King Kong : Jack in Black


When people go to see Peter Jackson’s new remake of King Kong on Wednesday, the giant ape on screen might have a bit of competition for the audience on a smaller scale from actor Jack Black, who has continued to build an army of fans despite not having a new film in well over a year.

Black plays a more dramatic part in the film, that of director Carl Denham, a cross between P.T. Barnum and Cecille B. DeMille, who brings his crew to Skull Island to film his latest epic. Instead, he comes away with an experience he’ll never forget, not to mention the island’s ape-like deity Kong, which he brings back to New York to put on stage billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” spoke to Black during the recent Kongmania that hit modern-day New York City last week.

CS: Okay, the question on everyone’s minds is probably how you hooked up with this project and why?
Jack Black: I just wanted to party with Peter Jackson. That was like a kind of a secret goal of mine and it was unbelievable. I didn’t think that I would be able to. I talked to my agent like a few months beforehand, and said, “God, I want to be in a Peter Jackson movie, can’t you make it happen? You’re a power agent.” And she was like, “Dude, everybody wants to be in a Peter Jackson movie.” And I was like, “You’re right, so let’s just forget it.” And then he called, weirdly, and asked me to come and interview for “King Kong.” And yeah, I would have come and interviewed for “Carrots on Ice” if he was directing it. Luckily, it was one of the most amazing parts and incredible scripts I’ve ever read. It was a different role than most of the ones that I’d played in the past. This has got some darker elements to it and it’s a period piece, which I don’t usually do, and it’s not all about just, “Here comes that crazy Jack Black, gonna do his thing!” I had to concentrate on where this character was coming from, the time and the place in the world where he was. And the hardest thing, the thing I had to get over in my own mind, was that he’s a leader of men. He’s the boss and people do his bidding. And that from some reason was difficult for me to imagine. I’m more comfortable playing the guy who’s the drifter, the free plains crazy man. But I had an incredible experience, and I just trusted in Pete to lead me to the Promised Land.

CS: Had you seen the original movie and what were your thoughts on it?
Black: I had never seen the original “King Kong” in its entirety until I went in to interview for the role, and of course, I watched it before I went in to interview. When I did get the part, I watched a lot of films from that era. When I saw it, you appreciate things on a level, because of the things I said. But it’s kind of like going to Disneyland now, as an adult. I love to go to Disneyland now, as an adult, but it’s not the same as when I was a kid, when I was inside of a magical world that I believed [in]. “I was really flying! I was really shrinking, Dad! We were in a shrinking machine. I’m the size of an electron!’ [Spoken in a kid’s voice]. It’s not like that. Now, it’s like, “Holy crap! Did you see how they painted that thing? It’s on a hinge. It’s really incredible the way that they…”

CS: After seeing it, what was your sense of Kong as an icon, and did that affect your decision whether to take the role or not?
Black: No, I didn’t think about King Kong as a symbol or as an icon or what his place in history was in world of moviemaking, because that doesn’t help me play the part any better. That’s for the historians. That’s for you guys [the media] to talk about and think about. But when I watched the movie, the original, it’s impossible not to think about it in terms of how that started a whole genre of moviemaking. There weren’t really any special effects before that, maybe just that other one, the one with the robot… Metropolis. But this was the first one of its kind. You watch it and you think about the impact that it had back then. The special effects look kind of crappy now, but at the time… You’d be hard-pressed to make a movie now that would have the kind of impact on audiences that that one did then, where people were just like, “It’s a real… monster!”

CS: And you play a crazy, out of control director, who runs away with all the money and film. Did you base this character on anyone you’d seen or worked with before?
Black: Well, you know, they had told me that they were looking for a kind of young Orson Welles type of filmmaker, who is real cocky with sort of a youthful exuberance and a little bit of hubris. I was like, “So I can be like a genius?” and they were like, “Yeah, he’s a genius, but he’s more of a frustrated genius.” He’s like the unsuccessful version of Orson Wells. So he’s got this chip on his shoulder, but also this hunger, to be hailed as a genius.

CS: Did you go back and try to watch some of Wells’ movies in order to channel him?
Black: Here’s the Orson Wellesian thing that I don’t have. Whatever he’s doing, he’s kind of cool. He’s always kind of debonair and in control, which is not my style. But hopefully I did channel [Welles] a little bit because I know that’s what they had envisioned for the character. You know, there was talk of a certain, not a director, but a certain movie mogul that they would reference a lot and say, “What would so and so do?” I don’t want to say what his name is. It was, “What would a certain movie mogul with the initial W do?” … yeah, it was Weinstein. I’m not gonna say WHICH Weinstein. He will remain 50 percent anonymous.

CS: Did you get any inspiration to play this part from Peter Jackson himself?
Black: Of course, my first instinct that I thought was brilliant and no one would know – it’d be my secret — is I would base it on Peter Jackson. So, I’m already heavy and then he was skinny. “Wait a second; I gotta lose weight!” But then, on the first week, following him around before we started shooting, I realized that Pete is not the guy that I had to be for this movie. He’s a really sweet guy that you really like, and you trust him and you always feel safe. And Carl Denham is not looking out for anybody but himself. He’s very selfish and he won’t think twice about killing half of his crew to get his shot. So I abandoned that [initial idea], but there might be a couple of Peter Jackson-isms in there.

CS: Did you really learn how to use one of those old-time cameras that your character always has with him?
Black: Yeah. Luckily, Pete is a collector of many old, cool artifacts of Hollywood lore, and he had one of the cameras that they used to film some of King Kong with. Me and Colin and the other people who were on the film within the film crew learned how to make movies with it and load it and shoot. We actually shot some really dumb movies on it in preparation. I think they might be on the DVD extras. They’d better be, because we put a lot of thought into those turdy little movies. One of them was called “The Chase.” It was an homage to Buster Keaton or… who was it? I don’t remember.

CS: Did Peter give you the chance to do any improvising?
Black: In terms of improvising in the 1930s, I didn’t even try because it would have been like “Hey, ma’am, what are ya…” or “Dude…” No, I stuck to the script.

CS: What was it like acting against a green screen and not seeing all of the computerized creatures and special effects that they added in later?
Black: Acting with special effects was a breeze. I felt like I was born to do it. It’s the same job as all the movies I’ve done. It’s always just pretending that something’s happening that’s not really happening, and pretending like you’re feeling something that you’re not really feeling. I’m never going to be on that show [The Actor’s Studio], because it’d be so embarrassing to talk about my process. It seems pretty lame, but it works for me. I just like to stare into space and imagine what it would be like for me to be back in that time and a lot of it, for me, was just imagining monsters and running away from them and chasing after them. I liked this one green field over at UCLA, where I went to college. In between the library and Royce Hall, there’s a big, green field there, and I’d run around, imagining monsters chasing me and stuff, and screaming, at night when no one’s there. But I loved running as fast as I can and screaming as loud as I can. So, those kinds of things I felt I was ready for. With regard to real people

acting to fight off thousands of giant, man-eating cockroaches, it was fun. You’re just imagining things that aren’t happening, and that’s the job whether it’s a huge-budget movie or a little independent. So I was just imagining. So I felt suited to the job. I liked it. I like monsters and high-intensity scenes. That was one of my favorite scenes, actually, though I did hurt my shoulder a little bit. I overextended it whipping around my gun. It was a gun [he used to fend off the big bugs].

CS: Was it nice working with Colin Hanks again. Did the two of you still have the rhythm you developed on “Orange County”?
Black: Yeah, it was great. I didn’t know Colin was going to be in it, and then I was really stoked because we had so much fun on “Orange County.” I don’t know if they had thought of that when they were casting, if they were thinking, “Yeah, let’s get some kick-ass pairings, because Jack and Colin work so well, and because Adrien and Thomas Kretschmann worked so well together in The Pianist.” Yeah, I thought about that… but Naomi didn’t have anybody that she’d worked with before, so she’s all by her lonesome.

CS: If you could be anyone else on the ship other than the director, who would it be and why?
Black: Oh, wait a second. I see what you mean, because I got confused because of the movie within the movie thing. If I could be anyone on the ship besides Carl Denham? Who would I have been? Well, I guess I wouldn’t go the romantic lead, because I’d be really embarrassed because I’d be going the whole time, “Why didn’t they hire Adrian Brody?” but yeah, I’d have liked to have been King Kong. Let’s face it, that’s what everyone’s going to see. Everyone’s wants to see that big ass gorilla kicking ass all over the jungle and New York. That’s what I want to see.

CS: Do you think doing this movie will change your ability to find different roles or even the perception of you in Hollywood?
Black: No. You know, this is the biggest budget movie that I’ve ever been on, but it’s still the same job. You want to work with cool people with great minds and creativity and Peter Jackson was just, you know, an artist that I wanted to hang out with. You want to spend time with people that you really respect, you know. It’s not just the making of the movie, but like you’re spending a year of your life with that person. You want it to be someone that you enjoy their company. We’ll see, but I can’t imagine. It’s not like I was frustrated. “God, why don’t people take me seriously?” I want a better career where people will see me as “Kramer vs. Kramer” type material. I can make them cry and get awards. I’ve had so much fun in the last five years. It’s been such a great run. I just hope I get to be in another Peter Jackson movie. That would be it. But it doesn’t really matter, drama, action, comedy; as long as it’s someone I’m excited to work with. That’s all that I care about.

CS: How are things going on the Tenacious D film?
Black: Oh, the Tenacious D film. We finished principal photography, and I love it. I’m very proud of it. It’s the first movie that I wrote, produced and starred in. It was my chance to show the world what I think is funny, because I’ve been in a lot of comedies, and nothing makes me laugh as much as what me and my friends come up with when we’re stoned and farting around in his apartment. So that’s what this movie is going to be. Unfortunately, we screened it and it was kicking so much ass and then the ending, we said, “No, man, we’re going to keep it real.” The ending is just us in a club playing a song, single-camera, no edits, done, end of movie, finale! And then we watched it with the audience, and it was like, “Dude, we’ve flown around with Sasquatch, we’re hiding from the Devil. We’ve got to have a big finish!” So we’re going to go back and reshoot, and the Earth will explode. The End. Something like that.

King Kong opens on Wednesday, December 14. Also, check out our interviews with Peter Jackson, Naomi Watts, and Adrien Brody.