Jack Black on Tropic Thunder

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From rock star to movie star, Jack Black has made an everlasting impression on Hollywood with his versatile talents. Now, the comedic actor stars in Tropic Thunder, a film directed and co-written by Ben Stiller about a group of spoiled actors who are told they’re being sent into the jungle to shoot a film, but end up having to deal with a vicious heroin-making drug ring who think the actors are American soldiers. Black plays one of the pretentious actors whose character rose to fame with his “Fatties” franchise and wants to star in the war movie to gain more respect, but flips out on set when he has withdrawals after he runs out of drugs.

Q: That blonde hair hasn’t washed out yet?
Jack Black: I haven’t cut it yet, because I had it so short in that movie, the buzz cut and I need more hair to rock properly. I’ve got some concerts coming up so I didn’t want to cut the hair until after my concerts, because you need to have this action going when you are rocking.

Q: Is Tenacious D playing in L.A. soon?
Black: Kind of. We are probably going to do an Obama benefit on Sept. 23 at the Wiltern.

Q: Is that a political statement?
Black: Yeah, but we are going to go play in England at the Leeds Festival and Redding. Very big festivals. Right before Metallica. You may have heard of them, they are a popular metal band. Hopefully we will survive because the Metallica fans can be very angry and they might throw bottles at us. I heard that sometimes people get bottles…

Q: The Obama crowd will be friendlier.
Black: They will be way more chilled I bet. We do a lot of political fundraisers. We tried to get John Kerry in last time. Didn’t work. Maybe we shouldn’t do – because every time we do it they don’t win.

Q: Are you cursed?
Black: I think we are going to win this time.

Q: For the trailer that opens this film, “The Fatties.” How was it doing the special effects and different characters? What was it like doing the Eddie Murphy-style comedy? Do you think he will be offended?
Black: I don’t think he will be offended because the whole movie is about making fun of movies and since we have offended every type of movie genre I think he’ll say, “Oh, alright I made the cut of things…” He’s not the only one who does multiple character comedies. Yeah, I love Eddie Murphy. I think he’s great. I thought that trailer was pretty funny. I felt like someone might offer me that movie to really make it, “Fatties: Fart 2.” Just skip the first one.

Q: How much were you allowed to go over board or what not or did you have to stick to script? Especially with my favorite line about the gravy?
Black: Well, thank you. That was my line I wrote that myself on the spot. I stuck to the script for the most part, but yeah maybe I should have made up more lines since the gravy one was the big winner. Maybe I should have made up all my lines. The script was super funny and I didn’t go off the rails too often. Yeah, when I was tied up to the tree, yeah I had to go – you know what that was? That was a homage to the urban legend about Sylvester Stallone going to his trailer with like some lady and they were having sex in his trailer and as the legend goes, he still wore his microphone and the sound design guy turned up the volume and everyone outside could hear. And he was like “Alright stroke the shaft, cradle the balls. Say my name.” [laughs]. That’s been going around for decades. The gerbil story – so I was like okay that was my chance to like duff to the cap to Sylvester Stallone.

Q: How did Downey rate as a black man?
Black: Downey was pretty good. I mean that’s for everyone else to judge. An incredible performance I’d say because he had the hardest part, being a guy, disguised as a guy, disguised as another guy. He always had like three layers of characters going, but it is kind of a tour de force. Whenever you have to play an incredible actor, when your role is a genius actor. How do you play that? It is not easy. I think he will get mad props for this movie.

Q: Even though there is a lot of slapstick comedy, do you think there is something serious to be said here? Like about racial issues?
Black: Totally. The bar was raised pretty high after “Borat” came out, because it wasn’t just funny it was like oh my god, it was bringing up all kinds of serious issues and this movie totally touches on those things too, racism in the movie industry, homophobia in the movie industry and drug addiction and all these lines you are not supposed to cross in movies and we really blew open a bunch of taboos, which is kind of cool.

Q: What does it show about drug addiction?
Black: It is just sort of showing this underbelly of the industry and how a lot of people are functioning in it even with these tough problems going on, but hopefully it will be really, really funny.

Q: I was reading that there was a baby water buffalo named after you while filming this. Can you talk about that?
Black: Bertha was pregnant. I was terrified of getting on the water buffalo naked. I didn’t want to do it and then Ben convinced me it would be really good for the film, so I did it and…

Q: How would a conversation like that go?
Black: It would be really funny if I just walked around like I was really jonesing and coming down off my heroin, that would be just as funny as being strapped to the Yak wouldn’t it? He’s like no man really, it is just so visually funny and great to see you coming down the mountain on the Yak. I did a lot of buffalo whispering, talking to her lovingly and complimenting her on her beauty and telling her we were going to be really good friends and massaging her hide. I got on her and she was still like (makes snorting noise while shaking head from side to side). I had this feeling that she hated me and wanted to kill me and it turned out that she was pregnant and nobody knew. She had a baby and then everything was good with us after that. They named the baby Jack, because we had that special relationship so they figured that I was the father.

Q: We haven’t seen a lot on “The Year One” yet, what is your biblical costume like?
Black: My biblical era – we have a lot of different looks. It starts off kind of tribal, coming from a tribe out in the forest and then we go to the desert where Abraham is and we get some biblical robes and then we end up at Sodom and Gomorrah and get some Roman soldier gear.

Q: Does the costume make it easier to be funny?
Black: Yeah I think that kind of stuff can go a long way when you get a good look going.

Q: What was it like working with Ben on this? He’s been working on it for a long time so what was he like on set?
Black: The great thing about Ben as a director is he really knows what the actors are going through. A lot of his techniques come from what he likes to do as an actor and we did a lot of scenes over and over without cutting and that helps to get a really good comedy flowing. Where most directors you’ll do the shot, “cut” and then they’ll come in and give you a bunch of notes, “Yeah, those notes are really obvious. Yeah, I’ll do that I was going to do it anyway. Now you are making me mad. And now so much time has gone by, five minutes and now we are set up to do it again and now here we go and I’ve lost the mojo and the flow.” With Ben he understands that and he’ll just keep it flowing and he’ll say, “Take it from the top” and then yell out one little note for you to think of when you go out to do it again and there is a lot of stuff that we got that was really funny that we wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t finessed it in that way.

Q: How did that factor into the improv? How much of what was on the page was what you did?
Black: We always said what was on the page, but then he was open to letting us let our freak flag fly, go off the rails on the crazy train.

Q: How far off the rails do you think that comedy can get? Are there any boundaries?
Black: Yeah, there are always boundaries. If you touch on something that is a tragedy of some kind that is too recent that still holds true, you gotta wait for certain jokes but it does seem like you can get away with more now then in the olden times.

Q: Is that a good thing?
Black: Yeah, I think so.

Q: Robert said people were dropping like flies on the set. How bad did things get?
Black: It was hot and muddy. It was not easy conditions, but that was the trade off because when we weren’t filming we were in this gorgeous location. A couple people got bit by centipedes, which I heard isn’t pleasant. It is like getting shot by a gun apparently. You have to go to the hospital. I didn’t get bit. I got a bad sunburn on the first day and I tried to blame it on other people, but that of course was my fault. I’m no rocket scientist.

Q: Are you ready for a straight action movie now?
Black: No, I don’t think anyone would buy it. It has to be funny.

Q: “King Kong” was close enough.
Black: That’s true and that was fun. If they want to do a “King Kong 2.”

Q: Even “Bad Boys” stars comedy guys.
Black: That’s true. You know what, never say never.

Q: What about another romantic comedy like “Holiday”?
Black: I don’t know. I’m not actively pursuing those roles. Where’s my next romantic comedy and who shall she be? [jokingly]. No, not really no.

Q: You are comfortable in the niche you’ve created for yourself?
Black: Yeah, I guess I’m comfortable. I like the movies I’m making right now.

Q: How is fatherhood with two babies?
Black: It is great. The babes are happy and healthy. The little one is only two months old now and making some good faces. He is very like an octopus, he doesn’t have any muscles or anything, but he’s fun to look at. He’s got potential. He’s already working the eyebrows.

Q: What action movies did you grow up watching?
Black: The first one I remember seeing was “Apocalypse Now” and that was great, it was very stoney and I remember that Robert Duvall was hilarious in it with his Nepalm in the morning speech and that is probably the best one and there is “Platoon,” awesome. I stole one of the “Platoon” guy’s voice. You know the guy who talked like that (in a hoarse voice)? He talked like that he had a hoarse voice and somehow that meant he was in Nam. And I used that for my character within the movie, “Tropic Thunder.” I only say one line in that character before sh*t starts to blow up around us. A fun fact for ya.

Q: Do you know the actor’s name?
Black: No, don’t tell him I said that. I have a feeling he wasn’t doing a character voice, I think that really was his voice, “Hey were you doing my voice in that movie?” That’s what’s going to happen.

Q: You guys were channeling a lot of “Apocalypse Now.” Did you have to resist doing certain things, stealing lines?
Black: No because we weren’t making an “Airplane!” type spoof of war movies it was more of a send up of the movie industry, behind the scenes of a movie. I didn’t really concern myself with capturing actual moments from old war movies, it is just the flavor.

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