Actor Interview: Jack Black

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Hailing from Hermosa Beach, California, Thomas “Jack� Black attended UCLA where he joined an acting troupe led by Tim Robbins. After a few unremarkable outings, an Oscar-quality cameo in The Jackal in 1997 led to his breakout role as John Cusack’s buddy in High Fidelity a few years later.

In 2001, Jack enjoyed his first title character, playing Shallow Hal opposite Gwyneth Paltrow, and he followed that up with a string of appearances in other comedies like Orange County, School of Rock, Envy and Anchorman, and with voicework in such animated adventures as Ice Age and Shark Tale. When not making movies, the versatile performer both sings and plays guitar for Tenacious D, his offbeat rock band blessed with a dedicated cult following. Here, he talks about his dramatic work as Carl Denham in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, one of the most enduring screen classics.

BSN: How did you get this role? After all, it represents a bit of a departure for you?
JB: It was weird, because I had been speaking to my agent just a couple of months before, and I was like, “Get me in the next Peter Jackson film.� And she was like, “Jack, everybody wants to be in the next Peter Jackson film.� I said, “I don’t care who else wants it, you’re a power agent, I’m a star, let’s make this happen.� But then I realized that every wanted to party with him because of Lord of the rings. He was the King Kong of the industry. So, I kind of gave up on that. But then I got the call, miraculously, would I come in and interview for King Kong. That just sounded so creamy and incredible that I started getting nervous. And before I even went in, I counted on not getting the role.

BSN: How did you land it?
JB: First, they showed me some drawings and paining of what they wanted the movie to look like, and how they wanted it to be set in the 1930s. And after they explained to me that they character they wanted me to play was a kind of obsessed filmmaker who had these demons inside of him, I said, “I don’t care who else you’re seeing, you have to give me this part. It would be a massive mistake, if you don’t cast me, because I am the man for the role.� I showed a confidence in there that I don’t usually show. I don’t like to sell myself, but this was one of the times where I was willing to stoop to begging, because it just seemed so fun.

BSN: Who did you pattern your character Carl Denham after?
JB: Well, they were talking about using a young and cocky Orson Welles as a model for some of the elements of his character. And I said, “Yeah, and he’s a genius!� They were like, “Yeah, but he’s sort of a frustrated genius. He wants to be respected in that way and he’s never tasted that kind of glory, so he’s hungry for it.� So, yeah, I focused in on the hubris and the ego, and the drive. He has all the ambition, but not all of the talent, unlike Orson, who could back it up.

BSN: So, did you watch some of his work in preparation?
JB: I did. I watched a lot of Orson Welles’ films, looked at a lot of photographs of him, and read about him. And they played me a couple of other things they felt I should focus on, like a tape of Welles railing on some poor advertiser about how stupid he was. And the guy was just asking him to read a little advertisement. This was from later in life, when Orson felt he was way above doing commercials for wine and other products. So, there’s definitely some of him in my performance, but there are some other people, too.

BSN: Is King Kong your first action film?
JB: I was an extra in Demolition Man, but that doesn’t count, because you couldn’t find me in that movie with a microscope if you tried.

BSN: Did you enjoy filming action sequences?
JB: Yeah, I loved running as fast as I can. A movie like this requires you to run as fast as you can, to scream as loud as you can, and to do a bunch of things to the limit of your physical capabilities in very dangerous environments where you’re about to do. It’s just a blast. I had never done it before, but I felt like I was born to do it.

BSN: Did you have to train for the role?
JB: You’re saying, “How could you have possible done it? You were not in physical condition for that.� Well, the truth is, I became quite an athlete in preparation. I would just run around imagining being chased by gorillas or seven-foot cockroaches, or whatever. That was my exercise, my training, and my acting preparation, rolled into one. I’m planning to teach a class where I talk about my technique at the Actor’s Studio next week.

BSN: Really?
JB: Everything I’ve said is true except I’m not starting an acting class.

BSN: You group, Tenacious D, hosted a Hurricane Katrina relief benefit concert in September. Any plans to do more?
JB: Yeah, but hopefully there won’t be another horrible natural disaster for a long time? One of the cool things about having a band is that it’s relatively easy to throw together a show. It makes you feel a little less helpless.

BSN: Did you go down to New Orleans?
JB: No, I didn’t do that. I should do that next time. I was blown away by the people that actually went down to the Katrina victims and Wilma victims. That’s so much more hardcore than just raising money. If you’re actually going down there, that blows me away.

BSN: But at least you immediately did what you could to raise some money.
JB: We raised some cash, yeah, but you never know with cash. When you raise some cash and send it away to the Red Cross, you never really know what’s happening with it. Is it really helping, or is like some government dude taking it and buying a Rolls Royce. The only way you really know that you’re helping is if you’re there helping.


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