David Gordon Green has written and directed critically acclaimed, low-budget movies about pre-teen murder (George Washington, 2000), blood-letting theft (Undertow, 2004), and suicidal depression (Snow Angels, 2008). But here’s the weird thing about him: He’s considered one of Hollywood’s hottest comedic filmmakers. After all, he’s the guy who’s twisted enough to work a Minotaur’s severed penis into a fantasy adventure (last April’s Your Highness), co-starring two recent Academy Award nominees.
After finding dark comedic success with 2008’s stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express and HBO’s Eastbound & Down (on which he's a consulting producer), the 36-year-old Texan’s latest hard-R-rated effort, The Sitter, stars Jonah Hill as a babysitter who takes three rugrats on a cocaine run around NYC and encounters toughs played by Sam Rockwell, J.B. Smoove, and Method Man. It’s the most important film of Green’s career thus far. But, like all of his movies, as well as his new animated MTV series Good Vibes, The Sitter isn’t family-friendly—meaning, it’s a tough sell. Here’s another crazy thing, though: That’s just how he likes it.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
An abridged version of this feature appears in Complex's December/January 2012 issue.
Is The Sitter something that got presented to you before Your Highness, or after?
I was just finishing up editing Your Highness, and I went down to the Sundance Film Festival with some friends, just for fun. Jonah Hill was there promoting Cyrus, and were both drunk one night and he was like, “Hey man, there’s this fun script that Fox wants me to make; check it out, and if you’ll do it then I’ll do it.” I read it when I got back, and it seemed like a real fun project.
I was looking to do something in New York because it had been a long time since I had been to New York, and I have a ton of friends there. I was looking to do something with kids, but this was not what I had in mind for that at all; actually, I had promised I wasn't going to do a comedy again for a while, but the opportunity to go to New York, work with kids, and work with Jonah, it just seemed like it all fell into place.
And it was the first time anyone ever wanted me to do something, which, on a level of professional pride and ego, felt really cool. Every movie I’ve ever made, it’s been me trying to murder people to get something done, and this was the first time that the industry said, “Hey, we want you to make this movie.” So that was a really interesting experience, from a perspective of a studio giving me the budget I wanted, I could shoot it where I wanted, and I could hire all of my friends to come work on it, and I could really design a movie just to be a ton of fun to make.
Usually, it’s just like, “Can I please make a movie? OK, you can butt-fuck me in the salary, and I’ll compromise this if you’ll allow me to do that.” I’ve always been in that very obstacle-driven environment of making movies, and, this time, for once in my life, they were saying, “So what will it take for you to make this movie?” People were excited about it.
Pineapple Express was a project that you had to fight for in order to get it made? It seems like, with Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow involved, it would have been the opposite case.
It was for me, specifically. I was unknown on the bigger scale, but I had a large following as an indie dramatic film director, and I really wanted to do something comedic. I felt like I wanted to exercise different muscles as a director, and I wanted to do something funny. I’d done a lot of really dark material, and that’s some really heavy stuff to have sitting around in your head for a while, so I wanted to lighten up a little bit, experiment with what I personally think is funny, and show it to people.
So Pineapple was a movie that I was not an obvious fit for; it was a script that existed, they were looking for a director, and I had to go in there and say, “OK, this is why I’d be good for the gig.” It confused a lot of people, and it still does, really. But I was passionate about making that professional transition, just as exploring another chapter of what I’m interested in.
After Pineapple came out and made people some money, and showed that there was something to be had with the comedy on the weirder, darker side, people were curious about it.
Was the script for The Sitter such a dark comedy when you first read it, or did you cater it more to your darker instincts?
It totally existed, actually. It’d been a script that had floated around on the Hollywood “Black List,” and people dabbled with it. But the second you mix kids, cocaine, and an unethical babysitter, a lot of the studios got scared of it. Once they heard me and Jonah’s pitch, though, on how to make the darkness of it the actual invitation of it, make that what’s funny and interesting, and using movies like Risky Business, After Hours, Adventures In Babysitting, and Uncle Buck as our models, people kind of got that, “OK, here’s an R-rated version of those crazy ’80s movies—let’s have some fun with it.”