Danny McBride didn’t know how to throw a baseball when he started filming for the cult HBO comedy Eastbound & Down.
For the uninformed: McBride plays the salty-mouthed, mullet-wearing burned out pitcher many believe is modeled after notorious former Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker. I was lucky enough to snag an interview with McBride for ESPN The Magazine a few weeks ago. You can read it here. Lots of good material ended up not making the final print version—hey, no worries, it happens all the time—so in honor of the show’s Season 3 premiere tonight, I give you all kinds of extra goodies below, including the inside scoop on the sport McBride used to be something of a prodigy at, plus the truth about that John Rocker rumor. Enjoy.
How Danny McBride Learned How To Pitch
McBride trained with Heath Altman, who played Freddie Prinze Jr.’s rival in “Summer Catch” and who has worked with several major actors in baseball roles before. They trained for about half an hour to an hour a week out at UNC-Wilmington’s baseball fields.
The first day, McBride showed up wearing cutoff jean shorts. And not only did McBride not know how to throw—he didn’t know how to catch, either. When Altman tossed him a ball, McBride didn’t catch it; he slapped at it with his glove like a kid trying to kill a bee, swatting the thing to the ground.
“So we didn’t really throw much more that first session,” Altman said.
“It was just f***ing terrible,” McBride agreed.
First Altman just taught him how to set his feet and align his shoulders, then they worked on the leg lift and balance position. They didn’t make another throw that first session, which lasted about 45 minutes. “But he just did what I said,” Altman said.
They met once a week over the next five weeks before filming began for season one. Anytime they shot baseball scenes, Altman was there on set.
“He really got the leg kick down,” says Altman. “He could come set like a pro. His biggest challenge was the arm arc, getting that throwing motion and that release point just right. I’d constantly be behind him during scenes, ‘explode right here, get the arm out, full arm arc.’ He heard that a thousand times. But he got it and it would look right on camera.”
He didn’t even know to stand in front of, not on top of, the rubber. But lo and behold, the actor who once swatted a baseball grew into a pitcher who Altman said could truly throw.
“I’ve worked with several actors on baseball,” Altman said. “He’s by far the best one to work with. He’s been fantastic. He wanted to learn. … I give him all the credit in the world. He worked so hard until he got it down.”
McBride on Training
That McBride became the pitcher he did is impressive when you consider that, not all that shockingly, McBride told me he hates training for roles. For instance, when he wrote Your Highness, originally he included scenes of his character on horseback. Then he realized that meant he’d have to learn how to ride a horse. So he wrote all that stuff out. “I don’t, you know, like training too extensively,” he laughs. “I’m pretty lazy.”
McBride the Normal Dude
He laughed a lot during the interview. He was a funny guy. Is a funny guy. But what really stood out was that he seemed normal funny. You know? Just down to earth. And apparently—not to take away his whole vulgar shtick and all that, but—apparently he’s actually just a normal dude. I talked to Altman, too, who said, “He doesn’t cuss anywhere near as much in real life as on camera.”
Who Kenny Powers Is Based Off Of
“Man, I remember watching Major League as a kid and getting chills when Charlie Sheen would come out to ‘Wild Thing’,” McBride says. “I just thought that was the most badass thing in the world.”
People everywhere have their theories about who McBride used for inspiration when creating Kenny Powers. It’s not Vaughn, and it’s not even a real-life notorious closer, former Atlanta Brave John Rocker. Truth is—and I know, this isn’t fun for anybody, but—McBride and his cohort Jodie Hill actually didn’t really know John Rocker or Ricky Vaughn or anyone else at all. Instead, first they created Powers the character, this cocky athlete fallen from grace, then decided baseball made the best fit for his insanity.
“It’s always fun to play a character separated from reality in his way, that deals with things regular people don’t deal with,” McBride said. “Like in season two, when Kenny runs on the field with a gun, you’re in a real, packed stadium, and you get to see what it would be like to run out drunk with a gun.”
But of course, if Powers existed in real life, he’d likely be a Boston Red Sock.
McBride On The Red Sox “Scandal”
Interestingly enough, despite creating a show and character that seem destined to become a cult favorite like Major League, McBride isn’t a diehard baseball fan. He didn’t even hear about the Boston Red Sox “scandal,” in which during the team’s epic 2011 collapse some of their pitchers on game days ordered Popeye’s chicken, played video games and swilled beer.
“But that’s awesome,” McBride says, laughing. “Kenny Powers would have fit in nicely with that group.”
Danny McBride the Athletic Prodigy
Thing is, there once was a time when McBride himself was actually something of an athletic prodigy. Albeit a short-lived stint of prodigiousness, but a stint of prodigiousness nonetheless. By age 12, McBride had become really, really good at Ishinryu karate. So good that his sensei placed him in an advanced class with 16-and-17-year-olds. “So then I got my ass whupped by these guys,” McBride said. “So I wussed out.”
KF***ingP vs. Wild Thing
As for how McBride’s Powers stacks up against Sheen’s Vaughn, while McBride concedes that Vaughn’s haircut and Powers’ gnarly mullet are a tie, he says that with Powers returning to form in season three, Vaughn would have some serious competition on the mound. “And you know, KP has better vision than Ricky Vaughn,” McBride says.
And if they got in a fight? “I think we’ve seen that KP packs some heat, so I think he could handle his business.”