Funnyman Jack Black champions fatherhood and mitochondrial disease


By Maria Pilar Clark

Contributor and blogger

Jack Black is best known for his infectious comedic presence on the screen and on the stage as the lead singer of band Tenacious D.

But there's plenty more to this energetic, attention-getting funny-man than just slapstick routines and an over-the-top hyper-hip persona. He's also a father times two, quiet champion for the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, and most recently, the voice behind an awkward panda named Po, the reluctant lead character in Paramount Pictures latest project, Kung Fu Panda.

Do you think Po's character in the movie resonates with your own personality?

It does.

So you consider yourself to be this accidental hero that's a little big, kind of clumsy and totally enthusiastic?


He's a big full grown panda, but he's still very childish. While he's very positive and a happy panda he's also very insecure because he doesn't actually possess any of the Kung Fu skills that he dreams of having. And that daydreaming, I share that with him. A lot of times people will snap their fingers and say, 'Hello, anybody home?'

Do you feel you embody Cosmic Shame (the lyircs in this Jack Black, Kyle Glass compilation urge listeners to follow your heart/even when your heart cuts like a fart)?

Exactly. Nice reference.

Were you able to do some scenes with the other actors in the recording studio?

The only actor that I worked with in live and in person was Dustin Hoffman, because I guess it was important to the directors that we get together and get some of that teacher-student magic relationship going. So we did all our scenes together. And I was really glad to get to meet him and work with him because he's so legendary. He taught me some things about acting. Yes he did.

So how the heck do you prepare for the role of a panda?

I just didn't think about the pandaness of it very much as much as just, you know, who this character was, his thoughts and feelings. I didn't spend anytime with pandas …and I must confess, I didn't eat any bamboo.

Other than the animated films you've been in, what is your favorite animated film?

Well, my favorite performance in an animated film is probably Robin Williams in Aladdin. I thought he was so awesome as the Genie. That was like one of my favorite things he's ever done for sure. And when I was a kid I really loved Fantasia and this other movie called Allegro non troppo [a Bruno Bozzetto animated parody]. I was a big animation buff as a kid. I wanted to be an animator for a while.

Part of your comedy lies in what you've referred to an your eyebrow technique. Does it comes into play when you're doing voice work, too?

There's plenty of that eyebrow workout happening, yes. I burn a lot of eyebrow calories.

They can use it or not because they're filming me while I'm doing the recordings, and they can use any movements I do as reference. I think there are some Kung Fu eyebrows happening there, actually.

Does it help your comedic routine?

My eyebrows? Of course. I should insure them with Llloyds of London. Powerful brows.

Changing gears a little bit, what was your secret desire as a kid?

You know, I wanted to be in the arts. I didn't have a secret about it. Everybody I knew wanted to be a painter, or an actor, a musician or something but I just liked having attention, and I think that's why I ended up going into acting because it felt like that was where the most attention was. So maybe that was my secret. I was desperate to be the center of attention.

Has being a dad changed the way you look at your career? Do you find yourself drawn to different type of roles?

I guess I definitely feel more comfortable doing movies that are, you know, strictly for like a family-oriented audience. I don't feel insecure about that at all anymore. Like I might've before gone, oh no, that's going to hurt my indie cred in the rock world. I don't really care about that now.

When you did The School of Rock, it involved nothing but hanging out with kids all day. At the time, it was probably a pain. Now that you're a parent, do you think it was a good experience?

Yes, it was good because I definitely got over my fears of kids when I did that movie. Going into it I was like, oh no, what if they don't like me? What if they think I'm boring or uncool? And now I realize that you don't have to have all those insecurities. Just be yourself. And kids are people too.

They were probably worried about the same things in terms of hanging out with you.

Yes. Maybe. So at the end of that movie I didn't go oh, never again, at all. On the contrary. I was like, that was the best cast I've ever worked with and I'll definitely work with kids again. And yes, it was all positive.

On to fatherhood part two. Congratulations on said part two by the way.

Thank you. My personal family sequel.

My other half really wants to know if you eat his leftovers.

I do eat his leftovers, now that you mention it.

Me, too. Well, whatever he doesn't get dibs on first.

Well, yes, he doesn't eat all of his broccoli. I'll help him out with that as well as the mac and cheese that there's on his plate uneaten, and well, you know, as for unexpectedness, I didn't know how musical he was going to be.

Physically musical?

He's not playing instruments so much , but he's good with a percussion obviously.

I hear that!

He likes to sing and dance a lot. And I've been doing a lot more dancing than I thought I would be as a dad.

It's like a mini School of Rock.

Yes, it is a School of Rock. He'll be dancing and then he'll come over and grab my hand and pull me up to dance with him. So, yes, that. I'm going to say that.

Tell me about your involvement with the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. Why did you choose that particular cause?

Someone close to my family is afflicted with mitochondrial disease [symptoms include loss of motor control, muscle weakness and pain, gastrointestinal disorders and swallowing difficulties, poor growth, cardiac disease, liver disease, diabetes, respiratory complications, seizures, visual/hearing problems, lactic acidosis, developmental delays and susceptibility to infection], so I got involved early on and continued to be involved to gain awareness and you know, try to get support for it and get a cure for it someday.

Convonista says: Jack Black and I chatted in late 2007. This interview was originally released in early 2008.


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