LOS ANGELES – It’s a Saturday morning at L.A.’s plush Four Seasons Hotel, and Britney Spears isn’t around to make trouble. She was rushed by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center just two days before, and it’s all the bellhops and desperate housewives in the lobby can talk about. But there’s another blonde in town, and while he might not be going panty-less for the paparazzi, he’s certainly willing to get intimate.
“Does the carpet match the drapes?” funnyman Jack Black asks, settling into a chair and running a hand through his newly platinum-dyed hair, a devilish smirk on his face. “Yeah, my pubes are frosted blonde at the tips.”
The look does a lot for Black, who isn’t often noted for his appearance. Wearing a T-shirt with a silhouette of jazz legend Thelonious Monk screen-printed on the front and a pair of tinted aviator sunglasses hanging on a chain around his neck, he is the picture of Hollywood cool, even despite his not-so-Hollywood beer belly. Hot off the success of his role in the dark comedy Margot at the Wedding, Black is ready to shine in noted director Michel Gondry’s latest exercise in creativity, the quirky, sweet and very funny Be Kind Rewind.
In it, he plays Jerry, a paranoid conspiracy theorist whose wacky antics cause a lot of trouble for a small-town VHS rental store. As in many of Black’s other films, the role is a very physical one and required much jumping, leaping and slamming into poles.
“I’m willing to embarrass myself to a greater degree than most people because I want to get people to laugh,” Black said. “I need that. So I will go to greater lengths than you, probably. I don’t even know you! But I bet you I will go further for a laugh.”
Black’s love for comedy is apparent in everything he does – he seems constantly conscious of his expressive face and capability for wit, always striving to find humor in even the most ordinary of circumstances. He pauses for a second before answering any question, probably honing the response in his head. Little leaves Black’s mouth that isn’t overtly funny or dripping with intelligent sarcasm.
“If you go and look up ‘Computer Man’ on the Internet,” he said slowly, “you can find me in my underpants with a computer monitor on my head. I did a couple of those short films a few years ago… You gotta go back to your roots sometimes to know why you’re [making movies]. It’s like my going back to the theater. Instead of that, I just go on the Internet in my underpants.”
This was something that united Black and Gondry: both have an appreciation for the DIY aesthetic of home entertainment. Be Kind Rewind is as much a tribute to the YouTube movement as it is a tribute to small, local businesses and old-fashioned technology. It is a celebration of individualism, of the innovation that can be found in amateur work.
“If you are a part of your own entertainment, if you create your own entertainment, you’re going to enjoy it a lot more than anything that’s been created supposedly for you and that you have to pay for,” Gondry said, his voice veiled by a thick French accent, his breath smelling ever-so-slightly of coffee.
Black was mainly drawn to the idea of making Be Kind Rewind because he wanted to work with Gondry – but Gondry is full of awe and respect for him, too.
“His love for what he’s doing is really serious,” Gondry said, leaning forward and clasping his hands together as if to stress this to the room. “I was just saying the other day, even when he’s dressed, he seems naked. There’s something about him that’s so communicative.”
Despite being widely regarded as an artistic genius, Gondry is humble to the point of excess, a polite, soft-spoken man with a penchant for unnecessary apologies. It can sometimes be difficult to understand what he’s saying, but Gondry is barely an import – he’s been filming movies and music videos in the United States for years, working with very American talent like Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Beck and The White Stripes. Perhaps best known for his 2004 drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which he co-wrote with Charlie Kaufman and won an Academy Award for), Gondry takes a step in a different direction with Be Kind Rewind.
“I really love comedy,” Gondry said. “I consider it to be a noble art.” In his opinion, just because something is funny doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. Here, too, Black and Gondry share ideals.
“I mean, believe it or not, I’m kind of a clown, but when I’m working, I want to be coming from a real place. Even when I’m acting wild and ridiculous, I want it to be somewhat believable to me that I’m saying and doing the things that I’m saying and doing,” Black said, for once dropping the caustic edge to his voice.
It’s only natural that Black should appear in Be Kind Rewind at this point in his life – he’s very much at the pinnacle of his career, having graduated beyond the sort of comedy that relies heavily on fart jokes and moved on to films that are much more steeped in plot and character. Making Be Kind Rewind was full of “magical moments” for him – from jamming with costar (and well respected hip-hop artist) Mos Def on piano to watching Gondry’s imagination run wild.
“A lot of his stuff is beyond my understanding while we’re going through the script,” Black said. “He says [here, Black does a dead-on impression of Gondry, mumbling unintelligible English] and I’m like, ‘Uh-huh, yeah, that’ll be cool’ but I have no idea what he’s talking about. I’ll see it later and be like, ‘Ohhh.’”
Many times, Black turns the humor on himself, fighting the big-name celebrity stereotype with self-deprecation. It isn’t an act – Black really does believe that, at any second, his star could fizzle out.
“I don’t ever feel safe,” he said. “I always feel like, ‘This is it. Oh my God, what if the movie bombs? No more movies for Jackie, back to living at my mom’s house!’”
An unlikely story.
Anna Hyclak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.