Jack Black talks Jumanji, anxiety, “celebrity sickness” and Dwayne Johnson’s nipples…
Jack Black is a special talent. The comedy actor possesses the sort of lightning-in-a-bottle charisma that only comes along once every generation. Is there an emerging comedy star who comes close to Black’s winning charisma, we wonder? It’s why the world has been in love with the 50-year-old since that show-stealing turn in 2000’s High Fidelity. Then there’s School of Rock, Tropic Thunder, his Grammy-winning band Tenacious D, Kung Fu Panda and so much more. What’s more, Jumanji: The Next Level promises to be one of the cinematic events of the year, given the global success of 2017 surprise smash Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. After 20 years of success, you’d assume that trademark confidence came easily. But you’d be wrong.
“There is a swagger and a confidence at times,” the beloved star tells BALANCE. “But there’s also a tremendous amount of self-doubt and anxiety. It’s a strange balancing act between those two.
“If I feel like I’m kicking ass, I definitely get high off the feeling of a job well done. But there’s a lot of fretting and stressing on the way on the road. When you connect with a character it’s worth all the hard work and cold sweats at night.” So what does the great man do to combat the dark clouds?
“You don’t want to focus on what can go wrong,” he reveals. “You’ve got to focus on what could go right. A little visualisation of weathering the storm and coming up triumphant on the other side helps. A little meditation. A little deep-knee rock squats. A little stretching… and, get a good night’s sleep if you can. Also just hunker down and do the work.”
He switches into his comedy persona, adding with gusto: “But don’t overdo it! Don’t work too hard! That’s a weird lesson I learned recently. There is such a thing as overdoing it. Strike that balance. Keep it fun.”
BALANCE didn’t think we’d get the sort of life advice that beats most personal development books we’ve read from one of the funniest people to ever walk the planet, but then that is part of his magic. As with many naturally funny people, Jack’s depth is apparent; during an hour-plus-long chat, he’s capable of reducing you to hysterics one moment, before causing you to pause and reflect the next.
Coming up very soon is Jumanji: The Next Level, with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, each again playing video game avatars. “Everyone is playing someone different at some point in the movie,” Jack says of the sequel. “And there’s a lot of surprises along the way as well. We’re not always stuck in the same character throughout.”
Indeed, a successful sequel has to up the stakes. “In the new one, we go to some crazy new locales,” Jack adds. “It’s not all in the jungle. We travel all around the world. We got some snowy mountain peaks, some desert dunes, we got lots of different playing fields and maps.”
A blizzard whipped through the set when shooting near Calgary in Canada, and Jack says it nearly got too much for Dwayne Johnson’s nipples.
“We all have snow gear and different costumes for that location,” he says. “For Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, the costume designer didn’t get the memo that it was going to be as cold as hell up there. He was in a skin-tight muscle costume in the icy tundra. I thought his nipples were going to cut right through. They looked like diamonds.
“The poor guy. Still, Dwayne prevailed like a champ.” BALANCE is in hysterics. And, to tip us over the edge, Jack adds in his own inimitable style: “That was a cool locashe.”
Jack is no stranger to the world of video games; there’s his YouTube gaming channel, JablinskiGames, while he got his acting break in a 1982 commercial for Atari. “I was there! I was part of that generation. There was a game called Pitfall. Ironically in the commercial, I wore a safari hat, the same I wear in Jumanji. In a strange way, it was a premonition of things to come.” He adds: “I’ve been playing video games ever since. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch it grow into this insane industry that threatens to overtake the film industry, it’s so big and powerful.” Jack predicts that the lines will continue to become increasingly blurred between movies and video games, citing the seminal Red Redemption 2 and Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch. “The lines are getting blurred.” He pauses, before taking a shot at Robin Thicke’s morally dubious 2013 hit single: “Not to be confused with Blurred Lines by that controversial artist.”
Black, like BALANCE, has “failed” when it comes to escaping screen time, and adds: “I’ve failed in that regard. I’ve given in to the electronics. I’ve been swallowed whole by The Matrix. Jack loves his tech – he also has an old Addams Family pinball machine (a birthday gift from his wife) in the basement, which provides escapism – but similarly likes the idea of getting away from all things electric.
“I do think about going on a vacation where we don’t take any phones with us. I think that’s a great idea. But we have yet to do it. We’ve got to get the boys out to nature, where there’s no signal. That’s the plan for next summer. It’s hard to find a place that doesn’t have WiFi now. That’s a problem. You’ve got to go up on that mountain, with Dwayne’s diamond nipples.” Again, BALANCE is in hysterics.
YOU KNOW JACK
It’s not just on screen where Jack is loved; he has a warm reputation away from the camera as well, and says avoiding the madness of Hollywood is vital for keeping both feet on the ground.
“You try to keep it real to hold on to your sanity,” he says. “This is a crazy industry. A crazy biz. If you get too carried away with the Hollywood parties and the hobnobbing with the rich and famous and the schmoozing up a storm night after night, you can definitely go off in the deep end. I just try to keep it real with my peeps, you know? I’m still Jables from the block. I don’t really trust anyone outside of my close group of friends and family.
“It’s the one thing about the industry that’s a shame, though: you have to build a wall, because it always feels like somebody wants something from you. So you have to close ranks and your circle of trust shrinks a little bit.”
Did he ever get sucked in? “When I did High Fidelity things skyrocketed. I didn’t have to go audition any more. Offers just started flying in. I rose too fast and got what you would call celebrity sickness, but I got my bearings after a couple of years.”
The fact he’d been going for so long before catching that break, Black insists, helped put him in good stead. As did his band, Tenacious D, which he
co-founded in 1994 with actor/musician friend Kyle Gass. The D, as they’re affectionately known, is what landed him the breakthrough role in High Fidelity, as its star (John Cusack) was a huge fan.
“It wasn’t until I started writing songs and sketches with Tenacious D that I found my voice,” Black explains. “To break into the industry, you’ve got to start writing. That’s how you find out who you are as a performer. You do something like that, you do it for the love of the game. That’s what it’s really all about. The ultimate high is do what you love and get paid to do that. Tenacious D is really everything to me. That was my portal in.”
Thank goodness it was, as the world has been a brighter place ever since. And heck knows we need Jack now, given the political division around the world. As Jack puts forth: “It’s an interesting thing. For many years it seemed like the left wing of the political spectrum, in the United States, the liberals and progressives had a monopoly on all the comedy. Most of the voices in late-night entertainment were leaning left and it has always been a source of pride that the best artists, actors and comedians were on the left, [and] were saying, ‘We’re accepting of different cultures.’
“Now the biggest comedian in the country with the biggest audience is the President Of The United States and he’s so far right leaning. It’s so strange. It was like this weird bubbling volcano of right-wing hate mongers were like, ‘Who’s going to be our comedian? Finally! We got a comedian! I’ll vote for him!”’
Jack pauses for a second in contemplation. “This is the weird counterbalance, this one big monster clown who is making the world laugh as we burn. It’s terrifying. It’s like a Biblical anti-Christ or something: ‘We didn’t know he was going to come as a clown! That’s the last thing we would have expected!’”
Jack and Kyle continue to be involved in Rock the Vote (the non-profit group aimed at encouraging the youth to take an interest in politics) and tour a political opera across the US. He then gets acerbically profound on BALANCE: “That’s the great and terrifying thing about democracy: it’s subject to human decision making and error.”
When Jack isn’t making movies or rocking with the D, there are many things he does for his own wellbeing and stability. “Bike riding, swimming, trampolining, messing around with JablinskiGames and fun extracurricular stuff like that,” he says. He also goes to the movies and likes to see NBA giants, the LA Lakers.
He jokes: “It’s tough to get those tickets now. I used to get these court-side seats all the time back when I was making the Kung Fu Pandas. But now it’s been a while… I don’t get that call from the President Of Showbusiness. I’m hoping to this year, because the Lakers are very exciting. I am a family man. That’s the answer.”
Before we go, Black reveals that, yes, Tenacious D will be back in London before too long, and he jokes about the gig being “a Tenacious D concert the likes of which have never been seen. And at that point, backstage, I plan on seeing you there and our high five will be filmed on IMAX. It will be the high five heard around the world!” We will be waiting…
Jumanji: The Next Level is in cinemas from 11 December