He’s big, he’s brash and he’s hilarious. Following his starring role in war-film spoof Tropic Thunder, Jack Black talks exclusively to Enigma about life as a dad, cigars and being the funniest man in movies.
ack Black is not the typically attractive Hollywood movie idol. He’s overweight, has a foul mouth and unkempt facial hair. But the funny man has somehow managed to overcome stereotypes and become one of the most desired men in Hollywood. Kate Winslet even labelled him the sexiest film star she’s ever worked with, despite having starred alongside heartthrobs like Leonardo DiCaprio and Jude Law. But unlike many ladies’ men of the silver screen, the 38-year-old now shuns the showbiz lifestyle to spend time with his sons Tommy and Sammy and with his gorgeous musician wife Tanya Haden.
The son of two brilliant satellite engineers (his mother worked on the Hubble space telescope), Black dismissed a career in science and forfeited financial support from his disapproving father to pursue acting. He got his first big break from the actor Tim Robbins – who he attended the University of California at Los Angeles with – in his 1992 film Bob Roberts. That movie led to a small part in Demolition Man (1993) and the less critically acclaimed The Never ending Story III (1994). After turning the air blue in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006) and dropkicking a small dog off a bridge for his cameo in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), the cuddly actor adopted a more family friendly persona when he led a cast of kids in the smash hit School of Rock (2003). He also starred alongside Gwyneth Paltrow in the ‘beauty is on the inside’ comedy Shallow Hall (2001) and stole the spotlight from an over-sized gorilla in King Kong (2005). Earlier this year he lead an all star cast of voices in the Dreamworks’ hit Kung Fu Panda (2008) as Po, an ambitious yet lazy young panda who dreams of being a Kung Fu master.
Most recently he’s wowed audiences across the world with his hilarious role in the summer’s best comedy – Tropic Thunder (2008). Starring alongside old friend Ben Stiller (who gave him a break in his 1996 black comedy The Cable Guy), the war-film spoof has him playing a comedian trying to make a serious movie. There’s no question, Black has reached superstar status.
Jack, you have a family, you’re a movie star, a rock megastar and you will perform with Metallica later this year. How do you divide your time and keep everything in place?
I don’t know. There’s time for everything, there’s lots of time. It’s life and you just have to squeeze it in. Do you know how I do it? I’ve cut out all the fun stuff like video games. I don’t really play the video games anymore so there’s more time for everything else. I don’t go clubbing anymore. You’ve got to make some sacrifices to spend time with loved ones.
Anything else you fancy getting involved in?
I’m a fan of all of the arts. I like drawing and painting and working with arts and crafts. No one will ever buy my art but I like to do it. I also like to go and see other people’s work.
Congratulations on your recently born second son. Is he anything like you?
Sam is very precocious and lively. He loves to dance, loves music, and is so funny. Right now is the best time. You definitely feel that the age between one and two are so wonderful because soon he’s going to get too smart.
What attracted you to the Tropic Thunder project?
Well Ben [Stiller] sent me the script and I’ve worked with Ben a lot over the years. He gave me great opportunities early in my career before I was famous. He helped me along. And the script was so funny that I knew I had to do it.
Do you guys share the same sense of humour?
Yeah. He’s a little smarter and a little faster than me. So sometimes I’m like “What? I don’t get it…Oh! [laughs] Way funny!” But in the end we are both laughing at the same things.
When you read the script, did you say, “This is cool but here are my thoughts. Maybe we should add this”?
Yeah. I read the script and I thought this is fantastic but I don’t want to get on the water buffalo in my underpants. Let’s change that. Yeah, it’s not funny. It’s just not funny. Nah, I knew it was funny but I was scared to do it because it’s very dangerous and when I got there, I tried to talk him out of it. I said “Look at this. I have a really funny walk. I can do it without a…” and he said “No, it’s just much better if you’re on a water buffalo.” So I did it but it was dangerous. It was dangerous! I risked my life for Ben Stiller, for the good of the film!
Maybe you’ll get an award?
No, I won’t get any awards for that. The Canadians never get the awards. That’s why the clown is crying.
Before this film most people thought you were a peacenik, a very peaceful person, but you’re so at ease with guns in this movie? I know. That’s very strange. I’ve never shot a gun before so it was very strange how good I was at it right away.
Was that an M-60 you were using?
It was an M-60. You know your guns! That’s a big one! They call it the pig because it’s so big and fat. And yeah, I was able to run and shoot at the same time with it. It’s like a 40-pound gun, but I’m still a peacenik at heart. My gun doesn’t shoot bullets. It just shoots love. It’s a love gun.
Was Tropic Thunder the toughest movie physically for you to do out of all the movies you’ve done?
Well I did bruise a rib; I was running with my big pig gun and I dove into a foxhole and I landed funny on the gun, and it bruised my rib, and for those of you who have had a bruised rib it feels like a cracked rib. It’s not, it’s just a bruise, it lasts for like six weeks of not being able to breathe all the way in. It’s such a pain in the ass. And I put a lot of Arnica Montana gel on there, it doesn’t do shit, just so you know, because a lot has been made of that sauce, of Arnica. But I would still say King Kong was probably harder, I twisted my ankle really bad on that, and there was a lot of running and screaming in there.
Did you ever shoot a scene and have something going on in real life that was similar to it?
Of course, when I read the script I was like this is fuckin’ hilarious because it’s so true, and people are going to see this movie and go, ‘Oh that’s really funny but it’s not like that, it’s not that bad,’ but it is, that’s exactly what happens. There’s something about the industry, you get pampered in such a way the first half hour of being famous you’re like, this is absurd, I don’t need all these things, and then you’re all of a sudden like, I think I deserve them, and now I demand them’ – a transformation happens and I don’t think it’s possible to avoid. That’s why a lot of the actors you’ll hear about nowadays don’t live in Hollywood, they’ll go and live on a farm out in, you know, wherever, to try to stay grounded. They’ve got to keep themselves protected from the spoiling that happens when you live here.
And your grounding comes from what?
I don’t think I’m grounded, I have my own diva moments, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. But there was one funny moment, I guess when we were shooting the movie within the movie, at the beginning of the movie and there’s all those assistants running around, I think a couple of them were Ben’s assistants, and one of them was Robert Downey’s assistant who was working in there. It’s just funny seeing the movie now for me, because it was like, yeah, art definitely imitates life a lot in this movie.
Ok, let’s talk about Kung Fu Panda. Are family films going to be more important in your career now?
No, because I’m not thinking about forcing my kids to watch my movies. It’s always awkward when someone says, ‘Hey I wrote a song, can I play it for you?’ That would be the dynamic if I went, ‘Hey, you’re my son, watch my work. You like it?’ I don’t want to put them in that awkward position. But if anything having kids makes me want to make good movies, not necessarily for children but for when they get older. That’s what I’m worried about, that they’ll judge me and say, ‘My father’s Jack Black, he did some cheesy movies’. I want to keep it all high quality now that I have children. I’ll be a quality controller!
Both your parents were rocket scientists. Where would you go if you had a rocket of your own?
I’d just take a round trip but I wouldn’t land anywhere. I might consider a quick space mission. I would like to go to Saturn – it’s the coolest-looking – or maybe Neptune. But then I’d just come home, because I like my television better than anywhere in the universe.
How are you getting on
with quitting smoking?
Not smoking is going good. But I cheated and had a celebratory cigar when my son was born.
Any other vices? Like food?
I love pizza. Pizza’s the first thing that came to mind. Pizza and cheeseburgers. The cheeseburger is the perfect food because I love good sauce and I love meat. I don’t know why. Melted cheese? I don’t know, it’s just the perfect sandwich. It never ceases to deliver the mouth-watering satisfaction.
Did you study pandas at all for your role in ‘Kung Fu Panda’?
No, I was told just to use my own voice. I wasn’t modelling my character on the behaviour of pandas. I was just being me!
You famously let it slip that Angelina Jolie was expecting twins at the Cannes Film Festival. Have there been any repercussions?
That was fun. The truth is I didn’t tell the whole story, but now I’m going to spill all the beans. She was actually pregnant with triplet pandas, which is great news for the panda population. Unfortunately, it’s bad news for Brad Pitt because they are not his!
What music are you into at the moment?
I really still like The Strokes. And anything Jack White does. And not just because he’s the opposite of me!