A few years ago, while working as a night manager at a Holiday Inn in Burbank, Danny McBride couldn't imagine that he'd star in two major studio films opening the same month. ''I had gone to a fortune-teller and she warned me of this, but I didn't believe it,'' deadpans the actor, who has scene-stealing roles as a small-time drug dealer in Pineapple Express and a pyromaniacal special-effects expert in Tropic Thunder. ''I don't have a head shot,'' he says. ''I've never really been on an audition. I've had the weirdest career path.''
McBride, 31, may just now be thundering into moviegoers' consciousness, but comedy-world insiders have been talking up the North Carolina native since 2006, when his scrappy comedy The Foot Fist Way began making the rounds. The $80,000, financed-on-credit-cards indie, which McBride co-wrote with a couple of fellow students from the North Carolina School of the Arts, earned the actor A-list fans like Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, and Seth Rogen for his raucous turn as an arrogant, delusional strip-mall tae kwon do instructor. Will Ferrell and writer-director Adam McKay helped secure the film a theatrical release last May, and though it grossed only $200,000, McBride's performance made a strong impression. ''I got halfway through it and I thought, I don't know about this guy,'' says Thunder costar Nick Nolte. ''He's such a good actor, you think he must really be an a--hole.''
McBride just wrapped a big-screen remake of the '70s TV show Land of the Lost, co-starring Ferrell and due next summer, and is working on an HBO comedy series, portraying a down-on-his-luck baseball player. Given his improbable career, McBride says he has no good advice for up-and-comers. ''Nothing really applies,'' he says. ''Go work at the Holiday Inn in Burbank, I guess.''