You might wonder what inspired David Gordon Green — director of “George Washington,” about a homicide’s aftermath, and 2007’s gut-wrenching “Snow Angels” — to switch gears with consecutive stoner comedies, “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness,” opening Friday.
Yet to hear Green tell it, comedy is hardly a departure for the North Carolina School of the Arts graduate, who lived down the hall from “Highness” star Danny McBride and McBride’s “Eastbound & Down” co-creator, Jody Hill.
“Danny was a directing major like me,” says Green, 35. “I showed him my first-year short film, ‘Will You Lather Up My Rough House,’ about the guy who invented soap and how he’s trying to get his roommate to take a bath with him.
“It was as close to ‘Your Highness’ as anything I’ve done. It’s absurd and silly, and I stand by it as maybe my greatest work. After ‘Snow Angels,’ I was really committed to doing something lighthearted. Hopefully the evolution of my career shows all the different things I’m interested in. I’ve tried not to make the same movie twice.”
Green describes “Highness” as his version of a “Lord of the Rings”-style epic, complete with sorcery, mythical creatures and swashbuckling action to complement the herb-friendly farce.
He credits the concept behind his latest adventure to a game he has played with McBride since they worked together on the 2003 romantic drama “All the Real Girls.”
“There was an actor who bailed on me at the last minute because he got a TV pilot, so I just called the funniest guy I knew, which was Danny,” Green says. “He was hilarious, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if he became a big star and I became a Hollywood director so we make these crazy movies together?’
“So we play this game where I come up with a title and he’ll tell me what the movie’s about, or vice versa. He’ll say, ‘Face of Danger,’ and I’ll say, ‘It’s about a guy named Steve Danger who’s a plastic surgeon and alters criminals’ faces.’ Or ‘Your Highness,’ about a prince in the Middle Ages who smokes weed and fights dragons.”
Green says the game is usually just idle conversation over beers, more personal amusement than brainstorming. But with “Highness,” the idea stuck.
“We needed something we could get behind, something to motivate us to take one of these stories and make it a reality,” he says. “We found a studio in Universal that loved the idea, and the rest is history.”
Starring Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman
Written by Ben Best, Danny McBride
Directed by David Gordon Green
Running time 1 hour 42 minutes