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Interview with Jack Black

BE KIND REWIND is the name of a friendly, rundown, local video store in New Jersey – owned by Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover) and his hard-working assistant Mike, (Mos Def). But the store is in trouble, facing fierce competition from DVD rental establishments in the area and its future is in jeopardy – despite apparently being the former home of Jazz great Fats Waller.

Mike’s best pal Jerry (Jack Black) lives in a trailer next to a power plant, which he claims is melting his brain. He decides to sabotage the plant, but the plot goes disastrously wrong and he is caught in an electromagnetic field, which magnetizes his brain! The next day, visiting his friend – he inadvertently erases every video in the shop.

Mr. Fletcher is out of town and the two friends (plus a handful of neighbours), hatch a plan to remake the popular movies the locals want to rent. ( They call it ‘sweding’ for no clear reason other than a dubious excuse to customers that the films are being imported from Sweden!) Starting with GHOSTBUSTERS, they go on to make bizarre, amateur home movie versions of films such as 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, DRIVING MISS DAISY, ROBOCOP and RUSH HOUR 2 .

To their astonishment -the ‘sweded’ films are big hits with the locals – especially Miss Falewicz (played by Mia Farrow). But inevitably their adventures have dramatic repercussions.

Written and directed by French filmmaker, Michel Gondry, (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND), BE KIND REWIND combines great comedy and music with formidable acting and strong characters. It tells the story of an impoverished yet spirited community, taking their destiny into their own hands, with energy and imagination.

Jack Black’s films include SHALLOW HAL, ORANGE COUNTY, HIGH FIDELITY, SCHOOL OF ROCK, KING KONG, NACHO LIBRE and THE HOLIDAY. His next film is Ben Stiller’s TROPIC THUNDER and he is currently filming YEAR ONE. He is the lead singer of the rock band, TENACIOUS D and starred in the 2006 film TENACIOUS D AND THE PICK OF DESTINY. Black, 38, is married to musician Tanya Haden. They have a 19 month-old son, Samuel and Haden is expecting their second child later this year.

Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, his hair cropped with bleached blonde highlights and dark roots, the actor sat down in Beverly Hills for the following interview.

Be kind, Rewind. © 2006 Junkyard Productions LLC.What was it about the script and the film that you found so appealing?

I had taken a meeting or two with Michel Gondry before he talked about BE KIND REWIND, because I wanted to tell him how big a fan I was and that I really wanted to work with him on something. Then he called me and said he had an idea for a movie. I went over to his hotel and he had made a homemade comic book with crayon drawings of the characters and the video store and he had written a few lines of dialogue and the basic story. It looked like really good fun. So I did not have a script – I just said yes to his comic book. No one had ever presented a movie to me like that before, it was very original. But he could’ve presented me with a turd on a stick and I would have said ‘let’s make that into a movie’, because I am such an admirer of his work.

When did you become a fan of his work?

I got turned onto him through Bjork’s music video and then I got his collection of music videos on DVD and then of course ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND was the film that really blew my mind. It was one of the best movies I had ever seen, I guess because it resonated on a different level. It gave me the kind of feeling ‘ all we are is dust in the wind… Life is so fragile and always slipping away, the hourglass of time’. No one had captured that idea so beautifully before.

What is the movie all about – is there a theme? Is it saying that smaller community movies can often be as entertaining as big-budget films?

For me, this is just a celebration of creativity. If it is saying something about the industry, it’s that anyone can make a movie. Even though movies seem brilliant often when you watch them, it’s not impossible to make them yourself. You think: ‘it’s too late for me to make movies, or I can’t do that I don’t have the money’. But you can make films for almost no budget, and anyone can do it anywhere in the world. Anyone, anywhere, anytime.

What was it like working with Mos Def?

Mos Def was great to work with. We shared a sense of humour and a passion for music; He is a fellow musician and works at his own pace. No one is going to rush him into a characterization; he lets the character breathe and is very real. I learned a lot from him. He is very ‘method actor’, he wants it all to be grounded and that was good for me since I am so crazy with explosive energy and I think we complimented each other nicely. I am kind of surprised we never wrote any songs together or anything, that’s the only regret, we didn’t have more time to jam, that would have been cool if we had started a band.

What about Mia Farrow?

Well she’s legendary. She told us so many great stories and she was so free talking about her life. I never felt weird or strange asking questions, because she was happy to talk. She had great stories about Frank Sinatra and Salvador Dali; what a crazy life she has had. I kept thinking ‘are you lying? Are you fibbing?’ But I don’t think she was.

As a kid did you make homemade movies or anything equally crazy and creative?

I never had a video camera growing up, but I made lots of short films. In my mind I was pretending to be the ‘bionic man’, or various monsters. If there had been a camera rolling I would have made some very funny short films I think. I wasn’t thinking about shots or angles or anything, but my characters were really entertaining – for me at least – entertaining monsters

So you had a vivid imagination?

I sweded THE MILLION DOLLAR MAN endlessly, I was bionic all the time. I put wires up my sleeve and I wanted the wires just to peek out a little bit so that if any kids noticed my wires I would say: ‘it’s nothing, it’s nothing’. They would think I was bionic, because my logic was that I was trying to hide my bionics from them. All kids love to pretend to be different characters and recreate scenes from comic books and movies and TV so that’s a natural thing. The only thing was, I didn’t have a camera, so I didn’t videotape myself doing anything.

What was it like recreating those legendary films that you ‘swede’ in the movie?

It was really good fun recreating them because Michel asked us not to re-watch any of the old films. I had not seen some of them at all. I said ‘I have to watch DRIVING MISS DAISY once so I can recreate it.’ He said ‘no (French accent) no you have seen zee commercials, you know basically what eet eez)’. That is not a very good imitation of him. But he was right, I kinda knew that Jessica Tandy was a grumpy bitch and that Morgan Freeman was teaching her some lessons somehow, so we just winged it and he (Michel) liked that, because then your foggy memories of the film you are repeating make something ‘now’ something fresh – which is a lot more interesting than recreating a movie, shot for shot. The characters didn’t have time to go back and research so why would we? That was also the logic. It was scripted, but we didn’t get the dialogue from the movie, Michel himself kept it loose, and we were free to improvise from his foggy recollections.

What is Michel like as a director?

He’s pretty loose. It seemed like some of the time he was the only one who knew what he wanted to do that day, he would come in with new ideas and it was kind of like a playground in a lot of ways, and he was the ringleader. Just in terms of dialogue, he was open to improv, but not in regard to which films we were making, or the structure of the story or anything like that. Michel would get really passionate and a little hot under the collar if people didn’t understand what he was saying, but his accent is very thick, so sometimes it’s hard to understand what the hell he’s talking about. ‘You’re ruining my moooveee’ he would say … but it’s hard to take him seriously when he’s screaming at you, because he’s like a little kid.

Q:. What makes him unique do you think?

He’s the most childish director in a way and definitely the most inventive. I think if he wasn’t a film director he would be inventing gadgets and cool little working pieces of art.

How challenging was it tearing around town doing all the ‘sweding’?

It was a lot of activity just because we were working on a tighter schedule than on most movies, we did it in eight or nine weeks at the most, and usually it takes three or four months to make a movie. It wasn’t hard in that Michel is so creative with all his shots so we weren’t doing the traditional ‘over the shoulder, over the other guy’s shoulder, close up, master’. He would get some cool shots and then we were done and we would go on to the next one, so we didn’t have the tediousness or boredom factor. It was exciting moving on to another film.

What was your favourite sweded film?

I loved doing ROBOCOP. That was a dream come true for me; I love that genre, sci fi/ action, that’s what I loved as a kid. I loved TERMINATOR…… the naked Schwarzenegger standing up slowly.

Did you think about ‘sweding’ your own movies?

We did do a version of the old KING KONG, but that doesn’t really count. No, that would have been strange to do my movies. It would have been a joke within a joke. It would have taken people out of the movie and been distracting. That’s why we didn’t do LETHAL WEAPON (Danny Glover’s movie).

Were there any funny moments you can recall?

No I can’t remember anything, I’m a living in the moment kinda guy. Well I remember Mos playing piano in between takes and I would go ‘wow that’s a groovy jam, I wish I could think of some lyrics for it’. We could’ve been a really good band.

Did you have any childhood fantasies like being magnetized?

I guess so. I got swept up in the fear of the end of the world. It is still going on, it never seems to end. When did this fear of the end of the world start? (creepy deep voice) It’s always been there right? But it’s never going to happen.

Were you a Fats Waller fan – the film focuses on him and his music?

I did see him on a DVD about jazz. I had watched the film because I was studying to impress my father in law who is a jazz musician (Charlie Haden). I wanted to impress him with my knowledge of jazz and Fats Waller was on the DVD, so I know a little bit about him through that.

Who was your inspiration as an actor?

I loved Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, my favourite movie as a kid was SILVER STREAK and I really liked Peter Sellers. I loved MURDER BY DEATH.

Are you a VHS or a DVD man?

I like DVD because I like to skip around, I like to skip to my favourite scenes, and unlike vinyl records which look cool, I don’t think VHS tapes look better than DVDs. Also I am a real snob I will only watch hi-definition.

Are you planning more albums and tours with your band, Tenacious D?

We’re going to do more, we have been trying to write, but the songs are so stupid. We’re not ready; we need a couple more years I think. I’m thinking that 2012 will be the year when we release of our next album. We’ve got one good song, that’s it …. and I’m not gonna tell you what it’s about – because I’m afraid someone’s gonna steal it.

Have your movie choices and roles changed since becoming a parent?

I was gonna make ‘Babykiller 5000’, it’s a futuristic robot holocaust film! No, seriously, nothing has changed. Not at all. If I were a tough action dude like Steven Seagal, then it would be a dilemma, if I was working on a movie where I had to break someone’s arm …… backwards. If that’s what I did for a living then maybe I would have to rethink my career. But luckily I don’t.

Is Fatherhood fun?

Yeah it has been really fun, my son gets up so early though, he wakes up at five in the morning. Right now my wife is mad because I got up at 5 am today and I handed her our son and said (sleepy voice) ‘I gotta work today, you take your son and I’ll make it up to you tomorrow’ and then I went back to sleep. And that doesn’t go over well, I have to do better, and the problem is, I love to play video games late at night and I stay up too late. I’ve been playing this game ‘Mass Effect Sex’ and I’m going to start a new movie next week (THE YEAR ONE) and then there will be no more movies because I’ve got to wake up at 5 am to go to work. So I am cramming in my video games now. Anyway my boy is very, very cute. And it’s not just because he’s my son that I’m saying it.

Are you interested in anything else other than video games? Any hobbies?

No.But I’ve got a ukulele. I like to play the ukulele and I like dancing – but not real dancing – dancing with my son. He loves to dance. I like watching cartoons with my son too. We watch old ‘Disney Rarities’ a DVD collection of old cartoons. There’s one called Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, which is all about the history of music. It starts off with cavemen and it breaks down all musical instruments: a toot is like a horn, a whistle is like a flute, plunk is any string, a boom is a drum and my son loves it.

Do you watch a lot of movies?

I don’t rent them because I never return them and end up owing lots of money, so if I want something I just buy it and I do buy a lot, I like movies. I love 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY – that is one of the greatest.

What are your goals and dreams?

I know I’ve done it already, but I want to do something with a character who is really dumb but thinks he is great but he’s really just dumb. I can’t elaborate.

Would you do a ‘sweded’ cover album with Tenacious D?

That would be interesting, a cover album, but without going back and checking the lyrics to the chords, yeah that is a good but strange idea, I am trying to digest it and not sure how it would work. Maybe that’s all I’ve ever done – sweded versions of other people’s work.

Do you think of yourself as a character actor or as a lead actor?

I’ve been getting mostly lead offers recently, but I feel like a character actor. I just finished a military film with Ben Stiller where I am a character in an ensemble cast, it was fun to go back to that.

You have interesting spiky blonde highlights – is that for a movie or simply a fashion statement?

Yes it looks like I am fresh from the salon, doesn’t it? But I was a blond in my last movie, and it’s growing out slowly. I should dye it back to my natural brown. But I don’t want to look salon fresh, like i just came back from the hair salon.

How much work and perseverance did it take to get to where you are now – with great roles in interesting films, was it a struggle?

I’ve worked in film since 1991. I did BOB ROBERTS with Tim Robbins; I had a lot of small parts that tided me over until the year 2000 when I did HIGH FIDELITY. Before that, there were 9 years when I was just treading water, and going back and living at my mom’s house rather than getting a real job. Just hoping, waiting, trying. But once I got HI FIDELITY things were pretty good. I don’t live at my mom’s anymore. I’m sure she appreciates that. She still keeps my room ready, just in case! So if BE KIND REWIND is a total flop, I can go back to her house.