Jack Outside the Box


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He sings! He acts! Now in his latest flick, he navigates his way though the gnarly jungles in the world of Jumanji (or in our world, the lush landscape of Kualoa).

Let’s keep it straightforward since we wont’t have a ton of time that day. And just shooting one look, correct? So read the email from “Team Jack,” whom I’d been working with in the last few months.

Jack Black’s a busy guy, I get it … But then in he comes from the back entrance of our hotel in Los Feliz, and out comes the arched eyebrows … and then the sneaking across the living room. Black then proceeds to deliver a few kung fu moves toward the photographer before lying on the couch to take a (faux) nap—maybe he did it so we could all catch our breath for a second. He then gets up and gives the suite a quick scan, eyes wide: “Let’s use every bit of this place.”

He’s all in. It’s seems no matter what the scenario, Black throws himself into it without hesitation, his enthusiasm infectious. And in his latest film, there’s plenty of immersion involved. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which comes out on Dec. 20., has the 48-year-old actor playing a teenage girl (it’s not as weird as it sounds) stuck in the jungle of the video game-turned-reality that is Jumanji.

“It’s hard to explain, but it’s kind of like The Breakfast Club meets Alien—in the beginning, it’s a movie about how tough it is to be a teenager and teen angst,” Black analogizes. “Then they get sucked into the game, and it becomes a survival tale in this insane adventure.”

The “insane adventure” portion of the film was shot wholly on O’ahu. While it wasn’t Black’s first time shooting in Hawai’i—around a decade ago, Black spent a good amount of time on Kaua’i filming hysterical satire Tropic Thunder—he spent 10 weeks on O’ahu along with the rest of the cast, which includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. And during those two months, Black didn’t waste any time delving into what Honolulu had to offer, especially its dining scene. From Ed Kenney’s Mud Hen Water in Kaimuki to The Pig & the Lady in downtown, Black says some of the best meals he’s ever had were during his extended stay.

One place he was particularly impressed with—or in his words, “blew my mind so hard”—was Alan Wong’s. “I told them I wanted to sit where Obama sat,” jokes Black. “They pointed me toward this table near no windows and seemed hidden. ‘For safety reasons,’ they told me. I was like, ‘No way! I want the best seat in the house, not the safest.'”

But it hasn’t always been fancy restaurants for the California native. Back in his 20s, when Black was just getting into acting professionally, it was a different scenario. “I had my first part [in a movie] when I was 20 in Bob Roberts, and that was in 1992. Basically all of the ’90s were a tough slog where I would work, get a paycheck, get an apartment. And then I would spend all that money, and then I would leave the apartment and go back and live with my mom— all the way up until the year 2000. All of my 20s were tough, but the question was never, am I gonna stick with this? Because I didn’t have a plan B—my plan B was to go live with my mom, and then I don’t know what. Luckily, plan A worked out … eventually.”

Thanks to a successful plan A, Black’s body of work includes more than a hundred roles, including his breakout role in High Fidelity and top billing for his comedic roles in Nacho Libre, Shallow Hall, Be Kind Rewind, The D Train, Goosebumps and School of Rock, just to name a few. Each role, no matter how different from each other it may seem, do have one thing in common—it resonates with Black in some shape or form. “It’s very personal,” he says on choosing which parts to play. “It’s how I respond to the material, and everyone responds differently to a script when they read it. It really comes down to what I think I can do well. What I can really connect with in a meaningful way, and what I can make funny, and what plays to my strengths.” One exception to the rule pertains to who’s directing. “The director is a major factor. Sometimes if there’s a director that’s [so good], it’s like, holy crap, I’m doing it, no matter what it is. I don’t even need to read the script … but that’s very rare.”

I ask Black if there was some point in his life when he was convinced that acting was the way to go. And while he claims to have been bitten by the acting bug back when he was just 9 or 10, it was a high school play, or rather, someone in the audience who saw his performance that convinced him he was on the right track. “I was in a play called The Miracle Worker, and one of the moms of the students at the school I was at was a famous actress named Anne Bancroft, and she was in the movie version of The Miracle Worker back in the day [for which she won the Best Actress Oscar], back in the ’60s, and she came to see our production. Then she left a message on my machine. She said, ‘Jack, born to do it, you were born to do it.’ She gave me the sweetest message on my machine (on my parents machine at home, I didn’t have my own machine). And I saved that tape. I listened to it a hundred times, and it really gave me the confidence to say, ‘Wait a second, maybe she’s right, maybe I can do this, maybe this can be a life for me.’ It was a very meaningful turning point.”

As mentioned earlier, Black is a very busy guy these days. Aside from his Hollywood existence, his life at home with the family is equally full of activity. Married to wife Tanya Haden since 2006 and parents to boys Samuel Jason, 11 and Thomas David, 9, Black admits that just like everyone else, you do what you can. In his case, it means that the family—depending on certain factors—tries to visit him on set if possible and other things to that effect. If only there were more time.

“There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. If God would just add a day … I need eight days, and can I also add a few hours? Make it a 30-hour day. I guess I’m looking to live on another planet. Maybe Jupiter would be more suited to my needs.” Don’t go leaving this planet just yet, Jack—we need your humor and insight back here on Earth.

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