For Danny McBride, being asked to join the cast of “Alien: Covenant” was a long-cherished nightmare come true.
“It was just surreal,” says the 40-year-old actor and screenwriter, who’s best known for rude, energetic comedy roles on HBO’s “Eastbound & Down” and “Vice Principals” and in such movies as “Pineapple Express,” “This Is the End” and “Your Highness.” “The chance to work with someone like [director] Ridley Scott on a franchise he started, it was just mind-boggling.”
Scott’s second prequel to his 1979 space horror masterpiece takes place 10 years after “Prometheus” (2012), with McBride’s character Tennessee piloting the planet colonizing ship Covenant to a new world. An accident and strange signals detour the vessel to a different, deceptively Earthlike planet, and while other members of the crew — played by the likes of Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, “Prometheus” returnee Michael Fassbender and Amy Seimetz as the wife of McBride’s character — shuttle down to investigate and, mostly, die, an increasingly agitated Tennessee stays at the orbiting helm.
Until he can’t help doing something about the carnage below, that is.
Although Scott initially told McBride that Tennessee should be modeled on Slim Pickens’ A-bomb riding lunatic from Stanley Kubrick’s classic doomsday farce “Dr. Strangelove,” the actor says that just extended as far as choosing a properly distressed cowboy hat.
“Initially, I had no idea what Ridley wanted me to be in this film,” McBride confesses. “I thought I might be comic relief, but when I read the script I was really stoked to be given the opportunity to do something different than what I’ve done in other films, tackle heavier things. It was a cool opportunity to be in a film where I don’t have to do a lot of dancing around and just make jokes. I got to do real stuff!”
McBride says he never intended to become an actor, comic or otherwise.
“I went to film school and studied there to be a director,” the North Carolina School of the Arts alum says. “I just kind of fell into acting there because we didn’t know any actors and just put each other into our student films. Jody Hill [who went on to create “Vice Principals” and “Eastbound”] and [“Pineapple,” “Highness” director] David Green both cast me in their films, and my career kind of kicked off because of those two guys.”
Regardless, McBride hopes some drama directors catch his “Covenant” turn and consider working with him in the future. Or that Scott might again, too, considering that Tennessee doesn’t get to do as much alien-fighting as the others.
Which McBride had no problem with at all.
“I mean, did you see what happened to those people?” he asks with a laugh. “No, I never wanted to fight those things! I was totally at ease being up on that ship and in one piece.”
Contact Bob Strauss at firstname.lastname@example.org or @bscritic on Twitter.