JH: The worst piece of career advice anybody ever gave me was “one for you, one for them.” What does that mean? Aren’t you just supposed to make cool movies no matter what?
MM: What’s the best?
JH: The best piece of advice was when David Gordon Green told me to make my own film. People always ask me how to make it as a filmmaker and that’s always the advice I give. It sounds simple, right? “How do I become a filmmaker?” Make your own film.
MM: What’s up next for you?
JH: I made an agreement with myself to wait and decide until I was finished with this show so that I could devote myself to “Eastbound & Down.” I recently started a production company with my friends Danny McBride and David Gordon Green called Rough House. I have a few projects in development there, so I’m going to pick one in about a month. People have heard about a few of them, but I’d rather just wait and choose with a clear head.