Righteous Gemstones creator Danny McBride shares first look at 'nastier and crazier' season 2
The Righteous Gemstones
Hallelujah — our prayers for a first look at season 2 of The Righteous Gemstones have finally been answered.
In an exclusive preview of the long-awaited return of the HBO comedy, creator and star Danny McBride is sharing new details on the "bigger, nastier, and crazier" adventure that awaits this winter. (The new Gemstones episodes will arrive more than two years after the October 2019 season 1 finale, so here's a refresher on where we left this holy family.)
To hold you over until then, McBride discusses why COVID led him to rewrite season 2 and cancel a planned holiday special, how the Gemstones have been holding up, and what to expect from new additions Eric Roberts, Jason Schwartzman, and Eric Andre.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we talked was for the season 1 finale, and here we are two years later and we're still patiently waiting for more Gemstones! How close were you to starting season 2 when COVID hit?
DANNY MCBRIDE: We were shooting, it was our third day of production. We were watching the news and we didn't know how real — or not real — it was going to be. I think the day we shut down was the same day that Tom Hanks was diagnosed and the NBA shut down. It all became very real, real quick, like, "S‑‑‑, Tom Hanks has it! F‑‑‑, the world is ending!"
Had you already written the entire season by that point?
Yeah, we had written the whole season, because we started writing when we were in post on the first season and had written all through the holidays, into the beginning of the new year. So the season was finished, we were ready to go, and then once COVID came I was just benched and sitting on my ass in my house for several months, so it was impossible to not open those scripts back up again. And then the moment I did I basically rewrote the entire season. So you have not had Gemstones, but I've had more than enough f‑‑‑ing Gemstones. [Laughs]
Were those changes pandemic-specific? Or more about just going in different directions with certain story lines?
It was really non-pandemic. We address the pandemic in very small ways, but we just figured that we're trying to entertain and the last thing people are going to want to do is just keep being reminded about this f‑‑‑ing last s‑‑‑‑y year. At first I just put my pen down and braced for whatever was to come, just like everybody else was, and I stopped working altogether and used the time to focus on spending it with my family and completely unplugging from the world. And then once I got tired of that, I started reading those scripts again, and as far as deadlines go for me, I'm finished when we're done shooting; I can always try to improve or reinvent things. So with this, I opened it up and there were so many things that suddenly started coming to my head that I thought might be more efficient, or story lines that I felt like at the end of the day weren't adding up. I got a little document together and hit up my other cohorts and went, "I want to open these scripts up and really make some big changes. What do you think?" And we all were on the same page with it, so then I went to HBO and said, "Listen, I'm just going to continue writing since we're sitting at home and there's stuff I want to change in a big way about this season," and they trusted me.
When did you finally restart production?
We started in March of this year, so we've been shooting for almost seven months now. It's been totally insane. Everyone is just trying to figure out how you get through this and keep the set safe and what you can do to minimize your exposure, so one of the techniques that our production chose was trying to keep people on set for less amounts of time. So we adapted this 10-hour workday, and that's not usually how we shoot at all, so our whole schedule was a lot longer than it normally is. But at the end of the day it was good, and we've been really lucky, we've been shooting for seven months and we never had to shut down and we kept things safe. So it's been a feat. We have one week left of shooting, so knock on wood that we can finish this sucker up.
Since it's been so long, I rewatched the season 1 finale ahead of talking to you, and Jesse demanding all the possible vaccines — including for AIDS — hits different now. He was wanting them before it was cool!
He just had the wrong idea of what you need to get vaccinated for. [Laughs] But the thought was there.
What will the state of the Gemstone family be at the start of season 2?
Things pick up an unspecified amount of time later, and we find the Gemstones in a pretty awesome place. I feel like the Gemstones have more to do with a massive corporation than they actually have to do with most Christians, and so like many corporations, COVID was very kind to the Gemstones. They were able to deliver to the world a streaming service that allowed people to stay at home and watch Gemstone broadcasts. So while everyone around them suffered, they're in a better position than they've ever been in before.
Let's run through the family and see what is up with everyone: We last saw Amber (Cassidy Freeman) kicking Jesse (McBride) and Gideon (Syler Gisondo) out for their various misdeeds, and father and son soon reunited in Haiti. What are those dynamics like when we return?
I actually had written a Christmas special that was going to fill in the blanks of what happened in Haiti. When we realized that the season was going to be sidelined for last year, we thought that maybe we'd be able to come back and pull off an hour episode. HBO okayed that, and I sat down and wrote this 120-page script about what happened with Jesse and Gideon in Haiti, and then all of our [COVID] numbers started going through the roof in South Carolina right when we were going to shoot that, so we never did it. So I know what happened in Haiti but the rest of the world will never know! But we pick up after that, and Jesse has convinced his son to come back and things are good in Jesse's family. He's won the respect and admiration and trust of his wife back, and we find them in a better place as a family than when they were at the beginning of last season.
How about Kelvin (Adam Devine) and Keefe (Tony Cavalero)? Kelvin saved Keefe from becoming the Baby again, which was still as wild to watch today as it was two years ago.
If you thought the milk bath was weird, the s‑‑‑ they're up to this season is far stranger. [Laughs] They have aligned, and following Kelvin's messiah complex, he has developed a new worship crew called the Kelvin Gemstone God Squad. He's recruited a bunch of musclemen, and they all work out together and praise the Lord together. So he's sort of created a muscleman army that he's housing and training.
Shortly following an epic monologue at Outback Steakhouse about Dr. Warren Carmichael, Judy (Edi Patterson) and B.J. (Tim Baltz) got back together in the season 1 finale. What can we expect now that these two are closer than ever?
Judy and B.J. are now happily married, but we find out that they have eloped, and that is a little bit of a snag with the family. Some people are rubbed wrong by that, and it doesn't do anything to ingratiate B.J. into the Gemstone clan.
How about Eli (John Goodman)? He forgave his kids for their betrayals but said he'd never forget what they did.
Eli is who we do our deep dive on this season. The story really involves Eli and a little bit more of Eli's history and where he comes from. One of the more exciting parts of this season is we really play with the idea of expanding the Gemstone mythology and the background of how this family came to be and the humble roots that Eli overcame to build this empire. The audience is going to learn a lot more about Eli and who he was.
Last season, the deep dive into the past featured a lot of Baby Billy (Walton Goggins). In the finale, he died — and then lived. And of course, being Baby Billy, he then started up his own traveling church, for a slight profit.
I won't ruin it for you, but Baby Billy definitely comes back with a bang this year. Like Eli, Baby Billy is a man who has some things that he has to face from his past, as much as he would prefer not to. It was awesome to have Walton back, and the stuff he gets up to this season is too much fun.
Moving over to the exciting new additions, Eric Andre comes aboard as Lyle Lissons, a megachurch pastor from Texas. I mean, I think I've already watched Bad Trip like four times…
It's so good. Eric is incredible. I've been a big fan of his for a while and like you, I thought Bad Trip was so f‑‑‑ing entertaining and inventive. Eric plays a megachurch pastor from Texas who has the same thing going on as the Gemstones. And Jesse and him become quick friends because both of them are wanting to take the reins from their old man and lead the church, thinking they have better ideas than the other generation does. So Jesse finds a fast friend in Lyle Lissons [pictured below, with wife Lindy Lissons, played by Jessica Lowe].
And Jason Schwartzman is playing a journalist named Thaniel, right?
Yeah, he's a journalist. At the start of the season we find out that there's another megachurch family that goes down in smoke due to some illicit behavior that is exposed by Jason's character. It turns out he has a vendetta against hypocritical evangelical preachers, so he's coming after some people in this field and trying to expose the truth about their backgrounds. And the Gemstones end up finding themselves in his crosshairs.
Lastly, Eric Roberts. Is his character, Junior, tied into that Eli story line?
Exactly. Eric Roberts is awesome, we had such a great time with him. He's tied into Eli's background and where Eli comes from. He's a face from the past who ends up mixing with the present, to a little controversy.
We've still got a bit of a wait before the Gemstones return to our lives, so what would be your final tease to hold fans over?
This thing has been such a treat to write, and it probably kept me sane during quarantine. It was cool to be able to go and really blow this world up and make it bigger, nastier, and crazier. When we go through what we've shot so far, and we did it all under COVID, where you can only have like 100 extras at most a day, it's just mind-blowing what we were able to get away with — and what HBO let us get away with.
The Righteous Gemstones
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