The movie is best described as a medieval/fantasy comedy adventure revolving around a familial black sheep. The outcast in question is Thaddeus (played by Danny McBride), the good-for-nothing younger brother to James Franco's perfect prince Fabious. Whilst the latter spends his days earnestly saving maidens and killing dragons, his sibling has resorted to lazing around, smoking weed and necking booze. Naturally, this situation can't go on forever, and when Fabious' bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel) gets kidnapped, Thadeus must man up or face having his allowance cut off. Cue an epic and, we suspect, ridiculous quest, with a hint of emotional growth along the way.
From what we saw, this is one of the craziest efforts to emerge from a Hollywood studio in many a year. Here's some stuff we learned while on set:
1. The film was lucky to have been made at all.
A major vibe we detected from cast and crew was that kind of delirious nervousness you feel when a great opportunity has fallen in your lap and you want to make the best of it. Quite simply, this is a difficult film to market and even the filmmakers seemed surprised that Universal okayed the mid-size budget -- especially when you consider how they pitched the movie to the studio.
Said McBride, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ben Best: "We literally walked in and we were like, 'This is 'Krull' meets 'Barry Lyndon,'' and they just stopped. They were like, 'Don't ever phrase this movie like that again.' Honestly, it's a miracle. I think that if we would've been behind by a month, it wouldn't have happened [because of the recession]."
"I know!" added director David Gordon Green. "We can't get over the fact that someone paid for it. [Laughs] It was really lucky."
2. But it's not a spoof.
Speaking of 'Krull,' fantasy movies from the '70s and '80s came up a lot during our visit -- think 'Willow,' 'Ladyhawke,' 'The Dark Crystal' and 'Clash of the Titans.' It's clear that, despite their many flaws, McBride and Green have a lot of affection for these films -- because 'Your Highness' is anything but a fantasy spoof. "This isn't a parody," said McBride. "That's one thing that everyone had a sigh of relief about. We're not trying to make 'Spaceballs.' We're trying to make a fantasy movie for real that just happens to be funny."
Green further explained, saying, "The second you start being winky-winky, it turns into one of those movies that are winky-winky." In short, don't expect the fantasy version of 'Scary Movie' -- surely a good thing, we think.
3. Despite the setting, this is a modern comedy.
The laughs in 'Your Highness' stem from how modern characters react to the situations fantasy conventions place them in. It's almost like a feature-length sitcom -- which shouldn't be a surprise, considering the director and star work together on the HBO comedy 'Eastbound and Down.'
For example, the cast talked about Natalie Portman's character -- an ass-kicking heroine who, because she's always murdering monsters, has developed has some serious intimacy issues and personality defects as a result. "We're trying to come up with contemporary references," said Green. "As unique as this world is, it's relatable." Adds McBride more succinctly: "There's no jokes in this movie. There's just a bunch of funny s**t that happens."
4. There's a LOT of improvisation.
We were told that Green's method of shooting 'Your Highness' was to do one take based on the script, and then ask the actors to say whatever they feel like in another. It's an astonishing level of improvisation, and as such, the finished film might bear little relation to the original screenplay.
Describing this process, McBride said, "It's been fun to see [David] work with these esteemed British actors like Toby Jones and Charles Dance and Damien Lewis, and how they react to his direction. 'Now Charles, do it like you're taking a s**t.'"
5. The film is going to be filthy.
The humour in 'Your Highness' is going to be "edgy," to say the least. In the scene we saw being filmed, Justin Theroux's villain utters a string of f-words, while some of the props shown to us would definitely be at home in an Amsterdam sex shop. It's almost certain to earn a hard "R" rating, and will apparently feature sequences so disgustingly bizarre that censors at the MPAA won't have even considered how to rate them before.
McBride told us, "There have been several moments, one in particular, where our jaws were dropped when we were filming this sequence!" Even more ominously, the director added that he was glad 'Observe and Report' paved the way for more full-frontal male nudity in Hollywood.
6. Despite the title, it's not about weed.
What you won't see too much of in the film is marijuana use, despite what the title might suggest. According to McBride, 'Your Highness' isn't really a stoner comedy (a la 'Observe and Report' or 'Pineapple Express'), but he did admit that smoking pot is a pastime of his layabout character. "It's one of his indulgences -- but it's not like he's just a weed guy," he said. "This is one of those movies that, once the s**t hits the fan, everything moves pretty quick. So there's weed in the beginning but once they hit the road, it's too life or death for a lot of pausing for smoking."
The film's 'Dark Crystal'-inspired puppet wizard, however, apparently partakes in some dubious looking tobacco.
7. It will look better than its budget.
Despite being a foul-mouthed comedy, in visual terms 'Your Highness' could look incredible. This is partly because of the gargantuan sets. We were guided through life-sized castles, towers and dwarf villages that had been built from scratch in the Irish countryside. Also lovingly constructed were several impressive animatronic critters, hundreds of ridiculous outfits and a warehouse full of (mostly phallic) weaponry. Kudos to the production department for keeping it within budget.
The filmmakers also turned to the work of classic kitsch fantasy artist Richard Corbin -- best known for his images of busty maidens and pumped-up vikings adorning the cover of 'Heavy Metal' magazine. "[His work] is not silly," said Green. "It's angry and funny and intense and exciting and provocative. It had all the elements we were trying to pinpoint with this movie and it's accessible."
8. Natalie Portman is going to kick ass.
Depressingly, Natalie Portman wasn't on set during our visit. Nonetheless, she seems to have made a strong impression on all the cast and crew -- all of whom couldn't stop going on about her performance.
As mentioned above, she plays an amazingly acrobatic, monster-slaying killing machine with relationship problems who evidently gets some choice dialogue.
McBride gushed, "She would trip David and I out all the time when we would see her in the film. This is so weird that Natalie Portman is in here saying this f****d-up stuff. She's been great. She's hilarious in the movie and in the most real way." Judging from the footage we saw, she also looked amazing.
9. The opening scene will be a cracker.
Finally, the one thing that stayed fresh in our minds long after we'd left the set was McBride's description of the opening scene, which sounds like it's worth the price of admission alone.
"When we were shooting here, in the beginning of the film, Thaddeus is getting ready to be hung because he buttf***d the Dwarf King's wife," he said. "He ends up being chased by 32 angry dwarves. That was one of the most amazing days of filming. We're walking around and the Dwarf King had the real throne from 'Willow.' All these dwarves were really funny and they amped it big time. It was the Dwarf Olympics the same week we were shooting, so all through town at all the hotels, there were all these dwarf athletes getting hammered and falling off stools ...
"Those kind of days you walk around and you're like, 'We are making the most f***ed up movie!'"