One of my first big interviews as a writer was in 2008, about three months after I had started working with R.AGE. It was with Jack Black, the unlikely quadruple threat.
Now back then, I was about as wide-eyed as a Chinese boy from Jinjang gets, so when I was told I’d be covering the release of Kung Fu Panda in Los Angeles, I kinda sorta maybe perhaps freaked out a little.
There was quite a bit of hype surrounding the movie. It had a star-studded voice cast — Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, David Cross, Michael Clarke Duncan… And there was me – the awkward rookie reporter going to the US for the first time.
We had interviews lined up with Black, Hoffman and Liu (who is, rather impossibly, even more gorgeous in person). Sadly, Angelina stayed on in France because her twins Knox and Vivienne were about to pop out.
The most interesting interview I got during the two days of press events there was – hands down – Jack Black. He was effortlessly funny, charming and very approachable.
Even after the interview, he was just standing around the room joking around with reporters. I went over to shake his hand and tell him I loved the movie (there was a preview screening the night before). This was before #selfies were a thing, so sadly, I didn’t take a pic, which apparently by the logic of today’s digital universe means none of it happened.
All I have is the article below, which I wrote for Star2, and was published on June 11, 2008.
Black in fashion
Jack Black has found his voice and become a master of his own comedic craft
By IAN YEE
FEW would’ve imagined Jack Black to turn out the way he has – accomplished actor, model professional and multi-talented entertainer who is a singing, acting, comedy, voiceover quadruple-threat (take that, J.Lo!). Those are just some of the terms you can use to describe the man some once thought of as Hollywood’s biggest slob. Now, you can even add loving, responsible father to that description.
It’s not that he ever really was a slob, but playing the good-hearted but obnoxious loser time and time again didn’t help push him up to Brad Pitt status. Instead, people started to pigeonhole him according to his on-screen characters, from Shallow Hal to Dewey in School of Rock.
Which is probably why he got the job of voicing the lead character Po – a fat, lazy, clumsy, gluttonous panda – in Kung Fu Panda. And regardless of whether it’s a compliment or not, both the directors Mark Osbourne and John Stevenson and fellow co-star Dustin Hoffman thought he was a perfect fit. But that’s not stopping this father-of-two from applying that same off-the-wall character we see on screen to his parenting style.
“Right now my son likes to pretend he has this secret power, called breath power, like he can blow me across the room. So …. It’s kind of an exhausting game,” the 38-year-old said. “He blows at me and I have to go ‘AAHHHHhhh’ and flip across the room. That’s a lot of exercise, to be blown around. And then when I blow back at him, he doesn’t fall down! I mean, you gotta understand the concept! We should both have the blow power!”
Speaking to reporters last week at a press event for Kung Fu Panda in Los Angeles, he proved beyond a doubt that having his own children has definitely not taken the child out of him. While he was answering questions in a measured way so unlike his stereotype, he still seemed to have a natural ability to draw laughs from people with answers to even the most mundane questions.
“Doing this movie was definitely a way for me to get in touch with my inner child. That’s the only reason I did it – it was just for therapy,” he joked. “And it worked! Because this was my chance to live out my kung fu fantasies. As a kid I did karate, and I believe I had a yellow belt. I also did some judo, and made it to a green belt. But never kung fu.”
When a cheeky reporter asked if he could break a board, Black answered matter-of-factly, “with my mind, I can. That’s like the highest level of kung fu, you don’t even need your hands.”
With Father’s Day coming up, it was inevitable that having brought Thomas Jack into this world with his high school sweetheart-turned wife Tanya Harding just a few weeks ago, Black would be asked about his plans for the big day.
I was reading (my son) One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish … That book is too long! It’s like 63 pages! Why’d they have to do that? It’s like a trilogy! They should break it into three books.
“Father’s Day? When is that coming up?” he replied incredulously. “I don’t know what we’ll be doing. I think last year my son (elder boy Samuel) made something like a card for me, but my wife was there to guide him through it. He’s only one (year old). But these are magical days, because in two weeks’ time he’ll be two. So I’m going to document everything he does really closely in the next two weeks, so I can say ‘he did that when he was one’. Because some of these things if he did when he was two … meh, not such a big deal.”
But behind all the jokes lies a deep soul who’s very serious about fatherhood and the duties that come along with it; though he’d probably laugh at the use of the word “duties”.
“Fatherhood is good. He (Samuel) loves books and stories, so I read to him. I love to read him Dr Seuss – it’ s always been my favourite. But the other day I was reading him One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish … That book is too long!” he complained. “It’s like 63 pages! Why’d they have to do that? It’s like a trilogy! They should break it into three books. It takes 20 minutes to read it through.”
While that might not make him seem like the most convincing parent (neither did his pants-dropping stunt on the American Idol finale), bear in mind that he doesn’t really fit the bill as a Hollywood superstar either.
But just like Po – his character in Kung Fu Panda – Black’s combination of positive thinking, good humour and a relentless attitude has made him both an awesome father and entertainer.
As an entertainer, he’s already proven his worth in recent years, holding his own alongside acclaimed actors such as Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, and now, Hoffman and Angelina Jolie. He’s no longer a comic who uses the same gross gags, but an actor whom audiences have grown to love and laugh with.
I didn’t really have a career going until I found my own voice because for many years I had been imitating other actors and comedians that I loved.
Even two-time Academy award-winning screen legend Hoffman – who plays his sifu (the rather redundantly named “Master Shifu”) in the movie – reserved some special words of praise for his younger co-star, calling his approach to acting “serious and professional”, adding that Black’s style was “bright and authentic”.
Editor’s note: Hoffman was pretty morose throughout our interview. Said he “hated” the whole process of making an animated film – while the director was sitting right next to him. It made his opinion of Black, in contrast, seem like high praise.
But to Black, it was when he decided to step out of someone else’s shadows and not be just another Ordinary Jack that he finally hit it big, something which he believes he shares in common with his on-screen panda persona. Aside from the physical similarities, of course.
“Po becomes the Dragon Warrior when he realises that he doesn’t need to imitate his heroes, the Furious Five. He just has to be himself completely, and be the best that he can be – only then would he be the master of his craft.
“For me, I didn’t really have a career going until I found my own voice because for many years I had been imitating other actors and comedians that I loved. It wasn’t until I started writing my own music and (comic) scenes that I became a ‘master of my craft’,” he added, saying that last line with an evil kung fu voice which got the crowd of reporters laughing again.
Yup, master his craft he has.
Jack black will be performing at the Urbanscapes 2014 satellite show on Dec 1 as the frontman of Tenacious D. Follow R.AGE on Twitter to find out how you can win passes to the show!