Jack of all trades

Jack Black has noth­ing against the slacker hu­mour that has made him a comic star, but he’s not averse to play­ing more thought­ful com­edy and even rom­com – as long as it’s cool. So put Jack in a box at your peril, writes Brian Boyd

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

‘IAM a hum­ble and sen­si­tive per­son” says Jack Black with a se­ri­ous, al­most wounded, look on his face. “And I’m a very hum­ble and sen­si­tive ac­tor, which may sur­prise some peo­ple but it’s ac­tu­ally true. I’m not stupid. I know what my rep­u­ta­tion is, but I de­cided a long time ago not to be funny all the time. I can be the funny slacker dude if you want, but I can be other things be­sides.”

Jack Black is in a Lon­don ho­tel room talk­ing about “other peo­ple’s per­cep­tions” and how they have both helped and hin­dered his film ca­reer. He talks about flex­ing his dra­matic role mus­cles with some in­ten­sity un­til, just for a laugh, you re­mind him about the film you are her to dis­cuss.

Be Kind Rewind stars Black as a funny slacker dude who be­lieves the power plant next to his house is melt­ing his brain. At­tempt­ing to re­verse the dam­age, he gets caught up in an elec­tro­mag­netic field which leaves him mag­ne­tised.

From such a pré­cis, you would ex­pect the film in ques­tion to be a Frat Pack romp, with lash­ings of gurn­ings and prat­falls. But Be Kind Rewind is ac­tu­ally a thought­ful, lo-fi com­edy with a whiff of the art­house about it. It’s also a “mes­sage” film that, de­spite its feel-good end­ing, does raise such is­sues as DIY me­dia cre­ativ­ity and the some­times ab­surd na­ture of copy­right law.

Black’s best friend in the film, played by Mos Def, works in one of the last video­cas­sette-only rental shops in the US. As a re­sult of his newly mag­ne­tised state, Black erases all the tapes in the shop. This is dis­as­trous for the shop’s most loyal cus­tomer, a sweet old lady (Mia Far­row). So, to cover up, Black and Def go out onto the streets and re­cre­ate, YouTube-style, all the films that she wants to rent out.

“The role was great for me,” says Black, “be­cause, when I was a kid, I used to do some­thing sim­i­lar. I used to pre­tend to be mak­ing episodes of The Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man with me as Lee Ma­jors. So get­ting the chance to make all those fa­mous Hol­ly­wood films was a joy for me.

“We did Su­per­man but you’ll have to take that name out be­cause we had to change the name in the film to some­thing like In­cred­i­ble Fly­ing Man. We did Driv­ing Miss Daisy and I played Jes­sica Tandy. We did King Kong. But our ab­so­lute mas­ter­piece was Ghost­busters, even if while we were film­ing it my­self andMos sort of swapped char­ac­ters ac­ci­den­tally. Recre­at­ing RoboCop was great as well. A lot of the films we wanted to do we just couldn’t get clear­ance on, such as Back to the Fu­ture.

The sweet old lady in the film is none the wiser about the prove­nance of the videos she rents. But, to ex­plain the de­lay in sup­ply­ing her with the films (and their in­creased rental cost), Black and Def tell her that they have to be im­ported from Swe­den.

“Be­cause of this we come up with the word ‘sweding’. Sweding is cen­tral to the film; what it means is tak­ing some­thing old, putting your own spin on it and get­ting some­thing new. So the Ghost­busters that is rented out is a dif­fer­ent cre­ation to the real film but still con­tains the most im­por­tant el­e­ments of the orig­i­nal. It’s like we have done our own YouTube re­make of the film”. Sweding is also cen­tral to how Be Kind Rewind is be­ing mar­keted (see panel).

The film is di­rected by Michel Gondry, who is best known for Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind. Black says Gondry was crit­i­cal in trans­form­ing Be Kind from hi-jinks farce into some­thing a bit more thought­ful.

“Michel Gondry has a very in­ter­est­ing way of shoot­ing scenes. He didn’t have that big-bud­get com­edy thing of cov­er­ing a scene from all the dif­fer­ent an­gles. And the plot and story weren’t that im­por­tant to him as long as he had an amaz­ing vis­ual im­age. He re­ally brought a DIY vibe to pro­ceed­ings just as the char­ac­ters do in the film. He ac­tu­ally de­signed and hand­made all the props and cos­tumes we used when sweding the films. And he has a nice, spon­ta­neous approach.

“I’ve worked with some direc­tors – I won’t men­tion any names – who have a very fixed idea of what they want you to do. I’m a more ‘alarm-clock’-style ac­tor, so hav­ing it all planned out for me doesn’t re­ally work. The whole style of this film meant that I could re­act to the, at times, chaos around me.”

Gondry re­ally had only one golden rule, says Black: the ac­tors were for­bid­den from re­search­ing the films they had to re­cre­ate. “If we had seen it, we were to try and not re­mem­ber it; if we hadn’t seen it, we weren’t al­lowed watch a copy of it. The idea was to put us in the same sit­u­a­tion as the char­ac­ters who were un­der pres­sure to re­cre­ate th­ese works. There was never any sense of us go­ing for a good ap­prox­i­ma­tion of the real film.”

With its en­gag­ing, lo-fi warmth, Be Kind Rewind will prob­a­bly be filed be­side School of Rock, High Fi­delity and Na­cho Li­bre in the Black canon. He points out how much more re­laxed he is now that’s he viewed as a real ac­tor.

Raised in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia by rocket sci­en­tist par­ents (funny but true), Black has strad­dled film and mu­sic his en­tire ca­reer. His spoof rock band, Tena­cious D (a sort of Spinal Tap meets geeky metal head af­fair) is still one of his pri­mary con­cerns and “The D” (as he calls them) has long stopped be­ing a cult joke thanks to mil­lions of record sales.

He does like his dra­matic roles and the op­por­tu­nity to act along­side such names as Ni­cole Kid­man (in Mar­got at theWed­ding). More re­cently he has drifted, some would say very sur­pris­ingly so, into ro­man­tic lead roles, woo­ing Kate Winslet in The Hol­i­day. Is Mr Slap­stick now to be re­ferred to as Mr Sex Sym­bol?

“Ha ha ha, that’s a good one” he laughs. “Let’s just put it this way: I can­not be held re­spon­si­ble for peo­ple’s re­ac­tion to me when I do a dif­fer­ent type of film. The only pos­si­ble re­ply there could be is that if any­one re­ally, re­ally be­lieves that, then it is only down to the fact that un­like, say, Brad Pitt or whoever, I could be clas­si­fied as ‘get­table’. If you’ve no chance with Brad Pitt, then there’s al­ways Jack Black!

“But just on that area, I do think I could of­fer some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent on the dat­ing scene. It’s like Johnny Car­son said. ‘Hu­mour is a great aphro­disiac.’ But you re­ally can’t worry about who thinks what about you or else you end up sound­ing like you’ve only got au­di­ence de­mo­graph­ics in mind when you make a film.

“Se­ri­ously, my only con­sid­er­a­tion when it comes to mak­ing a film is, would this be a cool thing to do?”

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