Jack Black Interview – TROPIC THUNDER

     August 11, 2008

As most of you know, opening this week is the new Ben Stiller directed comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Since we’ve already run a bunch of reviews (here, here and here) and I’ve already written how much I loved the movie…let me keep the intro brief.

For those that haven’t yet heard of the film….

Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. lead an ensemble cast in “Tropic Thunder,” an action comedy about a group of self-absorbed actors who set out to make the biggest war film ever. After ballooning costs (and the out of control egos of the pampered cast) threaten to shut down the movie, the frustrated director refuses to stop shooting, leading his cast deep into the jungles of Southeast Asia for “increased realism,” where they inadvertently encounter real bad guys.

Trust me…that synopsis doesn’t do the film justice. There are many, many scenes that had the entire theater laughing out loud and parts of the film are so filthy that you won’t believe what is said. Again, I loved the movie and completely recommend it.

Anyway, I recently sat down with most of the cast and below is the roundtable interview with Jack Black. In the film, Jack plays the actor that’s famous for doing the stupid comedies like “Norbit” or “Dr. Dolittle.” Let’s just say it’s pretty obvious they’re making fun of Eddie Murphy…so of course we asked him about it. But don’t worry…we also asked what’s up with the D and a lot more.

As always, you can either read the transcript or listen to the audio by clicking here. Finally, if you’d like to watch some movie clips from “Tropic Thunder,” click here.

Q: How much time were you actually in Kauai? Tough gig.

Jack Black: I was in Kauai for, what was it, four months, three months, three or four months, I think it was four months, and then we did another month in Los Angeles.

Q: Did you bring your family with you?

Jack Black: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that was a big thing was getting the sweetest possible house, because I knew that Ben was going to live in a palatial mansion, and I didn’t want to be jealous, I wanted to have at least the second best house. And it was a monumental affair dealing with all kinds of real estate agents, like what is it, the second best house?

Q: Can you talk about your relationship with the water buffalo?

Jack Black: Wait a second, before I do that I just thought of a funny story. (pauses) Nah, forget it. No, the water buffalo’s better. The water buffalo was a massive thing for me to overcome, because I read the script and I was like, I want to do this, I have to do it because it’s the funniest script I’ve read in years and I was born to play this role, but I’m not going to get on a fuckin’ water buffalo naked, I’m not going to do it. It’s too dangerous, and Ben was like, ‘Dude, it’s going to be so much better if you do, it’s going to be good for the film.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ And I stripped out of my whitey-tidies, not totally naked, greeny-tidies actually, army green, and I did a lot of like buffalo whispering, love whispers saying, ‘Hi Sweetie,’ Bertha was her name, ‘Good morning Berth, I love you. You look beautiful today. I’m going to get up on you, is that okay honey? Okay, here I go, don’t be mad.’ And I’d jump up on her and we’d do the scenes, but I could tell she was a little agitated, like, ‘I don’t want to fucking carry you.’ And one time she actually flipped my ass off of her, she did a little bucking bronco, and I went ahhhhhh, and a miraculously safe landing in between some boulders. I don’t know how I didn’t get my neck broken. And it turned out that Bertha, nobody knew it not even the animal trainer knew that Bertha was preggers, had a baby and they named the baby Little Jack. And it seems like a sweet, cute thing to name it Jack, but they only named it Jack because I was riding her all the time (we all laugh) and there was some sick joke, going, ‘Yeah, he’s probably the father.’ These sick, sick people. But the happy ending is that Little Jack is a healthy and happy baby water buffalo.

Q: And funny.

Jack Black: And funny, with a striking resemblance to Jables…

Q: You have the biggest gun in the movie – what is the deal with giving you the rocket launcher, or whatever it is?

Jack Black: Yeah, I was given the biggest gun, and I was a little bummed about that, because I thought why am I carrying around a 40 pound gun, because once you get saddled with a prop at the beginning of a movie, you know you’re going to be in charge of that thing for months and months. I never got to the bottom of it, I think it’s just nobody wanted to carry the big fat gun. And they called it ‘the pig,’ but I got used to it and it turned out to be pretty badass that I got to carry the big gun, because when I shoot it, it makes me feel pretty strong and mucho.

Q: You had a great speech in the forest when you’re tied to the tree, how many different versions of that speech did you have to deliver, was there a lot of improv, was it all scripted?

Jack Black: There was a lot of improv in there, if you’re asking about the gravy, that’s all mine. I wanted to do a little homage to the great urban legend, the Sly Stallone one, stroke the shaft, cradle the balls, say my name, there’s this weird urban legend that Sly Stallone went to his trailer with a woman and they made love, and that he had forgot to take off his microphone and the sound engineer was going, turned up the volume so everyone could hear him, saying, ‘Cradle the balls, pump the shaft, say my name,’ so I have to give him a little grody shout out. Who knows if it’s true, it’s probably like that Richard Gere gerbil story.

Q: When you did the Fatties’ trailer how many days, how many weeks, how many costumes?

Jack Black: The Fatties took I think three days and it’s just the putting on the prosthetic make up and costume takes many hours, and I had to do five characters, but it was fun, it was fun to get in there and I would usually take a nap while I was getting the stuff put on me. Oh, and I really like this radio show, This American Life, have you ever checked this out on NPR, there’s this guy Ira Glass that does amazing like – so I just listened to stuff on my IPod.

Q: Did you come up with any of the characters yourself, or was it all in the script?

Jack Black: They were planned out, the family of Fatties. I came up with the accents, the different character voices and once I got into the costume I figured out their walk and their attitude.

Q: Have you heard from Eddie Murphy?

Jack Black: No, no. He’s not the only one that did those multi-character comedies. I think that Eddie is an amazing actor and performer, so I wasn’t just making fun of him, I was also celebrating him and I thought that trailer came out pretty damned funny, I kind of want to see that movie. It looks stupid and farty, but also fuckin’ funny to see that family go on some adventures, some grody adventures, who knows, some studio dude’s going to go, ‘We should make that movie happen for real.’

Q: Was this the toughest movie physically for you to do out of all the movies you’ve done?

Jack Black: Well I did bruise a rib, I was running with my big pig gun and I dove into a foxhole and I landed funny on the gun, and it bruised my rib, and for those of you who have had a bruised rib it feels like a cracked rib, but it’s not it’s just a bruise, but it lasts for like six weeks of not being able to breathe all the way in. It’s such a pain in the ass. And I put a lot of Arnica Montana gel on there, it doesn’t do shit, just so you know, because a lot has been made of that sauce, of Arnica. But I would still say King Kong was probably harder, I twisted my ankle really bad on that, and there was a lot of running and screaming in there.

Q: You guys shot a lot of stuff for that mockumentary do you have any favorite scenes?

Jack Black: Favorite scenes that I did for – no, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve seen that whole thing yet. I don’t know, don’t know, I’m scared of what’s going to be on the extras, the DVD extras.

Q: Did you get to approve all of that footage? Or is it like Ben shot it, I trust him?

Jack Black: Yeah, I’m not sure, don’t know what my contract says on that. I didn’t read all the fine print. I’m sure it’s fine. I’m very proud of the movie, you can show some embarrassing shit on the DVD if you want.

Q: Were there any life imitates art moments on the set, because you’re making a movie within a movie and the whole thing of the assistants running around and managers calling on cell phones, were there any moments that were like that on this in terms of you’re shooting a scene and then there’s something really going on that’s very similar to it?

Jack Black: Of course, actual anecdotes from the set I don’t know but when I read the script I was like this is fuckin’ hilarious because it’s so true, and people are going to see this movie and go, ‘Oh that’s really funny but it’s not like that, it’s not that bad,’ but it is, that’s exactly what happens. There’s something about the industry, you get pampered in such a way the first half hour of being famous you’re like, this is absurd, I don’t need all these things, and then you’re all of a sudden like, I deserve them though, and now I demand them, everywhere must be – there’s a transformation and I don’t think it’s possible avoid. That’s why a lot of the actors you’ll hear about nowadays don’t live in Hollywood, they’ll go and live on a farm out in, you know, wherever, to try to stay grounded. They’ve got to keep themselves protected from the spoiling that happens when you live here.

Q: And your grounding comes from what?

Jack Black: I don’t think I’m grounded, I have my own diva moments, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. But there was one funny, I guess when we were shooting the movie within the movie, at the beginning of the movie and there’s all those assistants running around, I think that a couple of them were Ben’s assistants, and one of them was Robert Downey’s assistant who was working in there, it’s just funny to seeing the movie now for me, because it was like, yeah, art definitely imitates life a lot in this movie.

Q: Do you enjoy a movie when you’re more the focus or does working with a big ensemble of geniuses like this, is that more fun for you?

Jack Black: Oh yeah, well, it’s a different experience when you don’t have to bear the brunt of all the laughs in the movie, it’s pretty relaxing actually, it’s a good experience. I had a great time just watching all the other guys do their thing, and step up and take my crack at the bat once in awhile, you get a better batting average.

Q: How is Ben as a director?

Jack Black: He’s awesome, just very giving and a lot of times when you’ve got a director who’s also the actor they’ll be obsessed and focused on their performance so much they won’t really care about – but not so in this case, he would defer to the other actors and make sure that we got all our rocket sauce in the scene before he would focus on his beauty shots. And he understands what it’s like to be an actor and how annoying directors can be sometimes in between takes when they say, ‘Cut, okay Jack, here’s the thing, we want you to really plumb the depths of – ‘ like saying obvious stuff that I know that, I already knew that, I was going to do that on the next try, you’re not even giving me – you have to be the genius and say some things that make you feel smart – it’s hard to explain, but directors can drive you insane, you want to kill them. It’s like, ‘Just shoot it, just shoot.’ And he understands that, and he’ll let you run a bunch of takes in a row without cutting, he’ll just say, ‘Yeah, do it again.’ And then you just take it from the top, do it again, you do it twenty times in a row and you’ll have great stuff that you did all by yourself, you didn’t need obvious –

Q: He trusts you –

Jack Black: Yeah, a lot of trust.

Q: What’s going on with the D and what other film projects do you have coming up?

Jack Black: Well, we’ve got some concerts coming up in England, we’re going to do Reading and Leeds and we’ll be opening for Metallica on those dates. So I’m hoping we’ll survive that, I hope nobody throws bottles, some of those hardcore metal fans can be real a-holes and will throw something at us, I know. (feigning metal fan’s voice) ‘Don’t make fun of the metal.’ But then we’ll come back and do an Obama benefit on the 23rd of September at the Wiltern Theatre.

Q: And Metallica will be there as well?

Jack Black: Metallica, it’s not a bad idea. We’re going to do like an unplugged music and comedy night, Tenacious D and friends, so if they want to come out with an acoustic guitar, and if Lars wants to come out with some brushes and soft drums, we’ll see.

Q: What other film projects do you have?

Jack Black: I’ve got some things in development that I can’t talk – oh, Year One, that’ll come out next summer I did with Michael Cera. It’s a Biblical comedy, kind of in the spirit of the old Monty Python Biblical films like Life of Brian, The Meaning of Life.

Q: Who else is doing the Obama benefit?

Jack Black: Don’t have that official yet so I can’t say, because then if they read that they’re doing it officially they’ll say, ‘Look, we didn’t say it was official.’

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