HBO Debuts 'Eastbound And Down'

Comedic actor Danny McBride scored two major roles last year in the films Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express. Sunday night, he stars in the new HBO comedy series Eastbound and Down, about a washed-up, foul-mouthed Major League pitcher who takes a job coaching gym at his old middle school. McBride talks to host Jacki Lyden about the series, co-produced by Will Ferrell.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden. The revelations over the last week that baseball star Alex Rodriquez used steroids took the sports world by storm. And they provide a fitting backdrop for a new TV series debuting tonight on HBO.

It's called "Eastbound and Down," and it's a comedy about big-league pitcher Kenny Powers. He shot to the top of the game with a wicked fast ball and an even more wicked temper.

Eventually, Kenny Powers is done in by his own ego and steroids. He's out of the league before his time and forced to take a job back at his old middle school, teaching gym. Here's a scene when Kenny Powers meets his new students.

(Soundbite of "Eastbound and Down")

Mr. DANNY McBRIDE (Actor): (As Kenny Powers) Now, at this time, I would like to field any questions anybody has. This is a good time to do it. You, big kid.

Unidentified Man: Do we have to run the mile?

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) I'm talking about me. I want - these are questions about me personally as a superstar. Who's next? Who's got something else for me here?

Unidentified Man #2: My dad said you ruined baseball.

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) You know what? I can already tell that I don't like you, and I'm probably not going to like you no matter how many pull-ups or pushups you do.

LYDEN: The star and co-creator of "Eastbound and Down" is Danny McBride. He had two memorable movie roles last year. He was the amped-up demolitions expert in "Tropic Thunder," and in "Pineapple Express," he played the turncoat drug dealer who just wouldn't die.

Danny McBride joins me now from our studios at NPR West. Thanks for coming in.

Mr. McBRIDE: Hey, thanks for having me.

LYDEN: Well, this appears to be a very timely show, Danny McBride. A-Rod really came to bat for you here, as it were.

Mr. McBRIDE: It was very kind of him to do this publicity stunt for our TV show. We really appreciate it.

LYDEN: The character of Kenny Powers seems to be based on John Rocker, I have to say that. And Rocker, of course, was the pitcher who mouthed off about gays and immigrants in New York and Texas and was out of the majors before he hit 30. Tell me about how you developed the character.

Mr. McBRIDE: You know, this - the idea for the show kind of came about from Ben Best, Jody Hill and myself. They're the guys I made the film "The Foot Fist Way" with a few years ago. And you know, our knowledge of baseball actually isn't that great. We, you know, just glean what we can from the headlines from that era when it seemed like a lot of baseball stars were kind of being shamed, and this news of steroids and stuff was coming out.

So we just kind of thought that that area would be ripe for the picking for this. And we didn't really base it on John Rocker, but that sort of attitude, I think, was more or less an inspiration.

LYDEN: It's a pretty crude program. I mean, after all, this guy is offending everyone in sight.

Mr. McBRIDE: That's true. He's an equal-opportunity offender. You know, part of the comedy with this is - was the guy Kenny, who is used to that sort of locker room banter and the vulgarity that kind of happens off the field, and there's just no filter for him. He doesn't see, like, where that wouldn't be appropriate around children. He just kind of mouths off to whoever and kind of acts any way he wants to.

(Soundbite of "Eastbound and Down")

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) I mean, my mind's still blowing; you've got three kids, three handsome young men.

Unidentified Man #3: That littlest one's a girl.

Unidentified Woman: Her name is Rose, named after Ms. Kate Winslet in the movie, "Titanic."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) Y'all named your named your daughter after (censored) "Titanic?"

Unidentified Man #3: That's Cassie's favorite movie.

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) Oh, wow, you've got to be (censored) me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) What's his name, (censored) Shrek?

LYDEN: How does Kenny Powers react when his natural talent abandons him?

Mr. McBRIDE: I think he just lashes out at everyone around him. I mean, he's not the type of guy who's going to look at himself for the fix, you know? He's kind of blaming it on his team that he's playing for, and that arrogance is what ends him, you know? When he's back in North Carolina teaching school, he still just has that dream that he's just this epic hero that's only in the dark cave, and he's going to return, and he just can't really accept where he is now.

LYDEN: You did the sequence where he's walking into the school, and in his mind, the girls are all throwing themselves at him, but in fact he's just walking past their lockers, and they're ignoring him.

Mr. McBRIDE: Yeah. And they're middle-school girls, which is not something that he should be imagining.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Yes. Well, as I said, we could count up the things that this man does that's offensive, and it would take the whole interview. Part of what's interesting about the middle school there, though, is that not everybody ignores him. Some people seem to be elated to be around a famous person no matter how offensive he is or how awful he treats them, including the school's principal.

(Soundbite of "Eastbound and Down")

Unidentified Man #4: When I heard that you were going to be subbing here, I almost lost my mind.

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) Well, it's good for you.

Unidentified Man #4: There's something you need to know about, Kenny. You're not the only athlete here at Jeff Davis. I happen to be training for a triathlon right now, so - well, you know all about that.

Mr. McBRIDE: (As Powers) Well, actually, I don't. I play real sports, not trying to be the best at exercising.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McBRIDE: It's that obsession that our culture has with celebrity. They kind of just see Kenny as this big star, and they kind of turn a blind eye to how he acts.

LYDEN: Do you have to find something to like about this guy to stay with him episode after episode and to make him credible, or is it okay if he's plain repulsive?

Mr. McBRIDE: Well you know what? That was kind of what we wanted to really explore with this. You know, there's enough stories about good guys out there that we really wanted to kind of latch on to somebody who's a little bit more complicated and try to figure out a way for the audience to get behind this guy even though he seems despicable and his moral compass is definitely skewed. You know, through each episode, you get more and more of a vision into this guy's inner workings. And you do, I would hope, weirdly enough, side with him even though he's a disgusting dude.

LYDEN: You've got six episodes, right?

Mr. McBRIDE: Yeah. You know, and that was by choice. We - HBO wanted us to do 12 episodes, but we really wanted to keep it small. We wanted to make something that could just be special and that kind of followed that British model for a lot of their seasons with the six- to eight-episode arcs, and it worked out great for us.

LYDEN: What a restrained, BBC, sort of Masterpiece Theater approach to take - television.

Mr. McBRIDE: Exactly, with such vulgarity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Well, Daniel McBride, it's been a real pleasure talking to you. Danny McBride is the star of the new HBO series, "Eastbound and Down." It premieres tonight just in time for the start of baseball's spring training. Thanks and good luck.

Mr. McBRIDE: Thank you very much.

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