Ancient secrets of love and happiness — set in stone across Arabian Peninsula

Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 04 January 2022

Ancient secrets of love and happiness — set in stone across Arabian Peninsula

Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. (Shutterstock)
  • Rock engravings are offering surprising clues about the Arabian Peninsula’s earliest cultures

MAKKAH: Ancient inscriptions on rocks throughout the Arabian Peninsula are helping to paint a picture of the earliest Arabic cultures, including economic and social conditions — and even people’s thoughts on love, marriage and happiness.

The engravings provide evidence of early religious belief and ritual performances, as well as details of professions, crafts and currencies, and also highlight the professionalism and skill of the engravers, according to Dr. Salma Hawsawi, professor of ancient history at King Saud University in Riyadh.
“Writing is an invention of man,” Hawsawi told Arab News. “It is a means of exchanging ideas and knowledge, as well as discussing it within societies, regardless of class, beliefs and sects.”
She added that historical information gleaned from these inscriptions can reflect the feelings of love, fear, longing, sadness and happiness felt by people at the time.
“That is why inscriptions are seen as a true witness of what the people of that era experienced, which highlights the region’s cultural depth.”
Hawsawi said that writing and engraving were regarded as professions. “Writing, in general, illustrates the level of civilization and education that Arab society reached, and also demonstrates writing’s role in the progress of humanity.”

The existence of writing in civilizations of all kinds is proof of their importance in codification, communication and relations between societies.

Dr. Salma Hawsawi

She said that writing developed through two stages — “the pre-alphabet stage, which is figurative writing, or depicting material things in the human environment to denote moral aspects through rock drawings. Then, after that, symbolic with syllabic sounds.”




Engravings also provided details of tribal names and locations, as well as professions and crafts, trade provisions, currencies, and exports and imports.

According to Hawsawi, cuneiform script spread throughout Mesopotamia from about 3,200 B.C. and was used until A.D.100.
Hieroglyphic script was in use in Egypt by 4,000 B.C., while Ugaritic script was used in northern Syria. Sinaitic script dates back to 1,400 B.C. and was invented by a group of Canaanites working in turquoise and copper mines in the Sinai desert.
Meanwhile, Phoenician script, which dates back to 1,000 B.C., and Punic script spread throughout North Africa from 300 B.C. until A.D. 300.
“The existence of writing in civilizations of all kinds is proof of their importance in codification, communication and relations between societies,” Hawsawi said.
Across the Arabian Peninsula, written inscriptions offer clues to the Arab communities that lived in various areas. Some of the inscriptions had a religious aspect, focusing on the names of gods and religious rituals, while others were more social, discussing personal status, marriage, divorce, and people’s names.
Engravings also provided details of tribal names and locations, as well as professions and crafts, trade provisions, currencies, and exports and imports.




The engravings provide evidence of early religious belief and ritual performances.

“On the political level, inscriptions included the names of kings and rulers, wars and the rise and fall of states,” she said.
“These inscriptions are an important source of historical and cultural knowledge of the region. The spread of these inscriptions and their large number give us an idea of the level of knowledge and culture reached by the societies and the attention they paid to writing and documentation.”
Hawsawi said that inscriptions can be found on rocks in an arranged or random manner, depending on the writer’s skill, as well as on the facades of temples, houses and even gravestones. Some depicted society through famous events or the aphorisms of its rulers.
In southern Arabia, Ancient South Arabian script was used from about 800 B.C. the A.D 600. Inscriptions are widespread, and can be found on stones, timber, and bones in eastern Arabia, Al-Faw, Najran and as far north as AlUla.
“The Zabur script also appeared in the south and dates back to about 500 B.C. Some say that the ancient South Arabian script and Zabur script emerged at about the same time,” Hawsawi said.
In the north of the Arabian Peninsula, Thamudic script was in use from 800 B.C. and consisted of 29 characters. Inscriptions have been found on rock facades along the trade route from the far south of the Arab world to the far north.
The Safaitic script is similar to the Thamudic script and dates back to the first century B.C. Dating back to the ninth century, the Aramaic script contains 22 letters, taken from Phoenician writing, and spread widely in the ancient world, especially in Mesopotamia, Iran, India, Egypt and the northern Arabian Peninsula.
Hawsawi pointed out that “the Dadanite and Lihyanite scripts date back to the sixth or fifth centuries B.C. and contain 28 letters, some of which resemble the Thamudic and ancient South Arabian scripts. It is written from right to left and the words are separated by a vertical line. The Palmyrene and Syriac scripts derived from Aramaic date back to the first century B.C. The Nabati script is derived from the Aramaic, however some of its letters have changed in terms of form and adding a dot, giving way to the Arabic script in which we write today.”
She said that writing in Arabian Peninsula societies differed from that of other cultures due to its distinctive scripts and range of topics.
“Life and related events were recorded, unlike other civilizations that focused on codifying political events,” she said.


US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con
Updated 15 January 2022

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

US actors Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal to attend the Middle East Film and Comic Con

DUBAI: US actors Michael Rooker and Jon Bernthal are set to attend the 10th edition of the Middle East Film and Comic Con, taking place in Abu Dhabi from March 4-6.

Rooker and Bernthal are part of a star-studded guest list that includes US voice actor Charles Martinet and “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel.

Bernthal starred alongside Rooker in “The Walking Dead.” (AFP)

Rooker is best known for his portrayal of Yondu Udonta in the blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and has thrilled fans with his roles in films and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “The Suicide Squad.”

Bernthal starred alongside Rooker in “The Walking Dead.” He also had roles in Marvel’s “The Punisher,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Baby Driver” and more.

The festival, which is dedicated to film, comic book and video game fans, will feature workshops, a theater experience, an Artists’ Alley and the ever-popular cosplay competition.


Six Saudi comedians have Riyadh Season audiences rolling in aisles

Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
Updated 15 January 2022

Six Saudi comedians have Riyadh Season audiences rolling in aisles

Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj, comedian and co-founder of Saudi House of Comedy, joined by fellow comics Fayez Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater at Boulevard Riyadh City. (Supplied)
  • The funnymen perform their shows in Arabic to help connect with audiences

RIYADH: Six of the best Saudi comedians have had audiences rolling in the aisles for a second year at the Riyadh Season festival of entertainment.

Brought together by the Saudi House of Comedy, the comics have been taking to the stage at Boulevard Riyadh City as part of the popular annual event.
Fayez Al-Shamrani, one of the performers, told Arab News: “Riyadh Season is an important initiative to be part of, and the attendance in Riyadh was amazing. I would hope to perform there again.”
The pioneering House of Comedy for standup comedians was opened in the Eastern Province in 2017 by Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj and Talal Al-Anazi.

Abdulrahman Al-Shalhoub

Co-founder and comic, Al-Hajjaj, told Arab News that making people laugh was addictive. “It is a lovely feeling when you’re doing standup, and you make people laugh, it is a different kind of heart buzz, it tickles your little heart vessels.”
In 2018, the General Entertainment Authority sponsored the comedy club, and since then, it has performed at least 56 shows, including standups and plays throughout the Kingdom.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The pioneering House of Comedy for standup comedians was opened in the Eastern Province in 2017 by Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj and Talal Al-Anazi.

• In 2018, the General Entertainment Authority sponsored the comedy club, and since then, it has performed at least 56 shows, including standups and plays throughout the Kingdom.

Veteran entertainer Al-Hajjaj has witnessed firsthand the rapid developments that have taken place in the sector in the Kingdom over recent years.
“I think it’s wonderful. Thankfully our government is supporting us 100 percent and anything we need we can ask for. The General Entertainment Authority, Ministry of Culture, and everybody is helping us, and I feel that Saudi artists need nothing,” he said.

It is a lovely feeling when you’re doing standup, and you make people laugh.
Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj

Al-Hajjaj was joined by fellow comics Al-Shamrani, Hashem Al-Hawsawi, Mohammed Hilal, Nawaf Al-Shubaily, and Khaled Omar at the Mohammed Al-Ali Theater in Boulevard Riyadh City, one of Riyadh Season’s 14 zones.
They performed game shows with scenes consisting of six comedy segments based on improvisation between two teams representing several scenarios chosen by the audience.
The funnymen have previously performed their standup routines on the MSC Bellissima cruise ship.

Abdulrahman Al-Shalhoub

Al-Shamrani, known by his stage name Goge, said: “I am very thankful to have been a part of the House of Comedy. We have had wonderful experiences together.”
And Al-Hajjaj pointed out that the use of comedy could often help resolve many issues in life. “I think just smiling before your problems will eventually make it less harmful to your body, into your mind, and soul.”
The comedians, from different regions of the Kingdom, all perform their shows in Arabic to help connect with audiences.
“I perform local comedy, I do all of my shows in Arabic, and I always encourage my fellow comedians to do their jokes in Arabic.
“I think humor comes from blood, and it’s from your environment, where you were raised, where you went to school. I think comedy comes from blood, and if your blood is Arabic, your jokes are always going to be in Arabic,” Al-Hajjaj added.
And he urged young Saudis to explore careers in the entertainment industry.
“I think any talented person that is just sitting at home will always be a talented person just sitting at home. The Ministry of Culture is always giving courses. The General Entertainment Authority is always giving opportunities for people to pursue their talents,” he said.
With the current support and resources provided to the entertainment sector in the country, Al-Hajjaj reckoned it could only continue to flourish.
“I think in the next five years, we will be experiencing a blast of comedians, a blast of new young talents and new young actors and actresses,” he added.


Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency
Updated 14 January 2022

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency

Six artists visually transform AlUla oasis for first art residency
  • After 11 weeks of artistic exploration, inaugural residency in Kingdom’s ancient region culminates with showcase of artists’ works
  • Artworks also to be displayed at AlUla Arts festival taking place from Feb. 13-26

DUBAI: In the ancient desert lands of AlUla, now one of Saudi Arabia’s top tourist attractions, six artists have spent the last three months creating works as part of the area’s first art residency program.

Under the theme “The Oasis Reborn,” the cohort hailing from the Kingdom, Syria, the UAE, France, and Algeria, has, since the start of November, been immersed in AlUla’s ancient sites, natural oasis, and varied landscapes of lush valleys, sandstone mountains, red-rock cliffs, canyons, and velvety sand dunes.

Their mission has been to create art that marries the rich cultural heritage of the area with its bountiful natural environment.

Muhannad Shono, On This Sacred Day, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

They have been working in collaboration with technical, scientific, and archaeological experts developing the natural oasis into a 50-square-kilometer hospitality, heritage, and cultural venture. The artists also linked up with local community artisans and cultural practitioners to learn about AlUla’s rich heritage.

The residency initiative was the brainchild of officials from the Royal Commission for AlUla, and the French Agency for AlUla Development, and was operated by Manifesto, a French creative agency set up to help companies with artistic projects.

Laure Confavreux-Colliex, executive director at Manifesto, told Arab News: “The goal of this residency program was to work with the six artists chosen from different backgrounds and practices to be involved through art in the development and regeneration of AlUla.

Laura Sellies, Peuplé de feuilles qui bougent (“Populated by Moving Leaves”), 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 4. (Supplied)

“The theme dedicated to ‘The Oasis Reborn’ means we are digging into those issues of what is in the oasis, what has been in the oasis, and how to bring to light the history and heritage of the oasis so that AlUla can be regenerated.

“Our goal at Manifesto was to create those links between the artists and the local AlUla community.”

The first edition took place in Mabiti AlUla, a palm grove and guest house in the heart of AlUla’s oasis. The next edition will be held at Madrasat AdDeera, an arts and design center set to become a key space in the future Arts District of AlUla, a cluster of education and art programs aimed at providing an active and vibrant destination for communities, students, artists, and visitors.

The first cohort of artists-in-residence began collaborations with local artisans through the programs held at Madrasat AdDeera.

Sara Favriau, Ruban de Möbius (“Möbius Strip”), 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

Suspended over a pool of water and positioned in between a grove of palm trees, Saudi artist Rashed Al-Shashai’s installation, “Thuraya,” draws links between modern science and the ancient past.

Created using natural materials from the oasis, it is colored red with golden lanterns on either side that at night cast reflections on the water and illuminate the area.

Al-Shashai told Arab News that his piece had been inspired by the importance of the stars to the lives of farmers.

He said: “My grandfather used to take me with him to perform the Fajr prayer. I remember the path we used to walk together. When he was talking to me, he was always looking at the sky, at the star, at the Thuraya and its position in the sky. Farmers have always been guided by its location in the sky to start planting or harvesting. It was the start of my inspiration for my installation.”

The artists spent the last three months creating works as part of the area’s first art residency program. (Supplied)

The cycle of death and renewal in the oasis was the focus of Muhannad Shono’s work, “On This Sacred Day,” with the smoke rising from the installation representing the stories of comings and goings, loss, and remembrance.

He said: “It is a ceremonial piece that transcribes the journey of plant, ash, smoke, and sky, in other words, a cycle of death and renewal unfolding inside a living oasis. It also questions purposeful change, transformation, and impacts to guard against fires that may seek to reduce the world to ash.”

French artist Sara Favriau’s artwork, titled “The Oasis is a Wadi Raised to the Sky,” takes three forms and three distinct steps corresponding to three related moments: Small sculptures called “Trifles and Trinkets,” a filmed performance titled “A Never-Ending Day,” and an installation named “Mobius Strip.” The artist created the trio of forms to question the notion of a garden of the desert and, more specifically, of the oasis, envisioning the planet as an expansive garden with the human and animal realms united as one.

Sofiane Si Merabet (The Confused Artist), It’s Not Early Anymore, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

French-Algerian artist Sofiane si Merabet looked at the oasis as a “motherly environment” that had nurtured humans throughout time.

Titled “It’s Not Early Anymore,” his work reflects on the recent development of the oasis of AlUla and the excitement surrounding wedding celebrations. Located in a small, one-story building on an oasis farm, he has produced a multimedia installation capturing the Saudi traditions of the Tagagat, or female wedding singers, and regional elements documenting urban signs and shops referring to weddings.

Si Merabet told Arab News that AlUla was also known as the “bride of the mountains.”

He said: “Working closely with Nujood, the only Tagaga of AlUla, is a very powerful way of documenting the sociology of the oasis, the current dynamic of change, and how both are linked to spaces.

Talin Hazbar, Earth Readings, 2022, Mabiti AlUla, The Oasis Reborn Art residency 1. (Supplied)

“The oasis as a motherly space, nourishing, full of greenery, and the desert, it reminds me of the dichotomy that you can find during weddings: A mirror of how interactions between genders or different social groups occur.

“This work searches for the permanence of local traditions and questions the meaning of preservation and authenticity and how they can be reinvented,” he added.

Talin Hazbar, an artist born in Syria and based in the UAE, created “Earth Readings,” a piece exploring the myriad of relationships between the past and the present, the imperceptible and the material. The work delves into the meaning of the land through “mark-making and map-making narratives.”

She said: “I worked with a living material which can be reshaped, remolded, reconstructed, and that constantly adapts, and evolves. It becomes a trace of its lifetime and of its space while also becoming a key to understand AlUla in its own elements, stories, and practices.”

In a powerful nod to the expansive and varied landscape of the AlUla oasis, French artist Laura Sellies’ “Populated by Moving Leaves” showcases an installation made up of sculptures, sounds, and texts. She said it invoked a “palace of memories” whereby metal structures invite visitors to listen to the voices of the oasis — both real and fictional —including women, men, birds, camels, winds, water, rocks, and sand.

The artists’ works were presented to the public over three days of open studios in January and will be on display during AlUla Arts festival taking place from Feb. 13 to 26.


Inside Victorian England’s astonishing tribute to the Middle East

Inside Victorian England’s astonishing tribute to the Middle East
Updated 15 January 2022

Inside Victorian England’s astonishing tribute to the Middle East

Inside Victorian England’s astonishing tribute to the Middle East
  • The Arab Hall in London’s Leighton House Museum has been an important cultural center since the late 19th century

DUBAI: The Arab Hall in London’s Leighton House Museum has been described by one of the English capital’s walking-tour guides as the city’s “most jaw-dropping room.” The story of this sumptuous space begins with one of the Victorian era’s most-distinguished artists and travelers, Lord Frederic Leighton, who was only in his mid-thirties when he started building his red-brick house and studio in the Kensington neighborhood in 1864.

Leighton, raised and educated in continental Europe, was making a name for himself in the British art world at the time. He was an associate (and later president) of London’s Royal Academy of Arts; his work was purchased by royalty; and he sold his “Dante in Exile” picture for a then-handsome sum of more than £1,000 (equivalent to around $184,000 today, according to the CPI inflation calculator). It is believed that this boost to his finances pushed him to create what he famously called his “private palace of art.” 

The two-story house was designed by architect George Aitchison. For more than 30 years, until Leighton’s death in 1896, the sophisticated house was an evolving project, featuring a library, a dining room, a grand staircase, a blue ‘Narcissus Hall’ and an impressive studio drenched in natural light. The only ‘private’ part of the house was Leighton’s simple bedroom, accommodating a single bed. 

Golden dome and brass gasolier, Arab Hall, Leighton House. (Supplied)

“His house was not designed in a day or built in a year,” observed the journalist Harry How in 1892. “It has been the work of years; bit by bit it has become more beautiful; its owner has watched it grow up almost as a father does his boy.” 

Every room had a purpose, and each was furnished with mementos from his travels, patterned fabrics, and classical revival paintings. It’s a domestic setting that reveals the artist’s refined taste and worldly personality but there is also a showy element. 

“It’s in part an artistic expression, but it is also an ambitious thing for a young artist to make the statement that they are building this bespoke studio-house,” Leighton House Museum’s senior curator Daniel Robbins told Arab News. “It was a way of using your house as a means of projecting an idea of yourself in quite deliberate ways.”

Frederic Leighton, RBKC, Leighton House. (Supplied)

One room in particular has been crowned the star of Leighton’s house: the Arab Hall. “It was always commented on that the exterior of the house was relatively plain and didn’t give away the richness of the interiors, and that still is the case,” said Robbins. “People will come into the house and have no idea that the Arab Hall is there. So when they discover it, it never ceases to amaze them. If people know Leighton House, the one thing they’ll know it for is the Arab Hall.”

Construction on the Arab Hall commenced in 1877, inspired by ‘La Zisa’ (or ‘Al-Aziza’ in Arabic) — an ancient Arab-Norman palace in Palermo, Sicily. Both Leighton and Aitchison were drawn to its honeycombed wall niches, golden mosaics and fountains. Leighton’s Arab Hall turned into an intimate oasis, with walls of visually stunning tiles imported from Syria, Iran, and Turkey and a shimmering mosaic frieze depicting vines, deers, birds, flowers, ​mythical figures, over which looms a majestic golden dome. “That’s the thing that will stay with people the most — the intensity of that color,” Robbins said of the tiles’ signature peacock-blue and turquoise tones. 

Arabic calligraphy is an integral aspect of the tiles, featuring verses from the Qur’an. Although some of them have been swapped around, disrupting the flow. “His response to the material was absolutely an aesthetic one. There’s no evidence that he had any scholarly interest in it,” explained Robbins, who has been at the museum for nearly 20 years. 

Leighton’s Arab Hall, RBKC Leighton House Museum. (Supplied)

The Arab Hall was almost certainly unique in London at the time. It is a testament to Leighton’s great interest in the Middle East. His first trip to the region, in 1857, took him to Algiers. “This visit made a deep impression of me; I have loved ‘The East,’ as it is called, ever since,” he wrote of that visit. Over the following decades, Leighton sketched views of the Nile in Egypt and roamed the old quarter of Damascus. Coming full circle, Leighton returned to North Africa a year before his death in the hope that a warmer climate would help him recover from heart problems. 

“On all of these trips, he was gathering knowledge and experiences of different interiors and architecture that collectively led to the Arab Hall,” said Robbins. 

Traveling to the region became easier for well-off Victorians in the 19th century, but it remained largely unknown in several regards. “A lot of their perceptions fall into that kind of orientalist category of considering the region as untouched by time,” said Robbins. With the completion of the Arab Hall in 1881-2, Leighton’s House was the talk of the town’s cultural elite. Fellow painters and curious journalists were dazzled by it; Queen Victoria came to see it, as did George Eliot; and Edward Burne-Jones and James McNeill Whistler both dined there.

Leighton’s Arab Hall, RBKC Leighton House Museum. (Supplied)

“It’s probably no exaggeration to say that all the prominent figures in London society at that time would have been to the house,” said Robbins. 

But there were also those who felt that both the house and Leighton himself were more about style than substance. 

“People who didn’t like Leighton, of his contemporaries, said that there was something artificial about him, that he always seemed to be performing,” Robbins explained. “You never really felt that you got behind that performance to really get to know him.” 

The museum is currently undergoing refurbishment plans, set to be completed by the summer. Visitors can expect a new garden café, a shop, exhibition and learning areas, disabled access, and a mural by Vancouver-based artist Shahrzad Ghaffari, celebrating the theme of oneness. 

With its blend of East and West, the Arab Hall can be viewed with a different kind of interpretation in today’s world — encouraging, as it does, cultural inclusivity. In recent years, the museum has hosted a series of films by Syrian directors, and showcased Afghan craftsmanship. 

“We had a project with immigrant children who were brought to the house and it was fantastic to see their surprise to find something that was recognizable and felt familiar,” said Robbins. “There’s a sense of identifying with it and, I think, a sort of pride. In that context, it means something to them and is appreciated by so many people.”


Inside Danny McBride’s riotous comedy ‘The Righteous Gemstones’

Inside Danny McBride’s riotous comedy ‘The Righteous Gemstones’
Updated 14 January 2022

Inside Danny McBride’s riotous comedy ‘The Righteous Gemstones’

Inside Danny McBride’s riotous comedy ‘The Righteous Gemstones’
  • McBride’s satire about a family of hypocritical televangelists just returned for season two

DUBAI: There’s no mistaking a Danny McBride creation. While he may be best known for his pure acting work in “This is the End,” “Alien: Covenant,” and many more, McBride has spent the last 12 years at HBO creating some of the best and most outrageous satire of the century, including “Eastbound and Down,” “Vice Principals,” and his latest and greatest hit, “The Righteous Gemstones,” the second season of which is currently showing on OSN.

McBride’s characters, whether he’s playing them or writing them, are often imbued with similar traits. They’re charming, venal, bombastic, over-grown children who are thriving in a world to match, with a deeply-felt id-driven humanity guiding their every action that makes them impossible to hate. With “The Righteous Gemstones,” McBride has crafted his most over-the-top family to date, a group of superstar televangelists who have grifted millions by packaging and selling virtues that they themselves lack entirely.

That kind of creative environment has attracted top-tier acting talent to the show, including John Goodman, who plays the family’s patriarch, and season 2 newcomer Eric André. (Supplied)

“It’s wild to see this spectacle. There’s this mix of showmanship and celebrity, paired with this ancient faith, and there’s so much going on in this world that I still can't get my head around it,” McBride tells Arab News. “I was attracted to the idea of a pastor seeing themselves as a celebrity. A lot of the characters that I've worked on before had this inflated sense of themselves; pastors who see themselves as rock stars (are) the epitome of that specific sort of flawed ego.”

“These are people that we see in the news, but they don’t they don't seem real. I think it's fascinating to flesh these people out in a story (and) see them as humans,” says Cassidy Freeman, who plays Amber, the wife of McBride’s character Jesse Gemstone.

McBride has also increasingly been stretching himself creatively and stepping behind the camera. He wrote the new “Halloween” trilogy alongside his longtime friend and collaborator David Gordon Green, swapping comedy for outright horror, and directed multiple episodes of “The Righteous Gemstones.”

McBride’s characters, whether he’s playing them or writing them, are often imbued with similar traits. (Supplied)

“I think because he gets a lot of credit as kind of a national treasure, he doesn't get credit for what an incredibly good writer and filmmaker he is,” says Tim Baltz, who plays BJ in the show. “As a director, he's so efficient. It’s really shocking. He’s so respectful of each of us, and gives us agency, because he and the producers trust their casting, which allows you to go deep inside of yourself and come up with new wrinkles for the character. You’re never afraid that you’re going to guess wrong. It’s very improv friendly.”

For Edi Patterson, who plays one of the Gemstone siblings and writes on the show, McBride is the life-blood of the series.

“Danny has got such a fast and clever mind. I don't know if just being a fan of his shows (lets) you understand how incredibly smart you have to be to make something as complicated as the Gemstones world,” she says. “And he’s such an interesting collaborator. It’s a very ‘Yes, and’ kind of vibe, where his ideas almost always spark funny ideas from me, and then we will build back and forth. He’s so much fun.”

That kind of creative environment has attracted top-tier acting talent to the show, including John Goodman, who plays the family’s patriarch, and season 2 newcomer Eric André.

‘The Righteous Gemstones’ is by Danny McBride. (Supplied)

“I learn something new every time I watch an episode. This show is the best of both worlds, having this 10-part dense story structure like ‘Game of Thrones,’ but with a dysfunctional family at its heart that everyone can relate to, while remining heightened, super-specific and nuanced inside the world of people who make millions through donations based on summoning people’s spirit and attention for pure profit,” says André.

Some tenured actors even had to fight to be a part of it. After falling in love with the first season, Academy Award-nominee Eric Roberts pushed hard to land an audition for the second, he was so desperate to work with McBride.

“I really went after this part. My wife and I did an at-home audition and we sent it in and just got lucky,” says the 65-year-old Golden Globe winner. “Danny McBride is a genius. These scripts are fantastic. Every character is completely different from all the other characters. There are no repeats. It’s such a cool show to be a part of, because it's the real deal.

“I've worked with so many groups in my life, but I've never had a group in front of and behind the camera that was so perfect in my career. Everybody is aces,” he continues. “Standing in a boxing ring holding a gold-plated gun across from John Goodman was just icing on the cake for me.”