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Deep Into The Soul Of Kenny Fucking Powers: A Proustish Questionnaire with Danny McBride + Jody Hill

By Colin Stutz; photo by HBO/Fred Norris on November 21, 2013


Deep Into The Soul Of Kenny Fucking Powers: A Proustish Questionnaire with Danny McBride + Jody Hill

Amongst the current league of television antiheros, none stands with a more comically cocksure swagger than Kenny Motherfucking Powers. Through four seasons of HBO’s Eastbound & Down, the greasy egomaniac has wrangled viewers’ attention through a champion’s saga of cringe-worthy moments and nut-grabbing excitement. He’s led us from North Carolina to Mexico to Myrtle Beach and back, leaving behind a wake of destruction and redemption all in his own self-interest and a charming narcissist’s perception of what’s “right.”

Powered by a kingly ringlet mullet, the actor Danny McBride brings to life the washed up relief pitcher seeking out redemption and another chance in the majors. Along with McBride’s creative partner and the show’s go-to director Jody Hill, the two are Eastbound & Down’s driving force. Now in its final season, the duo refers to the series as a “character study” for this protagonist they began developing in their first collaboration, the low-budget cult favorite film from 2006, The Foot Fist Way.

“We had this character who saw the world differently than the people around him and that viewpoint makes him kind of come off as an asshole to a lot of people, or be insensitive, because he’s sort of operating by a different set of standards,” says McBride. “We had such a good time in figuring out a way to make an audience still root for this character, even though he’s being such a motherfucker; it really was a chance to delve a little bit more into that tone and into that type of protagonist.”

Enter Kenny Powers: shitfaced and out of his mind on cocaine and ecstasy, speeding down the interstate on a three-wheeled motorcycle, swinging nunchucks overhead and screaming. Here, McBride and Hill discuss the complexities of this loveable, lowbrow, all-American hero in a highbrow, Proust Questionnaire sort of way. Turns out, some people are just destined for greatness.

What would you say has been Kenny Powers’s driving virtue? What is the principal aspect of his personality? What makes him such a dynamic character for you to continue writing and acting and creating this entire saga around? 

Danny McBride:
I don’t really know what makes it interesting to other people. For us, it’s interesting to write a character that looks at the world in such a self-serving kind of way. That viewpoint oftentimes fucks up the people that are closest to him. At the end of the day, we try to imagine that whenever Kenny’s headed toward a situation, it’s always trying to better his own deal. We kind of imagine that Kenny’s always picturing himself as the star of his own movie; whenever he’s dealing with a broken heart or a failed performance in a baseball game, like, “What movie does Kenny think he’s in?”

He is someone who definitely is informed by cable television and I think in some ways he sees his own life as some sort of epic movie. And so, I think he views a lot of the regular pitfalls of, you know, life in general, but to him it’s all heightened and he’s the main character of this insane story. In every situation he’s in, I think he tries to find what movie he’s in.

What of all things makes Kenny happiest?

I would think Kenny makes Kenny happiest, probably—his own exploits. 

Jody Hill:
Kenny’s probably happiest when he’s on top. When he’s the big winner, when he’s the hero, when he’s the star. In Kenny’s mind, he thinks that would make him happy. It has yet to be seen, and that’s something that we play with this season, whether that’s true or not. But in Kenny’s head, he thinks that.

What makes him the most miserable?

Probably not being The Man. 

Teaching PE in middle school, renting cars, anything where he’s not given the level of respect he thinks 
he deserves.

What is Kenny Powers’s greatest fear?

I think his fear is that he’s going to be just like anybody else. And as much fun as we have with Kenny and as kind of despicable as he is so often, that’s something that you can get behind. He doesn’t see himself as just an average person, he sees himself as somebody who has greatness inside of him. And I think most people do have dreams and they have ideas of things they’d like to do in their lives and maybe they’re not living up to their full potential. And I think that as far-fetched as Kenny can be sometimes, that can kind of hit people at a real human level. 

It’s what makes Kenny such a lovable character, too—that kind of weakness that we see in him that we can all relate to.

At the end of the day, despite all of his behavior and all the selfish things he does, he is someone who ultimately does think that love can fix him and love can make everything OK. And that’s that love for [his wife] April. And I think people can identify with that. But I think that it’s easy for an audience to identify with somebody who’s always good. That’s easy because that’s how we all hope to see ourselves; that’s the kind of person that we all hope we are. And I think it’s a little bit more interesting for an audience to see a character who is nothing like you, but figure out there are certain things that you kind of identify with them. I think, creatively, that’s what makes this show fun to write on.

Does Kenny Powers have a motto that he lives by or anything that you guys refer to when you say, “OK, is this a ‘Kenny Powers thing’”?

We’ve always said that Kenny Powers thinks that he’s already learned the lesson. He’s never going about his life like, “I need to figure this out.” It’s already like, “I’ve got the angle figured out.” So I think he probably has lots of mottos depending on the situation he’s in, as is evidenced by the numerous books-on-tape and voice-overs that we use in the show. 

What sort of qualities does Kenny not respect or like in other men and women in his life?

I think he probably doesn’t like if somebody doesn’t think that he’s as great as he thinks he is. That’s definitely a turnoff for him, for sure. But, honestly, I feel like Kenny is so self-absorbed that I don’t even know if he has a firm grasp on what he doesn’t like about other people; I just don’t think he’s paying enough attention to other people. 

He makes friends with people who make him laugh and stuff like that, and that’s it. 

You speak of this show as a character study. Do you get so in-depth with Kenny’s character as to discuss what his favorite food, drink or music, or anything like that might be?

[Both laugh.]

I don’t know, what do you think[, Jody]? Have we ever discussed what his favorite food is? I think he probably likes scrambled eggs. He loves wings. We’ll think more in broad strokes of how we operate. So, for instance, oftentimes Kenny will throw on those all-blacks, and when he makes a choice to wear an outfit like that, in my and Jody’s heads, it’s like he sort of sees himself as a super hero, that’s when he’s going out to kick ass. We’ll think of aspects like that, like what motivates certain wardrobe and stuff, but unless there was a story line that revolved around what kind of food Kenny likes… We haven’t fleshed all the details of him out, I guess. 

One thing we’ve talked about is he’s probably just a little older than Danny and me and we said that he probably came of age in the ’90s when he went through high school, and to him that’s the epitome of good music. So that’s why he said, when we did the funeral episode when Shane died, that they liked Candlebox together, like [“Far Behind”] was their favorite song because that probably meant a lot to them. That was probably an important song to them.

What has Kenny learned over the past four seasons? Is he actually more mature than he was in season one? Has he come a long way or is he still making the same mistakes he was making back then?

I think he makes different mistakes. I think he does take a little bit from each of those experiences but I don’t think that necessarily means that he translates those messages in the same way you or I would translate them. I think sometimes Kenny thinking he’s learned a lesson is almost more destructive than if he had never learned a lesson at all, because sometimes with that new knowledge he just uses it to exploit some other fault or flaw that he has. 

I get nervous when asked, “What is the lesson of Eastbound & Down?” And it’s really just how Kenny takes these various events and turns them into his own kind of weird head-trip.

And I think that’s kind of reflective of even how most of us operate anyway. We all never really learn the one lesson that makes the rest of life easy. It almost feels like every time you learn something, there’s new problems that face you. And I think that’s it with Kenny: He’ll learn lessons but that doesn’t mean he has everything figured out, by any means.  F