Eric André is sort of the perfect person to play a hard-Christian-rocking, Holy Spirit–wielding Texan preacher when you think about it. Sure, he’s Jewish and an atheist and has dabbled in the satanic, at least on his Adult Swim show. But he cares about people, can speak in tongues, and his disciples would follow him to the ends of the Earth.
On the new season of The Righteous Gemstones, which premiered Sunday, André plays Lyle Lissons, a celebrity preacher who represents the new generation of megachurch worship in contrast to Eli Gemstone’s (John Goodman) old guard. He line dances with Joe Jonas, owns some sort of child ranch, and is trying to rope in Jesse (Danny McBride) — or at least Jesse’s daddy’s money — on his grand designs for a Christian resort in Florida. André spoke with Vulture before the premiere about how preachers are like WWE wrestlers, actors are like furniture, and horses are like demons straight from hell.
How’s it going?
My exterminator thinks I “look like Eric Andratti.” He goes, “Did anyone ever tell you you look like Eric Andratti?” I go, “Nope! Not specifically that, but I’ve gotten similar comments.”
That’s an interaction I’m kind of amazed didn’t happen more often filming Bad Trip.
I’ll tell you why it didn’t happen: Notice the age range of the people we pranked. The majority of people we pranked were over 45. You don’t notice a lot of skateboarders in the movie.
So what you’re saying is it was basically your version of Betty White’s elderly prank show, Off Their Rockers.
I forgot about that. I should rewatch that. That can go south, though, because what if somebody has a heart attack or something?
Or poop themselves.
Aging is so miserable.
When you last spoke with Vulture, Bad Trip wasn’t out yet. Now it’s on critics’ year-end best-of lists. What’s it been like to get that kind of reception?
It was so heartwarming after making the movie and trying to get it to see the light of day. It took eight years from conception to release, so that fills my heart with joy, hearing that.
Between that and Righteous Gemstones, you’ve done a lot of line dancing and Florida-based, Americana-themed comedy this year. What drew you to Gemstones?
I know the great Brandon James, a producer at Rough House. We were talking about a different project, and then he hit me up for this, and I put myself on tape and booked it. I think that they are so brilliant. I love Danny, and I love everything that they put out. Their horror movies are incredible, too. I just think they’re a really smart team of people, and they’re state-of-the-art as far as scripted comedy goes. I don’t think anybody’s getting away with or doing anything at their level in the scripted-comedy and situational-comedy space. So it was like, I’m a fan of their work, and hell yes, I want to collaborate.
It wasn’t this academic thing right after Bad Trip. It wasn’t that masterminded. It was more just like I love these guys and everything they do, and I want to work with their company. Bad Trip was a road-trip movie. Road-trip movies by design are kind of a love letter to the nation. It wasn’t cynical, it wasn’t punching down, and it wasn’t trying to embarrass people. It was showing the beauty and humanity of everyday Americans — people of color and the working class.
Your character, Lyle Lissons, is introduced as this counterpoint to Jesse Gemstone. He’s a Texan pastor just as ridiculous and ostentatious but maybe 40 percent smarter. What was it like to film those scenes, playing the high-status one shaking things up? What is the energy like on set?
Those guys are really nice. They’re very polite and respectful and collaborative. They create a very welcoming and nourishing environment. There’s no egos or assholes on set. So I felt very comfortable. The industry’s chock-full of damaged people. They were not. They were just very supportive. I felt like I was with a supportive peer group that was on the same wavelength. I’ve been watching their material for over ten years, so I had already done my research. I know their style from being a fan of their style.
The very first thing I booked when I moved to Los Angeles was Curb Your Enthusiasm. I had all of two lines of dialogue, but I booked that right away because I just watched so many episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm going into it. After I booked that, it was like a fluke; I didn’t book anything. I didn’t book a single audition for like ten years.
The scene where you’re introduced is not dissimilar to an Eric Andre Show intro. There are pyrotechnics. People are falling over. It’s a physical performance. What do you think megachurch pastors and comedians have in common?
They want your attention. They want to command the crowd. They want money and a ton of amphetamines and no-strings-attached sex.
Was that a real Christian rock song or something made up for the show?
I think that was made up for the show.
You have a music background — are you the one shredding in that solo?
I was faking it 100 percent. Filmmaking is an illusion. It was invented by a French magician.
Your character has to be in line with the wacky visual language of the show. How did you develop his look?
The costume designer and the producers and the writers come up with all that stuff. I just show up early and try on outfits, and I’m happy there’s lunch. I’m flattered you thought I had as much creative control as that.
When you’re just an actor for hire, you just try to look like a cutie-pie in your costume, memorize your lines, and stand on a green piece of tape.
If the job is to look like a cutie-pie, you succeeded!
They’re like furniture. You just, like, move ’em around next to different lights and you get them to go. [Andre makes Muppet noises.]
This is a show that’s full of dicks, blood, and vomit. Will we see your character show any of that this season?
There’s some blood. I don’t know about any dick or vomit.
Danny McBride is good at holding up the male end of HBO’s nudity thing.
I read that when you were prepping for the role, you asked Danny to send you videos of really eccentric preachers. Were there any that stood out to you?
One of the craziest names … This guy’s name was, like, Bojangles Sharpton. Something insane … [Andre checks his Notes app.] Oh, yeah! Creflo Dollar.
Who else did you use as inspiration for the character?
Megachurch preachers are a lot like WWE wrestlers. It’s all kind of the same schtick. Joel Osteen, obviously. He’s the David Copperfield of that industry.
Next question, Jew to Jew: How exaggerated or implausible does the depiction of American televangelist megachurch culture seem on The Righteous Gemstones?
I’m an atheist Jew, so I’m not the one to ask. I don’t frequent a lot of megachurches. From the videos I’ve seen, it’s not that far off. It’s an old form of therapy, and it’s a form of community for a lot of people. What do people want? People want to be entertained. They want to feel like their misery and their suffering on this Earth is going to be okay, and when they die, they’re going to be up in heaven playing air hockey with Jimi Hendrix. It scratches a lot of itches for a lot of people with hard lives.
Was this your first time working with a Jonas?
Yes, it was. The first of many.
How was Joe?
He was lovely. You never know what you’re gonna get with people who have been through the Disney machine or got started young, but he was very lovely and sweet.
Favorite Jonas Brothers song?
Uh … all of them.
Your character owns a ranch. Will we see you on a horse this season?
Noooo, no. I had to ride a horse for — I’m not joking — ten feet one time for this show I did, Man Seeking Woman. I had to just get on the horse and enter frame, and it was the fucking hardest thing I ever had to do on camera. Any time you see one of those old Westerns where the guys are, like, looking around on horses — those guys are a different fucking breed. Those are bestial fucking hell demon animals.
You didn’t fall off or anything, did you?
I didn’t fall off, but I was holding on for dear life. I’ve been bungee jumping. I’d rather go bungee jumping again than get on the back of a fucking horse. Those are fucking demon animals. We actually had a horse in a bit on The Eric Andre Show, and I didn’t have to ride it, and it was cool.
Jessica Lowe plays your character’s wife, Lindy Lissons. How was she as a scene partner?
She’s amazing. She’s a total pro. If you look at her IMDb, she’s worked more than anyone I’ve ever met. She is just incredible to work with — sweetheart, incredibly talented, and commits to every take and gives gold every time. She’s very, very easy and pleasurable to work with. She’s awesome.
Now that you’ve played a preacher, what role is next? A rabbi? President?
A rabbi president. President Shlomo.