Director David Gordon Green didn’t show up at SXSW today specifically to talk about his upcoming medieval film with Danny McBride, but he’s so excited about the project he spent a lot of time talking about Your Highness anyway. And here’s the thing: Whatever you think it is, you’re probably wrong.
According to Greene, it’s not the parody-like comedy we’ve all sort of assumed it was. Even some of his British actors had the movie all wrong. He says, “I think they thought they were doing like the Holy Grail, they thought it was a spoof. We didn’t make a spoof. We made an adventure, a medieval, early 80s adventure, sword and sorcery film. So it was not Lord of the Rings. When you reference Krull to an actor, they don’t really… Beastmaster they’re not really… you know.”
That’s right, Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, and Zooey Deschanel are about to star in a movie that’s basically Krull… with puppets. Green explains: “It’s got so many different elements working, from puppets to guys in suits that can’t breathe.”
I thought Krull was a punchline, not a cultural touchstone? But Green has other ideas. Ideas which do not include a script. In fact he wants nothing to do with scripts and Your Highness was shot without one. Green explains, “I just don’t really, I never bring scripts to set and I don’t really care about them. If they get my movie financed and if AD thinks it’s an agreeable schedule, well then I don’t need them. I know what the scene kind of needs to do and if I have the actors that embrace that, then we just improv. I do that if I’m making a $40,000 movie or a $50 million movie.”
Green has fallen in with the Judd Apatow crowd so you might expect that his comedies would contain a lot of improv. But the way he describes it, they don’t just contain a lot, they’re all improv. Even Apatow usually does at least one take from the script. Green doesn’t even have the script. What’s more, he does this on every movie. Not just his comedies. He says, “I’ve done all my dramas the same way. Typically there’s enough of an understanding or there’s a memory of what the script is that a lot of it is there, but you could hold any script I’ve done up to the light based on the final product of the movie and there’s 15% of what’s there in terms of words or dialogue. I don’t need things to sound writerly. That’s not something I’m drawn to as an audience in a movie. I watch certain actors and be like, yeah you won an Oscar but you look like you rehearsed it for two days in a mirror and that’s boring. I need the imperfections of speech. The people that don’t know what we’re gonna say next. The good thing about having a bigger budget and more film stock to burn is I’ve been doing a lot more kind of cross camera scene so you can genuinely improv and not have somebody taking notes and then recreate an improv…. I’d rather have them not know what they’re gonna say so you have to really listen.”
It sounds like he’s taking Judd’s methods to an entirely new unheard of level. In fact, he took it so far that some of those aforementioned British actors just couldn’t stomach it. Green explains, “We had all these fantastic British thespians that were from the stage in London and thought we were fuckin retarded. They were scratching their heads every day being like, why did I agree to do this. “ That was fine by him. He says, “Them actually being frustrated by the things Danny was saying is perfect, because they don’t know how to respond.” Some simply weren’t able to handle it though. In particular, venerable Brit actor Charles Nance. Says Green, “He would just be like, ‘cut, I’m not going where you’re going.’ "
The question is, are audiences willing to go where he’s going? His extreme improv technique earned box office success for Pineapple Express, but will he be able to pull it off while also attempting to revitalize the infinitely cheesy,80s sword and sorcery genre? I don’t know, but at least he’s not making Black Knight. Succeed or fail, Your Highness sounds like something we haven’t seen anywhere before.