Jack Black Walks on the Wild Side

The hyperactive co-star of Jumanji: The Next Level keeps still long enough to talk about shooting movies, handling animals and picking locations.

Photo by DFree / shutterstock.com

You know Jack Black for his wacky screen and stage personas, whether he’s playing an unorthodox substitute teacher in School of Rock, a masked wrestler in Nacho Libre, an animated panda in Kung Fu Panda, or a bumbling professor in the blockbuster Jumanji movie series. The actor, noted for his manic energy, is also a gifted musician: Together with Kyle Gass, he’s part of the Grammy Award-winning duo Tenacious D.

But the role that the long-haired actor with the expressive eyes (and eyebrows) enjoys the most is that of a real-life dad to Samuel and Tommy, born 2006 and 2008, respectively. They are his sons with Tanya, his wife of 14 years.

Jack is himself the son of satellite engineers. But instead of working on space missions or on the Hubble Space Telescope — which his mother, Judith Love Cohen, did — Jack landed a role in an ad when he was 13, and discovered drama in high school. He dropped out of UCLA in his sophomore year, but not before meeting fellow student Tim Robbins, who cast the aspiring entertainer in the movie Bob Roberts. This led to more breakthrough roles in TV and film.

 

 

What do you enjoy most about this point in your successful career?

I mostly enjoy collaborations. I love working on music with my Tenacious D partner [Kyle Gass] and cooking up ideas for a performance and just spending time with Tanya and the boys. I love hanging out with the family more and more. I feel like that’s what I’d rather do more than anything else.

As Professor Sheldon Oberon in Jumanji: The Next Level. Photo by Frank Masi.

Are you good with animals?

I can appreciate the cuteness and pet and love an animal but there’s something about the unpredictability that strikes fear into my heart sometimes.

We had some close encounters with some camels on the Jumanji set. It wasn‘t all computer graphics. Some of [the animals] were real, and I felt bad because I wouldn’t want me getting on my back. I felt empathy for my camel. I was like, “Buddy, I’m pretty heavy. I’m going to get on your back now.”

Luckily, the camel didn’t mind my girth. He was able to carry me gracefully. But I did send him a lot of love while I was on his back to let him know that I appreciated him and all the hard work.

In which movie locations do you thrive better — desert, beach, mountains or jungles?

It’s tough to beat Hawaii for a location. It is paradisaical but I’m actually best in the snow because I have a tendency to sweat. I get hot. That’s my weakness – in the heat, sun and sand.

A snowy location was also the place where my father wanted to go. I asked him to pick just one location to visit me on set [for Jumanji: The Next Level] and he said, “I want to go to that snowy place in Canada.” We were near Calgary but in a remote location with a lot of snow.

He could have gone to Hawaii or anywhere else, but he chose the snow. But now I realize that I also prefer it. There’s something glorious about those peaks and the beauty of the white mountains stretching into infinity. It’s a beautiful spot and impossible to recreate with a green screen. You have to actually be there to appreciate the majesty.

You were born in Santa Monica [California] but you prefer the snow instead of the beach?

It’s true. I was born in Santa Monica, but I grew up in Hermosa Beach. I spent lots of time on the beaches of Hermosa Beach, Santa Monica, Venice and all up and down the [California] coast. But I was never a classic surfer dude. I tried but it wasn’t for me — you’ve got to wake up so early in the morning to do it right (laughs).

 

You also shot Jumanji: The Next Level in Mexico. What do you like about traveling to Mexico for filming?

We filmed in Oaxaca and Mexico City, but mostly Oaxaca. Gorgeous city; I really enjoyed our time there. There’s a bohemian art community, lots of artists in the streets and in the universities there. It was just a good-vibe town. Great architecture, great food — some foods that were specific to Oaxaca, like the tlayudas, which are super-big flat tortillas with crispy, delicious cheese. And the molé — Oaxaca is said to be the birthplace of molé sauce.

I recommend anyone who’s never been there to check out Oaxaca at some point. It was an incredible experience.

Performing with Tenacious D. Photo by Ben Houdijk / shutterstock.com

How good are you as a travel adventurer?

I do love to travel when it’s on a job. It’s my favorite way to see the world. I am not good at vacationing. In general, I feel stressed (laughs). Life is too short to vacation. I have to get back to work. I have to do something creative. But I do like to travel, especially with my band. And there are a lot of places I haven’t been, like Prague. I’ve heard that it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

You mentioned feeling stressed. How do you deal with that?

I find a quiet, peaceful time to meditate on my place in the universe — get a little spiritual, get a little quiet.

If you had a chance to be in somebody else’s body, whose would it be?

It would be great to go into Usain Bolt’s body just to be the fastest runner on the planet and see what that feels like. You [also] just think about what people like Mikhail Baryshnikov were like in their prime — though he’s still a pretty damn good dancer.

If you could talk to your younger self, what would you say?

I wouldn’t say anything to my younger self because I wouldn’t want to change. If you mess with the past, you create a wormhole, a break in the space-time continuum. I like how my life and career has progressed. But I like to think I’ve learned a little patience and a little grace, hopefully. Although I still find that I need to decompress and unplug from the biz occasionally just to find my center again.

 

 

Written by

Ruben V Nepales

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