The Righteous Gemstones Take Hollywood to Church

By Michael Gluckstadt

The new comedy from the creators of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals explores a megachurch raking in megabucks.

The Paramount Pictures studio lot was transformed into a Southern megachurch, as The Righteous Gemstones took over a corner of Hollywood. The newest HBO comedy from Danny McBride and Jody Hill, creators of Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals, tells the story of the Gemstones, a family of preachers who spread the good word and make a solid buck doing so.

As the premiere crowd mingled around church pews and a large purple neon cross, the cast and crew reflected on the show and its characters. “This is a family show,” said McBride. “I mean, definitely not a show for families, but a show about a family.”

McBride stars as Jesse Gemstone, the family’s firstborn. Fans of McBride’s earlier work might see something a little different in Jesse. “All the other shows that we’ve made have been centered around characters who have this chip on their shoulder,” McBride said. “This is the first time we’re dealing with a character who’s gotten everything he wanted and is still as messed up and clueless as ever. And he’s got a lot of money to make lots of bad decisions.”

Next in the Gemstone line is Jesse’s younger sister, Judy, played by Edi Patterson. “She’s a middle child, so she has a lot of middle-child traits,” says Patterson. “She’s frustrated with her place, but she’s something of a wildcat.”

Rounding out the Gemstones is Adam Devine’s Kelvin. “That’s a real name,” asserted Devine, “because Danny McBride says it is.” Kelvin considers himself something of a “cool” youth preacher. “He’s a bit of a Swagasorus Rex,” Devine continued. “You could totally see him sliding into Justin Bieber’s DMs.”

Eli, the family patriarch played by John Goodman, is still in mourning over the loss of his wife Aimee-Leigh. He is the man most responsible for the Gemstones’ tremendous success, and the most serious-minded member of the family. “Someone has to be,” Goodman offered.

The rest of the cast spoke to their place in the Gemstones’ inner circle, including Cassidy Freeman as Jesse’s wife, Amber ⁠— “She seems like a good Christian trophy wife but she has a fierce steak in her” ⁠— and Tony Cavalero as Kelvin’s friend Keefe, who describes his character as “an ex-Satanist-turned-youth outreach minister.”

Walton Goggins, who played McBride’s adversary in Vice Principals, guest stars as Baby Billy, Aimee-Leigh’s younger brother. “If I get an invitation from Danny McBride to take out his trash, you can bet I'll be there,” Goggins said.

Once McBride thought about setting a comedy around outsized evangelism he couldn’t get it out of his head. “I threw a bunch of ideas against the wall and this is the one that just kept pecking at my brain,” McBride said. “I hadn’t seen anyone play in this world before, and I didn’t know why I hadn’t seen it.”

His frequent collaborator, executive producer Jody Hill, echoed the sentiment. “We thought that’d be fun to play with,” Hill said. “Anytime people talk about God as a justification for private jets there's humor there.”

The Righteous Gemstones premieres August 18 at 10 p.m.

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