Critics weren't unanimously enthused about "Eastbound and Down" when it debuted on HBO in early 2009, but for a good chunk of the viewing public, the show, about downward-spiraling major league pitcher Kenny Powers, was an instant addiction.
The indelible Kenny Powers sprang from the imaginations of Jody Hill and Danny McBride, who met at University of North Carolina's School of the Arts in the mid-'90s. They were dorm neighbors, and down the hall was David Gordon Green, who would go on to direct features and spots and, like several other UNC alums, become a long-term collaborator. Mr. Green gave Mr. McBride his first major acting job, in 2003's "All the Real Girls." Later, Mr. Hill would cast Mr. McBride in "The Foot Fist Way" as the martial arts instructor protagonist who would become the precursor to Kenny Powers. "We had such a good time with that," said Mr. McBride of exploring the film's deeply flawed character. "We wanted to explore that area more."
In Kenny Powers they created a character that audiences couldn't help but watch -- and sort of love -- despite his ever more breathtaking, and hilarious, breaches of propriety. "You're not dealing with your typical hero," said Mr. McBride, "so every situation he encounters becomes something a little bit more original."
"Foot Fist" also earned attention from Hollywood. In its wake, Mr. Hill would go on to direct "Observe and Report," Mr. McBride would appear in a string of high profile features, including Mr. Green's "Pineapple Express" and "Your Highness," which Mr. McBride also co-wrote.
Mr. Hill also turned his directing talents to spots through Caviar Content, and scored a hit with the much-awarded Toyota Swagger Wagon from Saatchi L.A. Last year, his directorial worlds collided in the unlikely pairing of Kenny Powers and a real, mainstream brand, K-Swiss, in an integrated campaign created out of agency 72andSunny.
"We were nervous about it at first," said Mr. Hill. "We didn't want to compromise our character. But those guys were great about letting us do it in our style and not putting anything in it that didn't fit. Also, Kenny would sell his soul for the right amount of money, so we thought it would actually fit with his character to be part of this campaign."