- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Danny R. McBride might be the next big thing in comedy.

He has roles in two of the summer’s most anticipated comedies, “Tropic Thunder” and “Pineapple Express.” He’s filming a movie with Will Ferrell right now. Then he’ll get back to work on a series for HBO, for which he’s both star and co-writer. Friday, he has his first starring feature role, in “The Foot Fist Way,” a martial-arts comedy he also co-wrote - and which has the honor of being the first film released by the production company owned by Mr. Ferrell and “Talledega Nights” director Adam McKay.

He even made an appearance on the MTV Video Awards Sunday night, cracking jokes alongside superstar Mr. Ferrell.

Mr. McBride, though, hasn’t let any of it go to his head.

He’s not too cool to send a shout-out to his hometown, for example.

“Tell everyone in Washington I said hello,” the genial 31-year-old says before signing off the telephone interview he’s doing between takes for the sci-fi TV remake “Land of the Lost.” He grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., and still splits his time between there and Los Angeles.

Maybe he doesn’t have the ego of a big actor because he never set out to become one. Mr. McBride majored in directing at the North Carolina School of the Arts, writing his own material. The college is a conservatory, but he says the drama teachers discouraged their acting students from working with the film students. “We had to act in each other’s films because we had nobody else,” he says.

Even after appearing in friends’ films, it never occurred to him that he had any acting talent. “They’re your friends; it seems like an easy audience,” he says, laughing. Then, years after he graduated in 1999, a former classmate had an actor drop out of a production just a few days before filming, and Mr. McBride stepped into the role, making his feature-film debut in David Gordon Green’s 2003 “All the Real Girls.”

Mr. Green is the acclaimed director of “George Washington” and this year’s “Snow Angels,” but Mr. McBride still didn’t think he should become an actor. “Jody thought otherwise,” he says. That’s Jody Hill, director of “The Foot Fist Way.” Like Mr. McBride and a third classmate, Ben Best, he also co-wrote and co-stars in the film.

Mr. McBride plays a strip-mall tae kwon do instructor struggling with his unruly students and a cheating wife. The raucous comedy, the toast of Sundance Film Festival a couple of years ago, was made in 19 days for just $70,000.

“When you have a lower budget, you can get away with more and try things,” Mr. McBride says. “That’s what people are responding to. It’s one person’s vision as opposed to comedy by committee.”

Mr. McBride, Mr. Hill and Mr. Best moved to Los Angeles after film school but found they were only making small steps toward their goals. So they went back to North Carolina and made a film the same way they had done it in school. “Everybody worked for free,” Mr. McBride says. “We pulled in a lot of favors from our friends who were talented to shoot and edit.”

When it caught the attention of comedy king Will Ferrell, he says, “We were just blown away.”

The audience at Sundance loved the film, but Mr. McBride said he and his friends weren’t trying to make a crowd-pleaser. “All the stuff we put in there was stuff we thought was funny,” he says. “We gravitate toward this awkward, very uncomfortable comedy.” Because they were playing the main characters themselves, they didn’t have to worry about trying to convince a studio or stars it was funny.

Most of the comedic influences Mr. McBride mentions come from funnymen he watched as a boy - “Saturday Night Live” stars Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi, Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray.

“Just the choices Bill Murray’s made through the years, the roles he’s played, I really dig that,” Mr. McBride says. His favorite films are ‘80s classics including “Caddyshack,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” “That was our Dr. Seuss,” he says.

“The Foot Fist Way” couldn’t have been made before the ‘00s, though. “In recent years, it’s skewed more toward darker, stranger comedies rooted more in reality,” he explains.

“It really turned into a calling card for us,” he says of the little movie that, before it even was released, landed him roles in “The Heartbreak Kid” and “Hot Rod.”

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