arizona trailer

Danny McBride gives his most frightening performance to date in Arizona. Director Jonathan Watson, who’s worked with McBride since season 2 of Eastbound and Down, uses McBride’s charisma and comedic powers to make a blonde-haired, golf-playing baddie all the more menacing. There’s something unsettling about McBride’s comedic sensibilities in a villain like Sonny, who never loses his scary sense of humor throughout the Rosemarie DeWitt-led Arizona

McBride read Luke Del Tredici‘s (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) script years ago and thought it was “a wild ride,” so he sent the script to Watson, helping to launching the well-seasoned first assistant director’s feature directorial debut. The first-time filmmaker shows a great grasp of tone with his thriller by nicely balancing the horror and laughs.

McBride recently spoke with us about playing his most villainous and insecure character yet, his work with costumer designer Sarah Trost, his time with Sir Ridley Scott, and the importance and power of sometimes pushing boundaries in comedy.

When you first read the script, how was Sonny described on the page? 

You know, that character just jumped off the page. When I got that script, it was sent to me through a friend, and I had no idea what it was about or where it was going, and I heard that that’s the best way to enter this movie. Even just approving trailers for it is difficult because you don’t want to give anything away. I think part of what’s cool about it is how you don’t really know where it’s going. That read was definitely like that. Sonny was someone who, when he first came on, I didn’t know what his character was. This guy just reads funny. What’s going to happen? So, all the dark turns and twists that he takes, they were surprising to me to read, but also made the movie, to me, seem a little more exciting.

I feel like I’ve seen this character a million times in public, with the hair and how he speaks. What made you decide on that hairstyle and the way Sonny carries himself? 

Yeah, I was just trying to think, “This guy spends all his time on the golf course, what does he look like?” I just figured he’d be pretty tan and he’d have bleached blond hair and stupid sunglasses and a visor. We just started putting him together. Sarah Trost, the costume designer on Vice Principals, she also was on this, and I just wrapped up. She was the costume designer on Righteous Gemstones, the pilot we just did for HBO. She’s just so talented. Her designs, when I meet with her before we start something, she’ll have already sketches drawn out of what she’s imagining the characters to look like. She’s been pretty amazing at bringing what’s on the page, visualizing what that character is. She really helped craft the look of Lee Russell and Gamby in Vice Principals, and in this, her early drawings of him with the visor, the golf clothes he wears. It was pretty awesome, and it seemed like an unexpected wardrobe for someone who does such bad shit in this film.

Her work is great. How much collaboration and input do you usually have with a costume designer?

It’s different with everybody, you know? If you’ve got somebody that you trust, it’s part of what’s exciting about it is keeping them excited, letting them have the reigns to push things and go far and see what it’s like. I worked with Sarah for the very first time on Vice Principals, and honestly, she’s someone that I’ll try to force to work with me on anything I do. Just like I would trust Jonathan Watson or David Green or Jody Hill, she’s just so good at what she does that I trust her opinions, and I want to see what she’ll come up with. It’s exciting. It’s awesome when you can find people who are so good at what they do that where they’ll go with it is half the fun of watching it all come together.

You’ve previously said the tricky part with Sonny was grounding him, and finding empathy for him. In what ways did you want to ground him?

Honestly, that was one thing that was a little bit easier about this one. I feel like with Gamby and with Kenny Powers, we are wanting people to have empathy for those characters because, ultimately they’re people that suffer from character flaws that are holding them back in life. We want people to root for them eventually, and I think with Sonny, he’s allowed to be a villain, you know? It can start out where you think, “Oh, maybe this is going to be a guy that I’m going to get behind by the end,” but I think that it becomes very clear that this guy has gone over the edge and there really isn’t redemption for Sonny. He goes from being this bumbling, aggressive idiot into just being a straight villain by the end.

What qualities of the character did you really want to play up to make Sonny an even more threatening or comical villain? 

I liked how, for someone who commits murder and stuff, he seems insecure. He had these qualities that I don’t feel like you see in murderers usually. There’s a real insecurity about him. He really wants people to know that he’s gone hard. He’s still proud of his house, despite everything that’s going on. He still really cares what people think about him. I thought that was an interesting irony to have with a character that’s splitting people’s heads open with kitchen tile and shooting people. The idea that somebody would be that over the line, but still care about somebody’s social norms seemed a little funny to me.

When you’re on a set or preparing to do a movie, how much of an advantage do you feel you have by also being a writer? 

I think writing has served any performance I’ve done so much, because I think if you’re just writing, you have to understand, you have to do the internal homework of, “What makes this person tick? How do they get from A to B to C?” I think knowing all that stuff definitely helps with a performance. If backstory is not on the page, it’s easier to come up with what one is. Also, from doing so much TV now, I just know what what will turn audiences off and what might turn them off a little bit and what might not turn them off at all. It’s kind of fun when you choose a character like this that gets very close to that third rail. You just try to figure out how to dance right around it and keep people engaged just enough so they don’t turn off.

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