He created, executive produces and stars in the show, which follows megachurch pastors promising salvation through shady means. McBride says the many the church spires and talk radio shows featuring high-spirited sermons in Charleston helped him form the Gemstone family, a dysfunctional group of televangelists who get rich off their congregants donations.
“I grew up going to church every Sunday so I’d been to church for years and years of my life,” McBride tells CNN. “I know the Bible, I know all the apostles and I know all the stories and it was a big part of my childhood growing up. And then when I kind of got out on my own moved out to Los Angeles, I kind of just drifted from it all. And when I moved back to Charleston, I saw all the churches here and it just really kind of got me thinking about church again.”
McBride says he began to wonder what church was like now. With some research, he was drawn to watching and listening to televangelists and the idea that a pastor could see himself like a rock star.
“I started kind of like going online and like looking at things and then really seeing how much church could change,” he says. “Obviously every church isn’t remotely like the Gemstones, but the idea that there was even sort of this type of pastor that like sees themselves as like a rock star, it just kind of like fit into the mold of all this stuff we kind of played with in other shows. We always have these characters that have this inflated sense of self and a minister who like sees himself as a celebrity and bigger than the word of God seemed like the perfect example.”
(McBride also created and starred in “Eastbound and Down” and “Vice Principals.”)
The script for “Gemstones” is so absurd, it almost sounds like improv, but McBride says it has the least amount of improvisation of any of the shows he’s worked on.
“I don’t know if it’s because there’s just so much going on and there’s so many spinning plates that there’s an efficiency sometimes to the scenes, but everything is on the page,” he says. “The scenes that we probably end up riffing the most are the church lunch scenes, because you’ll, you have the whole entire cast there, and it’s kind of hard to not get people riled up.”
McBride’s character, Jesse Gemstone, is part of the family business. He says a lot of his inspiration for the way Jesse is comes from the show’s costume designer, who was tasked with making him look ridiculous yet believable.
“One thing we always talked about is like Jesse sees himself as like Elvis or something,” McBride laughs. “Jesse thinks that he is some badass and he’s just, he’s not. And so it’s fun to kind of like dress the part and then kind of undercut it.”
McBride says he believes his over-the-top characters resonate with viewers because “it’s all about trying to find what’s human about them.”
“I think with this, it’s the family dynamic,” he says. “I think that not everyone can identify what it’s like to shake down people for money through religion, but people can identify with family struggles and losing a member of the family and siblings that you don’t get along with, but that you love. I think that’s what sort of makes them understandable.”
“The Righteous Gemstones” is currently streaming on HBO Max, which like CNN is part of WarnerMedia.