There is something irresistible about funnyman Danny McBride. The past four years have seen the foul-mouthed scene-stealing Georgian rocket to superstardom, while creating some of Hollywood's most wonderfully crafted, memorable characters. 2010 saw scores of fans splashing out on customised Major League baseball shirts bearing the name and number of McBride's creation, champion of HBO series Eastbound and Down, Kenny Powers. Popping up everywhere, from K-Swiss commercials to Kanye West tweets, it's clear that Powers has already reached legend status in the minds of a small but dedicated fanbase. Bear in mind, this is the obnoxious washed-up pitcher whose mantra is "I'm the man who has the ball. I'm the man who can throw it faster than fuck. That is why I am better than everyone in the world."
Despite portraying unconventional, often just plain ugly characters, somehow audiences just can't get enough of McBride. Graduating from quirky big screen supporting turns in the likes of 2007's Hot Rod, to holding court with George Clooney in 2009's Up In The Air, his ascent seems the stuff of Hollywood fairytales. Though most fairytales probably don't involve a mulletted southern drug-dealer punching Seth Rogen 'in the bum' as he did in 2008's Pineapple Express.
Lifelong compatriot and collaborator, Pineapple... director David Gordon Green attempts to explain his buddy's appeal: "My parents were on-set and Danny was talking about eating Nerds out of strippers buttholes, and my parents were like, 'Under most circumstances this would offend us, but somehow it seems sweet...'"
Despite his rapid rise, McBride didn't start out with the greatest acting aspirations. As the actor points out, "I didn't even have a fucking headshot!" He attended the North Carolina School of the Arts with a tight-knit group of friends that included Green and Observe And Report director Jody Hill. Receiving a BFA in filmmaking, his passions originally lay behind the camera, working as second-unit director on Green's acclaimed George Washington in 2000.
Though not a trained actor, McBride's gift for improvisation made him ideal talent for his friend's projects, leading to him being cast in a showy supporting role, opposite Zooey Deschanel in Green's romantic drama All the Real Girls in 2003. Although not a huge commercial hit, his turn as a wise-cracking, dim-witted rascal offered a warm, welcome relief in this heavy tale of doomed romance and gave a tantalising glimpse of what would come.
Though Real Girls scooped the Jury Prize at Sundance, it would be three years before he would return to the screen, with Jody Hill's 2006 martial arts comedy The Foot Fist Way. As inept, slightly sinister tae kwon do instructor Fred Simmons, McBride is fascinatingly unhinged in the goofy, low-budget ballad of existential crisis, that laid the foundations for Eastbound. The barmy film caught the attentions of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay who believed in the picture so much, they chose to distribute it through their Gary Sanchez Productions.
Suddenly, people in Hollywood were whispering about this uproariously self-assured southern hick casually delivering lines like "I'm so hungry I could eat a grown man's ass," in his level, middle-American monotone. Foot Fist put it's star on the map, but didn't reap huge returns, though McBride is surprisingly pleased with this: "I liked that it was made off the radar and I'd like it to stay that way. It's like a cool band that has dedicated fans."
Offers started coming in and McBride was quickly cast in kooky stuntman comedy Hot Rod. In a minor, yet ostentatious performance as mentally-unstable ramp-builder Rico, the southerner demonstrated what would become a talent for taking throwaway background parts and transforming them into magnetic works of scene-stealing genius. McBride's hilariously abrupt outbursts and instantly quotable improvisations ("I've been drinkin' green tea all damn day!"), elevated a bizarre, but so-so comedy to something infinitely more memorable.
On the back of Hot Rod, McBride received a staggering offer to team up with his heroes, Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers for screwball comedy The Heartbreak Kid. Simmeringly intense as the overprotective cousin of Stiller's love interest, the gifted jester transformed what could have been a redneck stereotype into one of the year's funniest scene-grabbers.
The key to McBride's appeal lies in his ability to toy with conventions, frequently portraying badboys and tragic misfits, but challenging us to care. The actor suggests, "I like playing assholes...A lot of the material I'm interested in writing and getting out there is stories about anti-heroes and people you should just not ordinarily root for."
He continued to pop up in jawdropping bit-parts, notably as Owen Wilson's easygoing, highly-sexed homeless compadre in 2008's Drillbit Taylor. A subtle balance of sweet, absurd and outrageous fast became his calling card and, riding high, McBride's star would go supernova in the Summer of 2008 with the back-to-back releases of the year's two biggest comedies.
Reunited with David Gordon Green, and teamed with gravel-voiced comedy hotshot Seth Rogen and versatile star James Franco, dope-hazed buddy actioner Pineapple Express unleashed McBride on a larger audience than ever before. As cartoonish, unfailingly polite dealer Red, he effortlessly plunders the plaudits with a barrage of insane one-liners, camp intonation and one of the most boisterous, wince-inducing fight scenes in film history.
Next up, impressed by what he saw on Heartbreak Kid, Ben Stiller invited McBride to join the all-star cast of ridiculous war saga Tropic Thunder. As special effects wizard Cody, the mulletted-one is possibly, save for Tom Cruise's phantasmagorical cameo, the film's standout performance. Standing comfortably amongst big boys Jack Black, Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., McBride's hard-edged, no-nonsense bumpkin persona has an effortless humility to it that stands out from the crowd. During the film's grandiose pyrotechnic-packed opening, his rallying call of "Big-Ass Titties!" is absurdly euphoric, and as the dust settled on an explosive summer, the funnyman found himself an established member of tinseltown's comedy fraternity.
2009 saw McBride flexing his bastard muscles, cameoing as an outrageous tattooed crackhead in Jody Hill's Observe And Report, before the pair unleashed their most ambitious, co-written project yet. Darker-than-dark television sitcom Eastbound And Down is incredibly daring, a show that features more slang referrals to genitalia in a typical half-hour episode than any other programme in recent memory. Yet, in successfully charting the downfall of such a foul-mouthed, politically-incorrect lowlife, Major League scumbag Kenny Powers might just be McBride's crowning achievement. Seducing audiences with a character who pisses people off faster than he strikes out ballplayers has been a masterstroke, with viewers keenly returning for 2010's second season, eagerly following the scoundrel's rocky road to redemption.
Continuing his winning streak, McBride partnered up with Eastbound co-producer Will Ferrell in 2009 to battle dinosaurs and otherworldly lizard creatures in Land Of The Lost. Toning down his sardonic redneck persona, he revels as wifebeater-wearing illegal firework salesman Will, a pitch-perfect comic foil to Ferrell's over-the-top bombastic mugging. Officially promoted to 'sidekick' status, the wisecracker is on top form, cementing his place as an outrageous master of acerbic quips.
McBride's trans-dimensional hijinks were followed by a surprisingly subtle, tender turn, opposite George Clooney in Jason Reitman's Oscar-botherer Up In The Air. Given a chance to stretch his acting chops, he is moving and amiable, exuding likeable everyman charm in his emotional heart-to-heart with corporate high-flyer Clooney. Playing it straight for once, it's an impassive, heartfelt performance, but McBride still brings the funny, his genius lying in the prodigious way he manages to balance comedy and tragedy.
From the clueless loser of All The Real Girls, through to his most recent turn as a badass wheelchair-bound 'handi-capable' Western Union employee in Todd Phillips' Due Date, McBride works his alchemy to make us feel for the unsung weirdoes of the movies. It is a gift that has so far seen great box office returns, but does the quick-witted southerner have what it takes to carry a movie?
Time will tell, with Spring 2011 promising the release of Your Highness, a jocular swords-and-sorcery epic in the vein of eighties classics Krull and Willow. Describing his on-set experience as "Wearing armour, swinging swords and killing shit all Summer," this will be the actor's first lead role, but with this tale of wizard's weed and easy maidens, the affable anti-hero should be right in his element. Just as Kenny Powers straddles his spluttering moped as though it were a triumphant, snarling Harley Davidson, on the back of this hot streak, McBride can't fail to feel confident.
And what of the future? Having recently founded production company Rough House Pictures with brothers-in-arms Green and Hill, the future certainly seems bright for the cult hero who found fame without really looking for it. Eternally grateful, Danny McBride seems happy to accept whatever comes his way: "You know, since I was a kid, I always wanted to be involved with films, but I didn't really imagine that it would be with acting. But I just loved movies and I went to film school...and luckily it's paid off!"
As Kenny Powers once said: "If there's one thing I've learned through all my adventures and conquests, it's that some people are just wired for success...That's just how shit works sometimes."