'Righteous Gemstones' Star Adam Devine Says New HBO Comedy Will Get Surprisingly Dark

The 'Workaholics' creator and stand-up comedian talks playing the straight man for once, his first meeting with show creator Danny McBride and the importance of washing your hands after eating spicy foods.
Fred Norris/HBO
From left: John Goodman, Adam Devine, Danny McBride and Troy Anthony Hogan in HBO's 'The Righteous Gemstones.'

Adam Devine has reached the top of the sitcom mountain: HBO Sunday night, baby!

The comedian and co-creator/star of Comedy Central's cult classic Workaholics stars alongside John Goodman and Danny McBride — creator of previous HBO hit comedies Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals — in McBride's new HBO hit comedy The Righteous Gemstones, about a family of extremely wealthy religious hucksters. 

The Aug. 18 premiere was HBO's biggest for a comedy since McBride's last series, Vice Principals, premiered in July 2016.

Devine — whose other credits include the first two Pitch Perfect films, When We First Met and February release Isn't It Romantic? — plays Kelvin Gemstone, the approval-hungry youngest of the three Gemstone children, with McBride's Jesse and Edi Patterson's Judy being the oldest and middle, respectively. Goodman — channeling a little bit of that ol' Coen brothers razzle-dazzle — plays the pater familias, Eli, who presides over the Gemstones' vast televangelism empire with a divine hand clenched into a tight fist.

Devine — who excels at playing a certain kind of obnoxious, self-absorbed man-child that you can't help but root for — was sought out for the role by McBride, who excels at playing a different kind of obnoxious, self-absorbed man-child that you can't help but root for. In Gemstones, though, it's McBride that plays more to type. Kelvin, says Devine, is "sensitive and very much put-upon. … On Workaholics, [my character] Adam DeMamp was such a maniac and he was always on 10, so it was kind of nice to let Danny and Edi's characters be the more broad, crazy, funny characters [while I] play the straight man to an extent."

Ahead of Sunday's second episode, Devine spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about his first meeting with McBride, megachurch envy as a child growing up in Omaha and his hopes for a post-man-child career.

The first thing I noticed is how expensive the show looks — that HBO money. There's a massive cast, huge sets, production designers staying busy. Does it feel from your side as big as it looks on TV?

I guess so. You can tell we weren't cutting any corners, and if they felt like we weren't getting the shot or weren't getting the scene, we weren't moving on. I was used to doing Workaholics, and although we pinched every penny and we went as big as we possibly could, we shot an episode in four days. And this, I think, we had a couple weeks per episode. So for a half-hour show it was pretty bizarre to have that much time, and very freeing because you knew the quality wasn't going to suffer because we had to hustle along. Overall I felt very fancy working for HBO. 

Had you worked with Danny before this at all?

No, I actually only met Danny one other time, at the Neighbors [premiere] afterparty in a hotel room where all the actors were kinda hanging out, and I was smoking a lot of weed, admittedly, with Seth Rogen. And I mean I smoke weed, but Seth is a world-class, Olympic-level weed smoker, so I was trying to keep up and I was just buried. So I'm one of the highest I've been in my life and all of a sudden Danny McBride comes in and he grabs me by my shoulders and is like (impersonating Danny McBride), "Oh, I know this little man." First of all, I'm medium-sized so I should have been offended, but I'm such a fan of his, and I turned around and I go, "You're Danny McBride!" And he goes, "Yeah, man." And I go, "You're a bright shooting star." I was so high that's what I said to him. And he was like, "Uh, OK man …" And immediately I grabbed my girlfriend at the time, I'm like, "We have to leave. I just called Danny McBride a bright shooting star." And I've asked him if he remembers that and he's like, "No. I think I was pretty high at the party too."

So how did you get pulled into this then?

So luckily, [Danny] kinda knew what I do and was confident that I would be good in the role. And he asked me to meet with him and David Gordon Green and some of the other writers on the show. And I went to Charleston and met with them and just had a nice dinner, and I figured they would also give me the role at the end of the dinner 'cause it went so great — and then they didn't. I kinda think that Danny forgot to tell me that he wanted me to do the show. (Laughs.) And so my agents called me after dinner and asked, "How was it? Did you get the show?" And I'm like, "I don't know. It seemed like I did, but they didn't tell me?" And then the next day they made me an offer. I think Danny was just like, "Oh, I thought I made it clear." But I'm pretty thick. You really have to spell it out for me.

Charleston's great. Is that where you shoot?

Yeah, we shot the whole show in Charleston, and Danny and his whole crew they all live down there now. I'd never been there before and it's just beautiful. And everyone there is, like, very sweet and Southern hospitality is alive and well. Also the food there is just so incredible. Like you said, it's such a big cast, so it means that everybody has a lot of downtime. I know everyone put on weight and I think I put on the most. I was just aggressively eating fried chicken.

You were raised in Omaha, right? Were you brought up religiously?

Yeah, I went to church every Sunday. I went to a Catholic elementary school. My whole family was Catholic, and so I definitely was raised religious, but I hadn't had much interaction with these big mega Christian churches. Some of my buddies went to one and I was always so jealous because, you know, every Sunday was a concert. They had laser light shows, there was a rock-climbing wall for the kids, and meanwhile I just have stale communion wafers and wooden benches that would hurt my sweet, innocent little knees. 

That was something I thought about when I saw the previews for this show, that because megachurches are so over the top in real life they might be a tough subject for satire.

Yeah, but what's cool is it's not a true satire. It's like, it could be about any family that runs a big business, right? They are running this giant empire and it just so happens that their empire is church. And there are points where we are getting laughs from [the ostentation of the Gemstones], but what Danny was really cautious about and told me from our very first meeting is that we're not making fun of anyone's beliefs. We're making fun of people that are greedy and take advantage of other people. And I think Christians will be able to watch this show and like it because no one likes people that are exploiting others or are taking advantage of people. So I think Danny did a really good job kind of walking that line. 

What were some of the inspirations for Kelvin Gemstone?

I mean, I'm playing a man-child, which is something that I'm oh so good at. I knew that I could play that character, but what I tried to do for this character, weirdly enough, is really ground him and make him seem like a real guy. Because he's very sensitive and very much put-upon, and he's the youngest in the family so he kind of gets away with a lot and no one expects a lot out of him. On Workaholics, [my character] Adam DeMamp was such a maniac and he was always on 10, so it was kind of nice to let Danny and Edi's characters be the more broad, crazy, funny characters [while I] play the straight man to an extent, which was a different level for me. 

How much of the dialogue in the show is improvised?

What's cool is we all — me and Danny and those guys — come from the same school of comedy. I feel like we just fit together really nicely. You know, you make sure you get what's on the page because they work really hard on crafting a story that they like and the dialogue that they think works well pushing the story forward. And then, if you have a weird idea they're not afraid to let you go down that road for a little bit. And the weirder the idea, the more they want you to go down that road. We had so much fun shooting this thing. Every day was pretty absurd.

John Goodman is, in my opinion, one of our greatest living comic actors, but he's talked about in relation to his roles in the Coen brothers films, how people assume he's a great improviser but that the stuff from their movies is all on the page. Does he do a lot of improv on Gemstones?

No, he didn't really improv a lot, but he's just perfect as our dad because I think we're all a little bit intimidated by just by how great of an actor he is. You see it when we did that first big table scene of us sitting around [for] post-church lunch. We shot it in a wide and [then] we were marching around the table getting everyone's coverage. And you just see John when it lands on him for his close-ups, he just popped it into another gear and you're just like, "Oh my gosh." It was incredible to see him just shift into this next gear. And I'm like, "Oh, I don't have the next gear yet." Like, when do I get that gear? 

So you mentioned earlier that you're playing a man-child here, that you've played a lot of man-children and are known for that type of character. What is Adam DeVine's ideal against-type role?

If I'm lucky enough to keep working in this business, which so far so good (laughs), I would like to be able to do much more dramatic stuff. I kind of want to be able to have a career like Robin Williams had, where he could be this gigantic comedic force and do like a Mrs. Doubtfire but then do a One Hour Photo. I would like to segue from doing these perpetual man-children to more adult roles and some more dramatic roles. Yeah. I think I'm ready. I'm waiting for the call!

I noticed that you just appeared on Hot Ones. I love Hot Ones, and I've never talked to anyone who's been on Hot Ones. So, how was that?

(Laughs.) Hollywood Reporter with the heavy, hard-hitting questions! It was hot man, I'll admit it! I was ignorant and I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. And I go there and I'm like, "So they're going to be pretty hot? Like Buffalo Wild Wings hot?" And they were like, "Mmm, probably hotter than that …" And the first like four or five, I'm like, "Oh, this is cake! I can do this." And then that seventh one, I ate it — I think it was called "Da Bomb Beyond Insanity" or something — and immediately snot just flew out of my face and tears just streamed down my cheeks. And [Sean Evans, the host] was asking me some question and I couldn't form a sentence. It was just like my body was revolting. And then, of course, after we're done — I finished all of them, very proud of myself — they'd given me Wet Ones. I wiped my fingers down and I go to the restroom. No one told me I should have, like, washed my hands for five minutes because my crotch burned for three hours afterward. It was the most painful car ride back home that I've ever — I went in the shower and just poured milk down the front of myself. So to answer your question: They're hot.

Here's another hard-hitter for you: Whenever I talk to someone I try to work in a basketball question and it goes nowhere, but you're a known Clippers fan. Big moves this summer. What are your thoughts going into the season?

I'm so excited. My girlfriend makes fun of me every time I drive downtown [because] I look out my window longingly at Staples Center and she's like, "You're thinking about the season, aren't you?" And I'm like, "What?! No." And I obviously am. I mean, I almost cried when I heard Kawhi [Leonard] was coming. I was laying on the couch with my girlfriend. We were watching Stranger Things. I didn't have my phone on me. Erik Griffin, who played Montez on Workaholics, called my girlfriend and said, "I think Adam needs to look at his phone." And Erik is a buddy of mine and he's in the comedy community and so I was thinking, like, "Did somebody in the comedy community die or something?" So I ran to my phone going "What happened?!" and then, complete right turn. I was all of a sudden the happiest I've ever been. I had 38 text messages and like 12 missed calls. 

Is there anything you haven't mentioned about that show that my expert interview questions haven't teased out?

I think everyone who sees the cast and sees the poster is gonna think like, "Oh, this is going to be a funny comedy." And it is funny, but I think people are going to be surprised at how dark it gets — how, tonally, it's so much different than anything else on TV right now. And also how much, even though these characters are doing some pretty horrendous, horrible things, you still, at the end of that first episode, really wish this family the best. You want them to succeed and you don't want them to get hurt or in trouble. I think the guys did such an amazing job of making it feel unlike anything that they've done before. And unlike anything that's on TV right now.

The Righteous Gemstones airs Sundays at 10:00 p.m. PT on HBO.