Made by Danny McBride, HBO series The righteous gems continues to follow the televangelist Gemstone family and their internal struggle over which of them should take over the mega-church from family patriarch Eli (John Goodman). Always threatened by outsiders who want to destroy their empire, a mysterious figure from Eli’s past (Erik Roberts) with clearly questionable motives emerge, causing the Gems to wonder if he is friend or foe.
During this interview with Collider, executive producers and instructors David Gordon Green and Jody Hill talked about what they are most excited about with the second season, figuring out how to shoot during the pandemic, what Hill’s character Levi is up to, who they would consider the most insecure gem, how the muscle men became part of the season, and why this is a show they feel could continue for a while.
Collider: To start with the most important question, Jody, does your character have a fully planned story arc for the series? What’s his deal?
JODY HILL: I do not know. I’re personally pressed for a Levi’s spinoff show that’s kind of in the Gemstone world, but not really. It’s more about just Levi. No not really. I do not know.
Do you have conversations about what he wants to do, or do you just work with him where you can?
HILL: I’m showing up, and it’s a mixture of a little angry about it, Danny [McBride] have me to do and a little bit of embarrassment. If I had any hopes of looking cool and being cool on screen, they just get shattered every time I see a script.
It’s been a while since we’ve had time to see this family, and I’m so glad to have them back, but what are you most excited about that fans of the show get to see with season 2? Is there anything you are most excited about this second season?
DAVID GORDON GREEN: Jody and I talked about there being so much spectacle this season, from God Squad to Lissons and some really spectacular set pieces, but one of those things that we always tend to pull back to , is precisely the dynamics of this. family. That play is this bizarre, surrealistic backdrop for perhaps not the most relatable characters you’ve ever met, but you can channel an empathy or a connection to your own family dynamics or your own community or your own office space. It’s just about trying to make sure everyone’s connected. And so when we go to the stage and we have a great cast that could be two characters in a room with a disagreement or the whole family sitting in the steakhouse and eating Sunday lunch, it’s great to just know you have these characters who have a heartbeat behind the madness.
HILL: I agree. The scope is really exciting.
What was it like going through the whole experience of being shut down and not knowing if you would ever get into production on the second season, and then having to figure out how to navigate footage of a show during the pandemic? When you finally managed to show up the first day, do you appreciate everything so much more?
HILL: Yeah, we shot for two days, and then the pandemic shut us down. It was definitely scary. We did not know what would happen. When we heard we were going back, I had assumed we would be back at some point, we just did not know how long it would take. It is challenging to shoot during the pandemic. We have all these protocols in place, like tests, masks and all. It’s a bit of a drag, but you do what you have to do. So this season we took a really long time. HBO was kind enough to give us the resources we needed to cope. We shot a longer schedule with shorter days, which was actually quite nice. We shot 10-hour days. We were lucky that we were able to pull something out in this pandemic because I know a lot of things have just gone away.
Did it make the larger performance scenes more challenging to do with the logistics of all that?
HILL: Yes, for sure. We were not allowed to have so many extras this year. Even when we were allowed to have a certain capacity, like 175 or whatever it was, sometimes people just would not show up. We had to be pretty creative with some of our shots to make it work.
All of these characters have their own insecurities and problems. Who would you say is the most insecure gemstone?
GREEN: I might say BJ as he is just developing into the family and looking for acceptance and identity in the family.
How did the idea for what I call the muscle man farm come about?
GREEN: There were a lot of muscle men. Well, many of the influences from this show come from real life. There was a group that, when I was growing up and going to church in Texas, came through town ripping phone books and they were called the Power Team. There is the precedent that is undeniably entertaining. And then being able to make it a play in our narrative is just a perfect example of when absurdity meets academia. I’m really fascinated by the way Danny and the crew of writers have put together things that can work on multiple levels, that’s really interesting, or picked from a headline, or picked from real life, or a weird subculture, or group that, If you talk to certain people, they say, “Oh, yes, I remember that vaguely.” Much of it just triggers things from our childhood, or relationships with our siblings, or things that we learned not to do in Sunday school. It’s a lot of fun to be able to play with these themes in our absurd platform of gem jokes.
Have you had conversations or thought about how many seasons you want this program for? Do you have an endpoint that you are working towards, or do you not even hope to think about it for a while?
HILL: We’ve talked to Danny, and based on conversations, it looks like he wants it to last a while. There is no right end point right now. There’s an idea of where we end up, but there’s no reason to really slow down to make seasons. This is the first time that this has been the case with any of the shows we have done. Eastbound & Down and Vice principles had a set end goal in mind. I think this could stay for a while.
The righteous gems airs Sunday night on HBO and can be streamed on HBO Max.
McBride also talks about which of his former characters would survive the encounter with Michael Myers.
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