And then I met Judd Apatow on the set of “Knocked Up." He invited me out there to spend the day because he had heard that I was thinking of trying something different. I was watching his process and actually relating to his techniques that he was using in comedies, which was exactly how I employed in dramas in terms of two cameras and improvisation. So he talked about his process and I talked about mine.
After that meeting, he talked to Seth [Rogen] and told them I wanted to do a comedy. He threw him the script “Pineapple Express” and said let’s get on board. There was no big pitch. It was just a matter of having some very supportive and powerful friends letting me into the club.
Were you confident you could pull it off?
I’m wary about everything I ever do. If I’m not wary, then I don’t do it. I was very confident that I knew that I could get something very funny out of Seth. And knowing I had a secret weapon in James Franco because nobody at that point knew how hilarious he was.
My only rule from the studio was to have enough weed smoking in the movie that I could sell it as a weed movie. From then on it was awesome. They were just really supportive. What went from a very insecure place went to a very exciting place. As we started, we became absolutely confident.
It’s funny because I spoke with your friend Jeff Nichols prior to his film "Take Shelter" opening and he said your move to comedies didn’t catch him by surprise.
Yeah, because he knows me from my school days. Jeff was a guy I had come to my first “Pineapple” test screenings to watch in an audience with me. I needed to have somebody from a very stable, core part of the group who wasn’t involved in the movie to watch it with me.
What did it feel like to have a commercial (and mildly critical) success?
I don’t know that critics liked it (laughs).
Some did, but it was not critically acclaimed. That’s when I stopped reading reviews. I knew there were not-so-kind things being said. I kind of realized, if I’m satisfied and I’m happy and I’m in a good mental space, then I’m making the right choices.
It feels great to have an audience love a movie. It feels great to have your phone start ringing about all the projects you want to make. That’s why a film like “Your Highness” gets made. People say, “What do you want to do next? You just made us $100 million on this movie. Let’s go!” You become a winning racehorse and so people want to bet on you.
You take the leap that is the most ambitious, imaginable, risk that you can take.
And that was “Your Highness”?
You’ve worked with Terrence Malick, who executive produced and wrote the story for “Undertow.” Has he seen any of your comedies?
You know what? I got a funny phone call not long ago from his assistant saying, "Terry’s busy right now but he’s been talking about “Eastbound & Down” and he wanted to let you know how much he likes the show." So that was cool. I haven’t talked to him in a couple of years, so I don’t know if he’s watched my recent films. But I know that he watches that, which is pretty awesome.
I really respect his comedic talents and the movies he wrote like “The Gravy Train,” which I played at BAM a couple of years ago. He’s got a wicked sense of humor underneath that poetic skin.
Critics were quick to compare you to Malick back when you were starting out. That must have been daunting. Especially so early in your career.
It’s tough. On the one hand, that’s exactly the company you want to keep so it’s a dream come true. But it also gives you an expectation that you’re not going to live up to, so it sets the bar too high. You’re not going to make anybody happy because you’re not going to be him. If there was ever a conscious decision, it was that I need to make something that is funny and fun and shows people that I’m not doing the same movie over and over again.
That’s kind of one of the reasons I’ve gravitated towards not reading so much. It’s a funny thing to think about in terms of the box office of my movies. The first four films made under $1 million combined. “Pineapple Express,” the opening Tuesday night at midnight made more money than all those combined during their entire lives. It’s a strange thing to think of what you’re looking for and what you’re searching for in that moment. That was very gratifying, but it was also very depressing.
It was like, "Okay, great. I have a strangely successful movie under my belt, where is the audiences for those other movies?" That was at a time I was really heartbroken that those other movies hadn’t succeeded. It’s only once I started making comedies that people started looking at those movies. In a weird way, people are commenting and shooting me down for making these movies now and the only reason people have fucking heard of them is because of what I’m making right now (laughs).
It’s all part of a master plan.
It’s definitely a strange unfolding flower. People will come up to me now, like 19-year-olds, talking about my early films. And they know me because of my recent films. So they’ve used that to research another era of my career. Hopefully I’ll have the next era of my career beginning shortly. I always want to try new things.
About this next era. What can you tell me about your adaptation of the romance novel "Q"? It will mark your first published screenplay since “Undertow.”
Yeah, I’ve written some [screenplays] that haven’t been made, and I’ve written some that have been made that I’ve taken my name off of.
Can you hint at what they are?
No, they’re my strange secrets. They’re not movies I directed, obviously.
“Q” is a pretty witty book, but I’m making a very dramatic science fiction movie out of it. It’s about a guy that is visited by a 60-year-old version of himself that gives him a bit of advice. The concept of the book, which is not a secret, is that the woman of your life -- you need to leave her before you ruin each other. So it’s a guy, wanting to basically save the love of his life by walking away from her. So it becomes a really interesting naturalistic science fiction movie, set in New York with really grounded characters.
It’s not like a time-travel movie, but it deals with time travel. It’s not technical, but very intimate.
When you said naturalistic, I was immediately brought back to your earlier work.
Definitely. But at the same time it’s something that’s universal. It’s not an indie movie. It’s something that I’m developing with Sony that I want to be a great, big love story. Which would be fun. There are not a lot of ones out there.
For more from David Gordon Green, check out The Playlist's interview here.