If you read our first report from the set of 'Your Highness' a few weeks back, you'll know this is a movie we're cautiously excited about. A kind of homage to 70s fantasy films, only with added filthy jokes, 'Your Highness' could really push the boundaries of taste and decency -- hopefully in a good way.
It helps that the comedy has attracted an awesome cast, littered with classically trained British thesps (Charles Dance, Damien Lewis), indie talent and big established stars. We visited the set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and got to chat with some of the talent involved. Here's a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to who we interviewed:
David Gordon Green: A versatile director whose work ranges from subtle indie dramas ('George Washington') to ridiculous stoner comedies like 'Pineapple Express'. 'Your Highness' -- needless to say -- falls into the latter camp.
Zooey Deschanel: She probably hates being called quirky. But she just is, both in her most famous film role -- '500 Days of Summer' -- and in real life.
James Franco : Despite looking (and acting) like a spaced-out surfer when we saw him, Franco is actually a talented actor. Thankfully he's given up the bland pretty boy roles of early years ('Flyboys', 'Tristan and Isolde') and is now taking on a wide range of parts, including -- bizarrely -- a stint on 'General Hospital.'
Justin Theroux: Was in an extremely bizarre costume when we spoke to him, which made it difficult to take anything he said seriously. Another 'Your Highness' star whose career has effortlessly traversed indie and mainstream ('Inland Empire'/'Charlie's Angels'), he also wrote the screenplay for 'Iron Man 2'.
Danny McBride: The star of this show. Wasn't filming any of his scenes that day but turned up nonetheless, supposedly to help with the script (he's co-writer) but it looked like he was just larking around to us. A funny man.
Okay, introductions out of the way, cue chat ...
It's kind of like a blockbuster, but from an indie posse?
Zooey Deschanel: That's a good way of putting it. I hope it's a blockbuster! [laughs] But I had worked with David and Danny before, in ('All the Real Girls') and a bunch of the other crew members. Yeah, I mean, it's kind of like doing a movie with your friends.
Describe the comedy style in the movie?
ZD: The story has a lot of ridiculous elements to it. Committing fully to those is my main goal. Because I think that if you're serving yourself before you're serving a story then that's where you end up being not funny. It's not about being funny, it's about telling a story and then the comedy comes out of the situation, I think.
What does Danny McBride bring to the movie?
ZD: What doesn't Danny bring to this movie?! He wrote the script and he's involved in every decision, basically. I did think right after 'All the Real Girls,' which was sort of foolish of me, but I was like, "Here we go, he's gonna be a huge star now," because he's so hilarious. But it took a little bit longer. Other people were like, "Oh my God, it happened so fast!" I was like, "You mean it happened so slow." It seemed like he should have been the next Will Ferrell the next day.
And what was working with director David Gordon Green like?
ZD: I always thought other movies of David's always had really funny bits. So he obviously was capable of that. But I think he'll make other really striking choices that will surprise his fans for sure. I was waiting for him to do a comedy forever. He's one of the funniest people I know.
Describe your character, Fabious?
James Franco: There was going to be less of him in the movie. The movie title 'Your Highness' indicates that it was going to be about one brother instead of the two brothers, which is now the focus. We developed a more dimensional Fabious. It just seemed boring to me if it was a one-note joke -- if he was the perfect storybook hero. It'd be better if he has his vulnerabilities and if he was sweeter.
Are you the straight man in this movie or do you have your fair share of comedy?
JF: It's definitely the straight role. Everybody is opposite Danny because Danny is the character that doesn't want to be there. He questions everything and says how ridiculous quests are. He's the character you don't see in any other fantasy movie. The inclination is to all be funny like that but it wouldn't work. So everyone has to realize what it is and that's where the comedy comes out of. From being dedicated to this world. Being as genuine and as dedicated as can be.
How do you combine the outrageous comedy with the period setting?
JF: It's tough. The whole movie is a balance in tone and types of actors that are hired. That's David Gordon Green's style. So you have someone like Danny McBride, who's a very comedic actor, and then Toby Jones, who normally does heavy dramas. David and Danny are there to guide it but it is kinda finding a weird tonal middle ground between modern humor and this old-fashioned fantasy world. You don't want to go too far in either direction. David always describes the movie as an "action-adventure movie." He never wants to call it a comedy. When we're on the set though, he really pushes the comedy. It gives a weird, ambiguous tone where it's funny, but also real.
Are you a fantasy guy at all?
JF: I dunno. When I was a kid, I was certainly into it. I read all the 'Oz' books. I think there were 14 by L. Frank Baum. I read all the Tolkien and that was about it. Those two were for me incredible worlds. When I was in fourth grade, I played my fair share of 'Dungeons & Dragons' and 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' role-playing games (laughs) ... I certainly watched the Harryhausen movies. 'Clash of the Titans' and all the 'Sinbads'. I wrote a play actually with one of the head writers from 'SpongeBob SquarePants' based on Middle Earth. In some ways, it's tonally like this, but this movie is even stupider. I think it was 'Lord of the Cock Rings' (laughs). Never quite made it up though. Never saw it (laughs) on the stage ...
The fantasy genre can lapse into silliness -- how do you ever embrace that while being as kick-ass as possible?
David Gordon Green: Tough question. From the opening scene in a dwarf village, we just wanted to be kick-ass. Danny being chased by 32 angry dwarfs is just kick-ass. It makes you smile, but it's never condescending. We just never approached it in any kind of satiric way. I know there are some gags that we're using, some of the violence and stuff -- I mean he punches through a dude's stomach at one point and it comes out of his back.
What do you hope to bring to the genre with this movie?
DGG: Just a good times fun movie. No one will be able to come out and not laugh their way through it and start high-fiving their friends. We're not gonna outcool 'Lord of the Rings' or something, but this is like taking the fun popcorn of 'Temple of Doom' where my Dad had to cover my eyes when he rips the heart out. Those are the best moments of my life, being shielded from something or sneaking movies on cable. So much of what this movie represents is me being 11 years old and geeking out on movies.
How has your indie background influenced the comedy in this movie?
DGG: We're not doing more than 12 takes on anything. It's rare that we do more. I haven't pulled the script out in more than four weeks. It's all just improvised. We just take a look at the set, see who's there and decide what should be said and we try to engage in that.
How edgy would you describe this movie and do you ever think about pulling back?
DGG: We haven't pulled back. Edgy is a good word, but I think the genre cries for a certain amount of edge and sex and violence. But it all services the story and it all services the world. There's vulgarity in the movie. When it has edge, it has rambunctiousness and rowdiness. I think the big conversations we had early on was: Can we use contemporary vulgarity? Did they talk about blow-jobs in this time period where there are two moons? Some of it is experimenting in what we can get away with!
How do you balance having all this comedy without it being a parody of the fantasy world?
DGG: This movie never makes fun of the fantasy world. I would debate as to whether it's approached as a comedy at all. It's a fun movie, but we're definitely approaching this as a fantasy/adventure film. I think the second you start being winky-winky, it turns into one of those movies that are winky-winky ... There's no jokes in this movie, there's just a bunch of funny s**t that happens.
How do you play this film as an actor? This isn't dumb, sketchy humor ...
Justin Theroux: I'm playing it not much different than something that was dramatic. I'm taking it pretty seriously as far as telling the story and pushing it along. Not trying to do any cheap jokes. The danger is that you could really put a blow-job joke in every 10 minutes, but it'd stop being funny. It has to be very specifically planted if you're using a curse word or something. I read the script and it's so smart. It's stupid (laughs), but it's intelligently done.
How do you balance going broad and staying relatively straight?
JT: David is good at reigning it in ... But I mean, we're wearing capes and s**t (laughs). I have dragon eyes at one point. So it's pretty broad ... I can't go that broad as a person. I chew the scenery a little bit.
Can you talk us through your look?
JT: I was half-involved. We didn't know what to do so we just figured he's probably 200 years old. And then we just watched 'Dracula' and tried to steal that. That was the gist of it, literally. Like Gary Oldman but enough NOT like Gary Oldman so it didn't look like we were taking it (laughs).
How much are you allowed to add to the character during filming?
JT: As much as you want! It's really great. It's fun because normally on something like this you'd be shooting for a kind of realism. It's more like being a 10 year old and playing around than being 'Harry Potter', where we'd be f***d. That great balance of not taking it too seriously.
Can you talk about the level of improv in this film?
Danny McBride: We do a lot of improv. It's the same kinda stuff we do on 'Eastbound' or other stuff I've worked with David on. We do the script the first time and that's it. It's been fun to watch him 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."
How do you establish the reality of a movie as outrageous as this?
DM: One thing we've always said is that this isn't a parody. We're not trying to make 'Spaceballs'. We're trying to make a fantasy movie for real that just happens to be funny. A lot of that humor comes from taking a guy like my character and putting him in a situation where my guy is not usually the guy who usually goes along with this fantasy movie.
How did you sell this movie to Universal?
DM: 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!" I think that if we had pitched a month later, then it wouldn't have happened. We sneaked in at the perfect time.
Do you want the audience to know they're watching a movie influenced by all these fantasy films?
DM: For sure. This is like a love letter to all the films we all grew up with that blew our mind. Everything from 'Krull', 'Clash of the Titans', 'Conan the Barbarian', 'The Beastmaster', 'Deathstalker'. All these films as a kid that I loved. Just making the film is cool. When you come to work everyday and you gotta get blood on you and carry around a sword. You get used to wearing armor every day. It's crazy. I used to have to wear an apron at Crocodile Cafe so this is a step up.