“Arizona” is a pitch-black comedy that is the perfect antidote to late-summer box office slog: an unpredictable and nasty slice of life set in a nearly desolate Harding, Arizona, it concerns desperate people on the verge of losing their homes thanks to the housing bubble collapse of 2009. What starts as a quirky caper about Sonny (Danny McBride) trying to cover up an accidental murder soon descends into a bloody mess. Sonny quickly gets in too deep as he kidnaps Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), who witnesses the death, and tangles with host of other oddballs, played by comedy ringers such as Luke Wilson, David Alan Grier, and Kaitlin Olson. Despite a rising body count thanks to an unhinged Sonny, McBride was inspired to take on a challenging role, and achieved the perfect tone thanks to the help of some trusted collaborators.
Finding the humanity in a character like Sonny was a priority, since the role could so easily descend into cartoonish chaos, McBride said in an interview this week. “I don’t like to watch a movie where instantly I know that ‘this is the guy who’s unlucky in love and has a heart of gold, and once he meets the right girl that’s the person who will believe in him,'” he said. “I like when it’s messier than that because that’s more reflective of what life is like. People that we believe in disappoint us and people that we hate can surprise us.” McBride, of course, is best known for the self-involved Kenny Powers on HBO’s “Eastbound & Down,” and he knows his niche. “I like the characters that are being villains but there’s something about them that you can kind of relate to, by understanding that this is where this person has gone astray,” he said. “It’s a different sort of mirror to force the audience to look at and find out strange things about their own personalities.”
From there, McBride felt comfortable collaborating with first-time director Jonathan Watson, who had worked with him on “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals” as the assistant and second unit director.
“He had worked with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on a bunch of stuff so he came highly recommended,” McBride said. “He’s as kind as can be, funny as fuck, and has worked on everything. He operates the same way I do: No matter how stressful things get on set, I like to keep it light and keep things happy and fun, and know that at the end of the day, no matter what a pain in the ass the grinds of production can be, you’re pretty fucking lucky to be able to be on a movie set making something.”
One special element that added shine to the project was — spoiler alert! — an uncredited cameo from Rogen as Sonny’s first victim, who McBride said added to the community vibe after they collaborated on several projects together (including “Pineapple Express,” “This Is the End,” and more).
“Seth is just one of the first guys that I even met in this industry,” McBride said. “So I feel like I’ve always admired the path that he’s carved for himself, and he’s just a nice guy on top of it. If I met him outside the film industry, I still would want to hang out with him. He’s just a good dude.”
McBride, who runs the production company Rough House Productions with David Gordon Green and Jody Hill, said he has grown used to keeping familiar faces around. “I work with a lot of guys that I’ve known since my freshman year of college, and the thing that makes whatever we work on different is that everyone who works on it as friends,” he said. “It was definitely a family vibe. People are kind to each other and want to help each other out and encourage each other. So when you meet guys like Seth who have the same sensibility — Seth works with so many of his buddies that he’s known forever — there seems to be a bit of simpatico sort of vibe there.”
“Arizona” debuts in theaters, on VOD, and Digital HD on August 24. Watch the trailer below: