In Season 2 of Eastbound & Down, Kenny Powers’s goofy sidekick/disciple, Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), became a man. Or as close as he can get. As Kenny continued his quest for self-discovery through his Mexican spiritual journey, Janowski got laid, helped Kenny find his estranged father, and tied the knot with Maria, the neighbor who treated him for a Powers-inflicted bullet wound. Over the course of two seasons, Little — a veteran of L.A.’s Groundlings improv theater — has evolved the hedonistic, slow-talking, absurdly loyal Stevie into something so uniquely and fascinatingly odd that he has fans of the show wondering if this is an acting job or just the stunt casting of a mentally challenged baseball fan. Little spoke to Vulture to reassure us that Stevie is in fact just a fictional creation, and how he’s just a reinterpretation of a high-school female nerd.
Kenny and Stevie clearly click. How was this character developed?
I wanted him to be like … in high school, before a person gets laid and has girls, they’re awkward and goofy. And in the first episode, I’m playing him like I’m in love with this guy — Stevie’s trapped in that time period, where the most important thing is still to hang out with Kenny Powers because he’s famous. [I remember] back in high school, you know how they have those popularity contests? Like, “Most Likely to Succeed” and stuff. There were these two nerd girls, and they were filling out their popularity contest and they had a list of who to put down. That list of who to put was none of their friends or anybody they knew; it was all the popular people. So why are these two girls writing in popular people that they don’t even talk to? It didn’t make any sense. I felt like that’s the kind of thing Stevie would do: write in homecoming queen of some girl that doesn’t even know who he is.
How do you see Stevie’s personality? Some might think he’s mentally challenged, some might think he’s closeted. Or is this just a guy thrilled to be getting what he always wanted?
I’ve been asked a couple times, and maybe I should have a stock answer. But I do like the fact that he’s nice and sweet and crazy. He can be reckless and aggressive, so hopefully he has conflicting things. He’s not supposed to be retarded.
The performance is so weird, though, that a lot of people seem to wonder what you’re like. Like this can’t possibly be acting.
I know people were saying that. But if I was disabled or retarded — if the actor playing Stevie Janowski was, would they really let him bang chicks and smoke pot and get in fights with midgets? I don’t even think HBO would say we can do this. And all the rights groups would be up in arms. He’d always have to make the right decisions and it’d have to have a moral at the end of the show. But here’s the other thing: I perform at the Groundlings and have been doing that every weekend for the last eight years. The people who see me there understand.
Speaking of the Groundlings, it’s known for improv — are you improvising dialogue on Eastbound & Down?
Yeah. The editors say the first takes they go through are the improv takes. But it’s not like we’re improvising story points; the story’s all there … On set, the directors are throwing out things. Like in the script, there was no “Stevie sits on a toilet and takes a crap in a jail cell.” But we were doing the scene, and David Gordon Green said, “Steve, you’re going to take a shit on the toilet.” So everyone’s improvising.
Many characters on Eastbound & Down have very definable hair. And yours has this very feathery look to it. What does that say about him?
It’s very feathery and takes like twenty minutes. I don’t imagine Stevie does his hair for twenty minutes, though. That’s how it lays. But he always has the button-down, short-sleeve shirt. We joked with wardrobe that Stevie got one compliment, once in his life, about those button-down shirts, and he just took it and ran with it.
And that could be the case with the hair.
It could be.
Now, you say twenty minutes. Is this a blow-dry situation?
Yeah, it’s a blow-dry situation and some sort of twisting situation, too. They twist the hair.
Eastbound & Down recently got renewed for a third season. Where do you see Kenny and Stevie headed?
I don’t want to make any predictions … I know there are ideas being floated around. Maybe just take it to the next level of dedication and intimacy, I guess. Stevie’s already taken a crap in front of Kenny, so whatever the next level after that is.