Do you ever feel like you need to reassure people that you're not actually like Kenny Powers in real life?
I don't feel like I have to do prove myself to anybody, but just how I function in my regular life, when people start talking to me, they realize I'm just not the same guy -- as disappointing as that might be for some. [laughs]
And yet you've definitely got a knack for playing people who are hard to like. Kenny Powers isn't so different from Fred Simmons, your character in "The Foot Fist Way."
Yeah, it definitely sprung from "Foot Fist Way." It wasn't like up until that point Jody and I had only written about anti-heroes. That was sort of a new concept that Jody and I, when we started writing it, hadn't been reflected in the other stuff we had worked on individually at that point. As we started writing that character, his confidence started to be something that we were really digging at.
Obviously, I'm playing the guy, so he's not going to be good at martial arts. I'm not in shape, I'm not good-looking, and so this dichotomy started coming out of it where we had this guy who was just full of fucking hot air and being an asshole to everyone. Creatively, we started to really get into it.
At the end of the day, it's not just about this guy being a son of a bitch; it's about something deeper. I think we just started to scrape the surface with "Foot Fist Way." We only had like three weeks to shoot that. When it was done, Jody and I were like, "We want more of that."
We thought about it. Was it a movie? Well, an hour and a half movie with that character would follow all the same beats as "Foot Fist Way." It'll just be a different dressing of the same guy. With a TV series, we could really stretch this out to get a better understanding of the guy.
Which is still a pretty radical concept.
Everybody didn't get it at first. During the first season, when you're still getting to know Kenny Powers, it's a pretty fucked up character saying some pretty fucked up things. Even when we were showing it to HBO at the beginning, when those first few episodes came in, it was like radio silence from them for a few days.
They were basically like, "What the fuck have we let these guys do? They've created this character who's such a cocksucker; nobody's gonna watch this." Then as we delivered more episodes they started to get that that was the point. You have to start at one point and it's all about breaking him down.
It's a double-edged sword. If you do a character that resonates enough, people are always going to see you as that character. It will just be up to me to make choices where I can flex other muscles. But for me, personally, I didn't have any ambitions to become an actor. I'm interested in getting behind the camera. I'll still try to nail acting jobs, but with "Eastbound," creating it is what gives me the ultimate pleasure at the end of the day.
I haven't seen the finale because HBO hasn't been showing it to anyone in advance. So my big theory is that you've decided to kill off Kenny Powers.
You never know. He could die.
There is this sense that anything can happen on "Eastbound" because you don't always go for the easy jokes.
We rarely waste time writing punchlines or finding a comedic rhythm to scenes. We really do approach it as a drama when we write it; just knowing how Kenny Powers will deal with these situations allows us to find the humor in it. But we treat it as something serious and allow the character unravel.
Clearly you have figured out a good process. Why stop now?
This is a character we'd love to put on the back burner. Maybe years from now you'd love to see him again. A character like Kenny, no matter what point he's at in life, he'll always be entertaining. We feel like we've told the story we want to tell. Is it the last story we want to tell with Kenny? I don't know. I do know that both of us are excited to go write new jokes that don't deal with dudes who have mullets. But that's not to say that we'll never, ever come back to visit Kenny in any form.
Okay, now it sounds like you're saying "Eastbound" is definitely over.
[laughs] Well, it could be, yeah. I'm not feeding any line. It's something where me and Jody said, "Hey, if there's still interest in this character five years from now, and we had a cool angle, maybe we'll do something." But for now we feel like we've accomplished what we want to do. We have ideas for how we'd continue Kenny's story, but each season is a year of our professional lives. We're just excited about the idea of telling other stories. It's not like we're walking away with a bitter taste in our mouths. Creatively, there's just other stuff we'd like to do now.