When I met with Jack Black at a Midtown Manhattan hotel, he was fighting a sore throat. Black's under the weather demeanor, lounging on the couch in what can be best described as "I'm sick, so I want to be comfortable" attire, gave the entire proceeding a sense of informality. An informality that resulted in (A) Black all but admitting that he wanted to talk about other subjects than the film he was promoting, "Bernie," and (B) me feeling so comfortable that I openly admitted my disdain for Black's 2009 film, "Gulliver's Travels" -- which I immediately regretted.
In "Bernie," Black is reunited with his "School of Rock" director Richard Linklater to play Bernie Tiede -- the true story of a Texas funeral director who is charged with the murder of an elderly widow, played by Shirley McLaine. Here, Black discusses if the dark comedy of "Bernie" signals a shift in his career trajectory, why he really wanted to make the comedic "Green Lantern," and the experience of meeting "The Six Million Dollar Man" as a child while filming an episode of "The Fall Guy."
How are you?
I have a sore throat, so I'm not shaking any hands. Don't take it personally.
[Black chugs down a bottle of water] Ahhh!
How am I supposed to transcribe that?
Watching you in this movie is fun. Well, in a dark way.
That's the thing. You can't admit to having too much fun.
Too bad this interview isn't at the Ritz, because that's where Bernie and Marjorie went on their trip to New York.
Oh, yeah! We should have gone where they went.
Is that too morbid? Someone did die.
It would be too morbid. Although, some people take tours of death houses, right? And, plus, she didn't die at the Ritz. They had an awesome time.
We should do this entire interview about junket locations. I'm sure people would find it fascinating.
Is there anyway we can just focus on that for the whole time? Because this "Bernie" stuff is getting old [laughs].
I get the feeling that you're only half kidding.
I'm only half kidding.
OK, how about this? I'll start off with a question that's not about "Bernie." Or do you want a "Bernie" question?
No, no. Whatever. Hit me with your last question.
OK, here it is: You were in an episode of "The Fall Guy."
Yes. That was my first real gig.
What was that experience like?
Oh, man. I was in a commercial before that, so I had my SAG card. My favorite TV show growing up was "The Six Million Dollar Man." So you can imagine my amazement when I went in to audition for "The Fall Guy" and there was fucking Steve Austin. It was Lee Majors!
He was there for your audition?
Yeah, he was a producer and star. And I didn't get to play him when he was a kid, but I played his bully friend who had mean ideas to steal baseball mitts. So, you know, I pulled him over to the dark side. he wouldn't have stolen them on his own, but I was the devil in his ear. Yeah, that was a big moment for me.
I should ask something about "Bernie" now.
Dude, ask me. Ask away.
There's footage in the credits that shows you and the real Bernie meeting. I'm assuming that was at the prison.
I met him just once. We went to the maximum security prison, just once. It's not an easy deal, you can't just breezily walk up and say, "Hey, can I see Bernie today?" You have to make an appointment. You go in, you go through like five levels of security gate checks, you walk through the general population and it's like, "Oh, God, this is scary."
Did they recognize you?
"Nacho!" Or, "School of Rock!" And then you get to Bernie and Bernie doesn't know anything I've been in because he's been in there for so long. I wasn't in TV or film before … well, except "The Fall Guy."
He saw you and said, "Hey, you're young Colt Seaver's friend."
[Laughing] He wouldn't have recognized that skinny little kid.
Wasn't "Bye Bye Love" out by the time he went to prison?
Yeah … no. And they don't watch movies in there. They get to watch a little TV, but he's not seeing any of my stuff.
Not even that episode of "Community"?
[Laughs] Maybe that. Oh, God. So he's just this sweet, gentle giant of a man. And he doesn't fit in there with all of those killers. It is sad. He's not a threat. Hanging out with him, you don't get the feeling that he would be a threat. He could be let out and no one would be in danger.
I think this is a really good role for you.
It's not your typical "Jack Black movie."
It's true. It's not. But it is a great role. What makes it great is just what I was talking about. He's the most beloved guy in town and, yet, he's the most least likely to commit murder.
Are we going to see a shift in the movies that you make now? Doing more movies like "Bernie" instead of movies like "Gulliver's Travels" -- which I will admit that I didn't like. I'd rather see more movie like this than "Gulliver's Travels," is that fair?
That's fair. Of course you're allowed to say whatever you want. But, I'm going to be going straight into "Gulliver's Travels 2," "Gulliver's Travels 3" and "Gulliver's Travels 4" -- just because you said that. All I'm going to do is "Gulliver's," to punish you. But, no, there's no plan to do a career switcheroo. I'm going to do a Tenacious D album, we're releasing that next month and then we'll go on tour. That's my band, Tenacious D. We have to put everything else on hold while we do that.
Do people not know you're in a band? Why did you just clarify that?
Not everybody knows that. I never presume that I'm so famous that I don't need to tell people my name or anything [laughs]. I don't care. I'm not offended if you don't know. But, yeah, I'm going to do that and Charlie Kaufman has a script that I'm excited to do, which is also kind of a dark departure. So, maybe I am going in that direction. But, really, that's just sort of the opportunities that come up. I'm just taking the best of what's available.
So, Charlie Kaufman's movie, then "Gulliver's Travels 2." A dark movie, followed by a "Gulliver's." That's the pattern.
[Laughing] Is that the way it works? No, you rest assured, there will be no "Gulliver's 2." Though [leans into my audio recorder] it made a quarter of a billion dollars! Worldwide!
It was a holiday favorite?
It was not. It was a huge flop in the States. Anyway, on that note...
Last year, I did a lengthy interview with Robert Smigel for Vanity Fair on his "Green Lantern" draft that you were going to star in. You two got so much heat for that...
I know. I know.
The "Green Lantern" movie that came out was not well received. Is there any part of you that feels, "Well, we could really have had some fun with that"?
You know, I wanted to do it.
I read the script.
It was hilarious. Yeah, the stealing of the Superman spinning the Earth backwards ...
Green Lantern creates a Superman with his power ring and let's Superman save Earth.
It was so clever. I mean, I think Smigel's Achilles' heal is that he's too smart. His humor is so funny. There's a humor barrier, similar to the sound barrier. Where, if you go over it -- if you go too funny and smart, there's an explosion and your movie makes no money. There's been a few like that. I don't know if you saw "MacGruber"?
I have. And I'm a fan.
It broke the comedy barrier. A huge explosion and then nobody went to see it. You can't get too funny. You have to keep it down here.
What movie of yours do you feel went over the humor barrier?
I'm not telling you.
Because that would be conceited.
It wouldn't be conceited.
I'm not going to fall into your trap that you've laid soft leaves on top of. Then the headline is, "Jack Black Thinks This Shitty Movie Is The Best Movie Ever Made."
"And You're Dumb For Not Liking It," Black Says.
[Laughing] Yeah. You almost had me.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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