Created, written, and executive produced by Danny McBride, the HBO series The Righteous Gemstones continues to follow the televangelist Gemstone family and their internal struggle over which of them will get to take over the megachurch from family patriarch Eli (John Goodman). Always under threat by outsiders who wish to destroy their empire, a mysterious figure from Eli’s past (Eric Roberts) with clearly questionable motives shows up, making the Gemstones wonder whether he’s friend or foe.
During this interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, co-stars McBride (who plays eldest son Jesse Gemstone) and Cassidy Freeman (who plays Jesse’s wife Amber) talked about why this is a show that feels like it could continue indefinitely, expanding the series into a bigger and richer world, whether there’s anything they can’t get away with in their storytelling, and always playing each moment for truth. McBride also talked about which of his previous characters would survive Michael Myers and which wouldn’t if they were dropped into Haddonfield.
Collider: To start with a silly question, Danny, if you had to drop one of your previous characters into Haddonfield, who do you think would most likely survive Michael Myers, and who do you think would be the first to get killed off?
DANNY McBRIDE: That is a very good question. I feel like Kenny Powers might get killed by Michael Myers. I feel like he would overestimate his charisma and might get slashed. And I feel like Neal Gamby probably packs heat. He would probably be able to survive. That’s my guess.
That seems like a good assumption, on both accounts. Cassidy, you’ve covered both politics and religion in your recent work, between The Righteous Gemstones and The Forever Purge. How representative of America do you feel like each of those projects really is? Are there moments when things feel uncomfortably close to reality, in ways that you didn’t expect?
CASSIDY FREEMAN: Yeah. That’s a great question. Something that Danny’s been talking about a lot today, which I have really been enjoying listening to, is the similarity between corporate America and the Gemstones, and the bigger, the more, how far you go, and this need to continue growing and having more money and more things. That does feel very of this time. That has really spoken to me. We shot The Purge before the pandemic, and even though the whole idea of the border of Mexico being an issue, where maybe there was gonna be some construction, was on the table. It was before all of the disruption of 2020, which was not only a global pandemic, but also civil rights, social rights, and all of that. And so, it became more pertinent after the year when it actually came out. I think this happens a lot. Art imitates life and life imitates art, and we tend to be inspired by things that are happening around us, whether we’re really that aware of it or not.
Danny, Jody Hill told me that the creative team is pretty open to continuing this show for as long as possible. Unlike some of your other shows, where you knew where it was going to end, this show doesn’t quite feel like there’s that set endpoint that you’re working toward. Why do you think it is that this is a show that still has so much story to tell? Is it just that these characters are so insane and unbelievably fun that you could just go on forever?
McBRIDE: That’s definitely part of it. We could have all of these great ideas for the show, but then we’d get in here with a bunch of duds and be ready to finish it up. Definitely, we have such an incredible cast that it inspires me to want to create more and to push these actors into areas that they can’t see coming. It’s fun to do that. I feel like, by design, we tried to make it a richer, bigger world. Eastbound and Down was centered so much around Kenny, and then Vice Principles, we opened up a little bit more by making it this two-hander. I really wanted the opportunity to write for something that was just much larger and much bigger. Because of that and because of the way that these actors have brought these characters to life, it does add this level of richness that does feel like it would be fun to keep digging.
Cassidy, how does it feel to know that you’re on a show that could go on for awhile? Is this a character that you’re enjoying living with?
FREEMAN: A lot. It’s not just the character. I try to choose jobs where I know, if it goes for a long time, I won’t be sick of the character, but you can always spice that up. It’s the family that you’re in. Something that Danny said earlier, and that I’ve said before too and totally agree with, part of it is that you want people to be talented. You want them to be able to show up and be reliable. You also wanna like them as people because we do work really long hours and long months, and we’re together a lot and we have to be invested in each other’s lives. So, I would say, yes, I’d be super happy to ride this train as long as it’s gonna ride.
It’s been a while since we’ve gotten to see the Gemstone family. What are you guys most excited about with this season, with your characters’ relationship this season, and with this crazy, wacky family?
McBRIDE: As a writer on the show, I’m really excited about the audience seeing what other tricks this show has up its sleeve. From the very beginning of this first episode, we start to reveal a peak into this world that I don’t think people are gonna expect. That’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited about taking the audience on this journey and showing them more of what this show is capable of doing and what these crazy people are up to.
Is there anything that you can’t do on this show? With the murder mystery going on this season and the muscle man farm, which is how I keep referring to it . . .
McBRIDE: Muscle man farm. I like it.
FREEMAN: That’s the best way I’ve heard it described.
Is there anything this show can’t get away with doing?
McBRIDE: Maybe space travel? We might be pushing things too far. But who knows? By the third or fourth season, we could be on Mars. Who knows? What’s so funny is that, creating this show with all of these different voices and with Jody and David [Gordon Green], everybody has their own sensibilities. As we write the show, we love to write stuff that we know will speak to different creative minds, individually, and it does create this alchemy of this completely nuts canvas that goes from one thing to the next, bouncing all over the place. It’s by design and it’s to make Cassidy laugh when she reads the script, or make Jody laugh when he reads it, or David. It’s trying to hit all of these different sensibilities and make it feel like it was all planned that way.
Cassidy, you work with a lot of really funny people on this show, and you also have really funny moments on this show. When you’re working with people like that and you’re in the moment, does it feel like everybody is coming to it from the same place and that everyone just wants to make it the best that it can be, or does it feel like everyone approaches the comedy a little bit differently?
FREEMAN: I think everyone has such a different history with comedy and with their own experience in working. I haven’t had the ability to do a lot of comedy before this show, so this was a whole new playground for me that I was really stoked to be a part of. I think there are certain things that we all come to the table with, that make it work really well. One of them is supporting each other and not putting each other down, and having it be a really safe space to create and bring to the table what you want to bring to the table. And the other one is playing the moment for truth. Once you try to make something funny, it’s not funny. The things that really make me howl, and there are many a day, are when someone really comes to the table believing what they’re saying and the humanity of it. That’s what’s really funny. That’s written, and then it’s also brought to the table by this cast.
Danny, there’s more than one mention in these episodes of how emotionally cold Eli Gemstone is. Do you think that Eli loves his kids? Do you think he loves them equally? Does Jesse feel like he’s actually loved by his father?
McBRIDE: I do think Eli loves his kids, but I think that Eli is driven by growth. Eli came from nothing and the idea of building this empire is what fuels him. The casualty of that has been his closeness with his children. I think that Aimee-Leigh was better at balancing the two things, balancing growth and balancing nourishment, nurturing these kids. Now that she’s gone, that’s what Eli is lacking in. He’s just left with the growth and the business, and his kids still need that nurturing side. They still need someone who understands them, as broken and damaged as they are. That’s part of what Eli is facing. He’s been solely focused on one thing and he never realized how much work was happening behind the scenes to keep this family running.
I loved the whole “Bye, Felicia” moment that you have in this. It feels like the best use of a “Bye, Felicia” moment that I’ve seen. What was that like to do? How long has Jesse been waiting to use that?
McBRIDE: We like playing around with the concept that they’re not hip, so Jesse’s jokes are a little old. It was one of those things that just seemed so dumb on the page, and it was fun to portray that, and then have people getting really mad about having it said to them. Edi [Patterson]’s reaction and Adam [Devine]’s reaction to it just makes me laugh so much, with someone getting really mad about that. It’s just that perfect combination of being completely silly and earnest at the same time that just makes you shake your head.
I also really enjoyed the whole gag with the video game chair and Jesse not being able to get out of it, once he’s in it. What was that like to do? A stunt like that seems so simple, but then you get in that moment and it seems like you could also easily get hurt. Was that more challenging than you thought it would be?
FREEMAN: Did you use a stunt double for that chair?
McBRIDE: I did not. I try to do most of my stunts, if I can. I don’t know, there was just something in the writing of it that I had always imagined. I imagined him trying to sit down to have this father-son moment, and I was trying to look for a riff on the old classic of taking the chair and spinning it around backwards and sitting down. It felt like that was what Jesse was trying to do, but it just failed.
It’s a very Gemstone moment and I was very amused by it. Cassidy, I also loved that when faced with a gun-shooting motorcycle gang, Amber is the one that really steps up. Does it feel like she’s the true badass of the Gemstone family?
FREEMAN: She definitely delivers and she has some talents that she’s not gonna pull back on, when they’re called upon. There are lots of different types of badassery. What I love about her is that, when push comes to shove, she’s gonna show up and she’s gonna get it done, and that feels really good. And then, her chiding him about being the one that actually did it makes me laugh too. That whole reaction makes me laugh. All of it. And it keeps coming up.
How much fun is to have the Lissons to play off of, this season? It’s fun to see the contrast between Jesse and Amber thinking they’re this power couple, and then this other couple comes in and puts them in their place. What was it like to have that and to have Eric Andre to work with? It seems like you guys were all having a lot of fun together.
McBRIDE: They were a blast. Jessica [Lowe] and Eric were such fun additions to the show this season. The very first thing we shot with them was the very first time that Jesse and Amber meet them. The very first thing they shot was that moment where they’re preaching and Eric is force-blasting people in the crowd. It was just awesome to watch them inhabit that, and then just own that stage. From sitting in a writers’ room and looking at it, to then see how they brought it to life, it was awesome. It was gratifying. The Lissons serve as Jesse and Amber’s aspirations. They want the reigns. They wanna be able to do the things that the Lissons are doing. It was interesting to craft what Jesse and Amber see themselves like. Trying to craft what that is was fun.
Does it feel like Jesse and Amber are more threatened by the Lissons or by Judy and BJ trying to also find their own place in things?
McBRIDE: I think that they’re more threatened by Judy and BJ. I think that they just wanna be friends with the Lissons. They want their approval. And with Judy and BJ, they’re fighting for these rungs in the ladder and they just don’t need anybody getting in the way of that. They put all of their eggs in this basket of dominance and they don’t want anything challenging that.
The Righteous Gemstones airs on Sunday nights on HBO and is available to stream at HBO Max.
The Gemstones give the Roy family a run for their money in Season 2.