Exclusive Interview: Jack Black

Big, bad Jack on impersonating Peter Jackson and working with great directors...

Up till now, you’ve been Hollywood’s wacky, funny guy. This seems a far straighter character. What’s your take?
I felt like I knew why he called me. He wanted this guy to be sort of a big ego… kind of insecure, obsessive character. I felt like I had all of those qualities. And I don’t think he wanted it to be devoid of comedy. There are a few opportunities to be funny in this but, you’re right, included in that would be some territory I’ve not dealt with before. Some uncharted stuff for me and I approached it the same way I approach all my roles. I take them all seriously, funny or not. I felt like I was ready for it.

Peter Jackson says he wrote the part with you in mind – did he tell you that when he first called about part?
No, he did not. But we met and I’m just glad I got the role in the end. I don’t know what they were thinking when they wrote it but it was a sweet, sweet complex little nugget for me. I never got tired of it. I was out there for seven months and I wanted to keep going when it was done.

Did you go on the Discovery Channel to watch any gorilla documentaries for research or could you just show up on the day without having researched anything?
No, that was Andy Serkis’s job; it wasn’t my job to know the behaviour of gorillas, that could all be new to me, I could be seeing that for the first time. I did watch some old movies and look at a lot of old pictures and did a lot of running, and imagining things were chasing me. I also just imagined being a leader of men. That was the most difficult concept for me to get my head around: “I’m leading all these men on an expedition…” I just had to get into that headspace.

Did you incorporate anything from Peter Jackson's working style into your own characterisation? Any funny little nods and winks in there?
I wanted it to be a homage, but I realised early on that it wasn’t right. He didn’t have the same qualities that Carl Denham needed. He didn’t have the recklessness and the greed. Pete’s such a sweet, awesome, fun guy to work for. Whereas Denham is very dangerous and he puts you in harm’s way without a second thought. I did a couple of nods to Pete while I was directing in character. It was pretty clear when I was impersonating him!

He picked up on it?
He would laugh. (Impersonates Jackson): “Mmm-hmm… Okay… Little less with the eyes…” I would give actors notes: “One more for luck!” He’s big on once you’ve got it, he would go, “One more… for luck!”

What was it like wearing those ’30s costumes? Any difficulty in the old bathroom-break department?
You know, it’s funny, there is a problem wearing suspenders when you’re going to the bathroom. You have to take off three layers, then take off the suspenders, then go to the bathroom, then you put everything on again, and you realise you forgot to put on the suspenders. You’ve got these things hanging down… Take off all three layers, put back on the suspenders, put the layers back on… many, many buttons. 

Jackson seemed to put his actors through several takes. Was it like that throughout the shoot?
It was physically a test for me because I’m not in the best shape. I tried. I did a lot of yoga and cardio to get my wind up. But yeah, it was not easy.

You, Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts spent time together off set. Was it kind of a family atmosphere down in Wellington?
It was good. Me and Adrien, Naomi, and a few others from the cast, we’d go out to dinner and movies and bike rides a lot. It was cool to bond in that way. Although it wasn’t really necessary for us to be bonding off camera, that was just a nice thing to have happen. With the hobbits, they really bonded, but this is a darker toned film and it’s less about friendship and more about greed and the darker side of the human psyche, so it was good for us to bind when we weren’t doing the movie to keep things light. We had our favourite haunts and some beautiful places to ride our mountain bikes. We all got bikes… Some incredible trails.

What are your expectations for this film?
My expectations are that it has to be a huge hit! (laughs). But I think it’s going to be a stunner. It’s going to work on a lot of levels, with the incredible visuals. You’re going to get to see NYC and the jungle landscape and things people have never seen before, with these incredible computer generated images mixed with a really exciting story. I’m really proud to be a part of it.

How does working with Peter Jackson compare to other directors you’ve worked with?
I’ve had the good fortune to work with some great directors- Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater… And Pete Jackson is definitely… This was the most intense of all the movies I’ve done. I’d love to work with Pete again. I might have to stalk him.

Is this the start of a new career path for you?
I don’t think so, no… It doesn’t get any better than that. If I can have some more opportunities to work with people of that calibre, but truth be told, I’ve had my fair share and if I never work again, I’ve had a really fun awesome career.

Did playing a director make you want to try your hand at it in future?
No… I like producing. ‘Cos then you get a little taste of directing without having to do any of the work. You have the director’s ear, you can whisper in it (Mimes whispering). If I did it, it would be something on a really small scale, definitely nothing on a Pete Jackson level. But I guess I don’t have to worry about that, no one’s going to be begging me to direct a hundred million dollar movie!