We walked into a silver production hangar on the Your Highness lot in Beflast. The enormous room was lined with shelves and shelves of antique weed pipes. Several appeared elf-whittled, one with a naked lady stem. A five-foot brass hooka and bejeweled bongs were on the floor. Our guide for this tour leg was veteran production designer Mark Tildesley, a frequent collaborator of Danny Boyle and Michael Winterbottom. For months Tildesley had served as the upbeat overseer of this fantastical headshop. With messy white hair and reserved perma-smirk of the intelligent tinkerer, he wanted it known, off the record, that it was no small task testing out all of these devices. Did we have any idea the process? Then again how could we? Without forewarning, he tossed a ball of prop glass to Drew McWeeny, one of the guys on our tour. It exploded on impact and earned a scattering of nerd laughter. Entertaining guy. One of the first questions posed to Danny McBride when he joined us later concerned the film's nod to herbage. "Weed is not in the film too much," McBride replied, flatly contradicting what we had just seen." You know, [my character] Thadeous just likes to butt-fuck girls and drink a lot. And he likes to smoke. That's just part of his deal. At the beginning of the film, weed is one of his indulgences."
"Your Highness is one of those movies," McBride said, "where, once shit hits the fan, it becomes life and death. But it's definitely out there. We smoke weed with a wizard that looks like a puppet from The Dark Crystal." What other creatures inhabited the world-building on the Ireland sets and evergreen locations around us? "There's fairies, there's trolls, weird little elves... a lot of dwarfs. In the beginning of the film, Thadeous is getting ready to be hung because he butt-fucked a dwarf king's wife. And he, uh, that was one of the most amazing days of filming. We're walking around, and we had the real throne from Willow. And little people were walking around, being funny. They were amazing. They amped it big time. And the Dwarf Olympics were happening here the same week. So, all through town, all the hotels, there are all of these dwarf athletes getting hammered and falling off stools."
"Like a fucked-up Oz," someone piped up smartly. "Yep," said McBride. "'Over the Rainbow,' I was just about to say that."As it happens, the future would hold more interactions for the last cast with the wee people. Last summer, when I visited the Puerto Rico set of Eastbound & Down: Season Dos, I learned that former Tim Burton Oompa-Loompa, Deep Roy, had been cast as an aggro henchman named Aaron. And bringing it full circle, just last week it was announced that slanted-eyed Your Highness actor, James Franco, will play the eponymous character in Sam Raimi's 2013 prequel to The Wizard of Oz. "That opening scene of Danny being chased by 32 dwarfs is an incredible image," said director David Gordon Green. "And it makes you smile. But it's never condescending." Green said the vengeful dwarf sequence typified how his vision purposely avoided plunging into broad satire. "Some of the gags, the violence in the film, it's over-the-top, you know? I mean, [a character] punches through a dude's stomach at one point and his fist comes out the guy's back. But within the world we're creating, there's a tone... I feel like I was having the same conversation eight months ago with the studio [laughs]. A lot of 'You know's?!' and the studio is like, 'No, we don't know.' Our tone never makes fun of the fantasy world. I would debate whether the film is approached as a comedy at all. It's a very funny movie, but we're approaching it as a fantasy adventure film. I think the second you start feelin' a little winky-winky, then it turns into... well, who are those guys who make all of those movies that are 'winky-winky?'"
"We literally walked in the first day," McBride said, and announced the film as, "This is Krull meets Barry Lyndon. And [the studio execs] just stopped. They were like, 'Don't ever phrase this movie like that ever again'[laughs]."
I asked McBride if the relationship and comedic dynamic between his druggy Thadeous and his more responsible brother, Franco's Fabious, were similar to _EB&D'_s Kenny Powers and his older brother Dustin.. "I don't have a brother in real life so there's no drawing from personal experience. Fabious and Thadeous are raised as princes by their father. Fabious was first born, everyone digs him, and Thadeous is jealous, so he doesn't attempt to help the kingdom. Their mother died when they were both young. That tragedy is a bonding point--and causes Thadeous to act out. Their father views sending Thadeous on a quest as a way for him to grow some nuts."
Along the way the brotherly duo are joined Golden Axe_-style by Isabel (Natalie Portman), a warrior-for-hire with a bow-and-arrow and a fawned over ass. "This is a love letter to all of the films like that. I mean, you guys grew up with the same shit. It's all the stuff that blew my mind when I was a kid: _Conan the Barbarian, Beastmaster, Deathstalker. It's cool to have the experience of making this type of movie, where you come to work and you gotta get blood on you and you carry a sword around and get used to using it. Fuckin' wearing armor every day. I remember when I used to wear an apron working at Crocodile Cafe. This is a step up."
Green elaborated on how they balanced anachronism: "Early on, the conversations Danny and I had were, like, if you're going to use contemporary vulgarity--this film is not like 1492 where we adhere to a specific period. We want it to be a generalized sandbox of Ye Olden Times, where it's King Arthur one minute, Amadeus the next. We're trying to find that line of, 'Did they talk about blowjobs in this time period? In this world where there are two moons: Is blowjobs something we can get away with [laughs]? But, you know, no one's trying to have a pizza party or anything."
The scenes they were filming this day involved a magical and villainous confrontation in the good guys' kingdom. Under the white set lights, surrounded by castle walls and pageantry built to scale, there was an electric A-game charge. The vibe was that of "Hey, grab a coffee, a pastry, and casually walk up these winding steps: that's where virgins may or may not be diddled and sacrificed." The dudes had fulfilled the dream.
Compared to the productions of Eastbound and his signature indie works where he pals around with a micro-crew, here Green was constantly zooming this way and that, surrounded by dozens. This was a much more challenging and complex film to make than Pineapple Express and he presented it on set as an open book. "I feel like we found just the right arena, where people are like, 'OK, go do your thing and we're not gonna bother you. Which is exactly where I want to be. I'd stress out if I was making a movie by committee or in the assembly line of what the industry can dictate. I just assumed, you know, that certain directors were born with the know how to do these big films. But not everyone knows how to do all that stuff out of the gate. What is helpful to me is having smart, understanding, non-condescending department heads." Green prepped in advance by consulting several filmmakers skilled with technical and effects-heavy work. "We spent an afternoon at Guillermo del Toro's house," said Green, "going through cocks [for the film's minotaur] and artwork. Specifically, he opened up a vault of Richard Corben art. That's exactly the reference point we want--his work: angry, funny, and provocative."
Before the visit was over, I witnessed my first minotaur cock and disembodied head in action. Spectral Motion, the team of make-up artists and sculptors Del Toro took on for Hellboy II, had a separate hangar. A stockade of customized weapons were sorted on the floor, including a "Cobra Shield" and a blade welded into a demonic vertebrae handle. A "Unicorn Sword" was mentioned in hushed tones. And a hairy, horned animatronic minotaur head was in the middle of the room, bordered by rows of spears and quivers.
Spectral Motion's Larry Odien and Mario Torres Jr. stood over the head and began to make its wrinkled face expressive with a remote control. Its snout and eyes were dewy and its mouth had gnarly black deposits in the teeth. I was more drawn to the room's blue robo-bird with beady red eyes. Its name here and in the movie was Simon. Its design was a cross between Bubo the Owl in 1981's Clash of the Titans and the spooky-fake crows in Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" video. Another creature further exemplifying the unusual and fresh collision of references--whether intended or unconscious--was seen in illustrated form and presumably CGI-based. The sketch depicted a monstrous predator shaped like a hand, like the classic Santa Cruz screaming hand logo but with fanged serpents for digits. It appeared to launch itself from beneath the ground a la Tremors.
There was an ongoing, muffled back-forth between Green and McBride (read: it didn't seem totally for show) over showing some raw test footage for the film. When McBride won out--it was his day off after all--he lead us down a dark corridor. In a room at the end of the hall, he flipped on a monitor and stood by to closely gauge reactions. A shot of Thadeous screaming, "White people! I knew it!" to the unsympathetic hills was followed by a _Powder_-white tribe closing in. A separate scene had Thadeous in a suit of armor boasting of his pedigree-o-quest before, in the grand tradition and execution of comedy-fat masters, tumbling down some steps. There was blood. The capper was a scrappy test edit of the minotaur attack on Thadeous and Portman's Isabel, its dong bathed beautifully in torch light and dungeon shadow.
Inevitably, the MPAA was brought up. "We figured Jody Hill paved the way for more cock on film with Observe & Report," said McBride. "Somebody has to." Two details in the blitz of footage sidetracked me. Both were in a sequence in which McBride pranced around, made up in rouge cheeks and a pompous powdered wig. I knew the cast was rounded out with British thesps, but I hadn't anticipated McBride speaking with a Brit accent in Your Highness or, well, ever. Moreover, it wasn't shitty. Thadeous wasn't Kenny Powers or Fred Simmons with a plopped-on crown, or worst case of all, a time-plopped King Ralph. "We all speak in accents," said McBride. "Watching these old fantasy films, there are a lot of shitty accents. Like Matthew Broderick in Ladyhawke, he has an English accent for, like, the first scene. So, we embraced that. At least everyone's accent is consistently bad, which is good."
Unfortunately, the music backing the tidy Amadeus sequence was a contemporary R&B track. If selected for mainstream yuks, it didn't mesh. Knowing Green felt the footage didn't do the film justice, I decided to ask him what the deal was. "That was just an editor fuckin' around," he said, dismissing it as a temp track. "Our inspiration music is mostly metal, that and heavy metal album covers. We've been playing a lot of Manowar on this set. And Saxon." I was reminded of the screenplay's opening description. It read: "TITLE RISES IN GOTHIC, GOLD, IRON MAIDEN FONT: YOUR HIGHNESS."
Click here for last week's Sneak Peeks, and check back next week for more Your Highness doobery when we meet James Franco.