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While he began his unique double career as a cult figure on the L.A. alternative comedy scene before upgrading to scene-stealing character roles in larger pictures, actor-musician Jack Black eventually took the lead in some of the most quirky and endearing comedies of the early millennium. After playing a series of small roles on television and in film, Black had his breakthrough as an amped-up vintage record store clerk in Stephen Frears' "High Fidelity" (2000). From there, he went on to cultivate his signature persona - that of an overconfident, smart aleck loser with an arsenal of expressive faces and a gung-ho attitude toward the most absurd plans of action. Black gained further celebrity with leading roles in the Farrelly Brothers comedy "Shallow Hal" (2001) and the indie comedy "Orange County" (2002). He reached new heights with the surprise hit, "School of Rock" (2003), which established his presence as one of Hollywood's top comedic draws. Widening his palette, Black took on the Carl Denham role for Peter Jackson's contemporary remake of "King Kong" (2005), though he was knocked for his dismissed performance in "Nacho Libre" (2006). But he bounced back in a big way as the voice of "Kung Fu...
While he began his unique double career as a cult figure on the L.A. alternative comedy scene before upgrading to scene-stealing character roles in larger pictures, actor-musician Jack Black eventually took the lead in some of the most quirky and endearing comedies of the early millennium. After playing a series of small roles on television and in film, Black had his breakthrough as an amped-up vintage record store clerk in Stephen Frears' "High Fidelity" (2000). From there, he went on to cultivate his signature persona - that of an overconfident, smart aleck loser with an arsenal of expressive faces and a gung-ho attitude toward the most absurd plans of action. Black gained further celebrity with leading roles in the Farrelly Brothers comedy "Shallow Hal" (2001) and the indie comedy "Orange County" (2002). He reached new heights with the surprise hit, "School of Rock" (2003), which established his presence as one of Hollywood's top comedic draws. Widening his palette, Black took on the Carl Denham role for Peter Jackson's contemporary remake of "King Kong" (2005), though he was knocked for his dismissed performance in "Nacho Libre" (2006). But he bounced back in a big way as the voice of "Kung Fu Panda" (2008) and the drug-addled Jeff Portnoy in "Tropic Thunder" (2008). Whether he was making audiences laugh in a wide variety of comedic performances or playing to sold-out crowds as front man for the rock comedy due, Tenacious D, Black remained one of Hollywood's most unique and bankable talents.
Black was born Thomas Black on Aug. 28, 1969, and was anointed with the nickname Jack almost immediately. His parents were both satellite engineers (rocket scientists) who split when he was 10 years old, after which Black moved from wealthy Hermosa Beach, CA, to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Culver City. The family's academic gene was apparently not passed on to their son, who instead exhibited evidence of the "need for attention" gene. School was an excruciating experience for the kid who could not sit still nor focus on tasks at hand; instead dreaming of one day being adored on stage for performing sound effects with various body orifices. He received his first taste of the spotlight when he was cast in an Atari video game commercial at age 13. His follow-up was an ad for the considerably less cool Smurfberry Crunch cereal. He appeared onstage for three weeks in a production of "Inside Eddie Binstock," directed by then-unknown Tim Robbins, before the typical distractions of youth won out and his headshots began collecting dust.
The bright but frustrated teen began hanging out on the streets with fellow metalhead burnouts, and after getting into an increasing amount of trouble with school and with the law, he was plucked from public high school and sent to a small private one for troubled youths. Surrounded by far bigger delinquents than himself, Black straightened out and began to regain his interest in acting. He transferred to the arts-oriented Crossroads School in Santa Monica, where he thrived in the theater department and also fronted a rock band, whose failure to win over the crowd at a high school party temporarily squashed his musical aspirations. He went on to the theater studies program at UCLA, and it was there that the man who would one day become known for his unbridled physical comedy and adolescent obnoxiousness appeared onstage surprisingly in heavy-hitting theatrical works by Brecht and Ionesco. He spent more and more time around Robbins' Actor's Gang theater group, eventually dropping out of school to devote his time to acting and music. The sting of his high school failure safely behind him, Black met fellow musician and actor Kyle Gass through the Actor's Gang and the two hatched the idea for the tongue-in-cheek rock duo, Tenacious D.
Black pounded the audition circuit and landed his first paying gig close to home in Tim Robbins' directorial debut, "Bob Roberts" (1992), in which he played a crazed follower of the folk singer-turned-right wing politician. Black's unusual looks and his engaging, off-the cuff humor landed him a surprising number of TV and film gigs over the next few years. He appeared as plaid-shirted teenage burnouts in shows like "Northern Exposure" (CBS, 1990-95), "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002), and had a supporting role in the low-budget teen sports flick "Airborne" (1993). In 1994, Black and Kyle Gass (J.B. and K.G., respectively) debuted their act at a hip skid row rock club and almost instantly gained a local following for their comic banter and brilliantly performed, tongue-in-cheek tributes to classic rock. Paying homage by aping the well-worn themes of rock music - including medieval legends and puffed up bravado - the key to D's success was hilarious songwriting, competent guitar playing, and Black's fantastic vocal ability, which ranged from rakish growl to rebellious sneer to operatic bellow.
Black continued building an acting resume with character roles in "Dead Man Walking" (1995), "Bye Bye, Love" (1995) and "Waterworld" (1995), but his growing cult status as a renaissance funnyman and musician led to better opportunities to showcase his unique talent. Tenacious D fan David Cross invited Black to appear on the infamous "Mr. Show with Bob and David" (HBO, 1995-98), where he gave scene-stealing performances in several musical numbers and seemed visibly reluctant to leave the stage when they were over. Tenacious D received offers to perform their act in films like "Bio Dome" (1996) and "The Cable Guy" (1996). In 1997, HBO signed J.B. and K.G. to a six-episode deal for their own series, "Tenacious D" (1997-2000) which followed "Mr. Show" and included Bob and David as collaborators. Only two episodes of the comedy about a struggling rock band aired that year. The rest would not surface until Black's considerable fame years later.
In 1998, Black brought his frenetic screen presence to featured roles in the indie comedy "Bongwater," the HBO mystery "Johnny Skidmarks" (HBO), and the big-budget action thriller "Enemy of the State." His rise continued with Robbins' "Cradle Will Rock" (1999) and a turn as a co-worker of lead character Billy Crudup in the acclaimed, "Jesus' Son" (1999), where he provided comic relief as a paranoid hospital orderly with pockets full of stolen meds. But Black's role as a deliciously abrasive record store employee in the film adaptation of "High Fidelity" (2000) proved to be his breakout role - a major film that showcased his engaging comedic antics as well as his musical talents. The film's final scene featured Black's cynical character dropping his ironic shell to deliver a stunning rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic, "Let's Get it On" - and with that, a star was truly born. Following his roundly praised performance, Black inked his first major deal, signing on to star with Jason Biggs and Steve Zahn in "Saving Silverman" (2000), a film that was inconceivably awful, despite its quirky, talented cast. The following year Black's musical career enjoyed considerably better success with the release of Tenacious D's self-titled album, which charted internationally and led to opening slots on tours with The Foo Fighters, Beck and Pearl Jam.
With "Silverman," Black had finally reached leading man status, but his ensuing run of films as top-billed actor were one-dimensional comedies that failed to capitalize on his unique talent. "Shallow Hal" (2001), from hitmakers Bobby and Peter Farrelly and co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow, seemed like a good idea on paper. But the low-brow comedy about a bland lout who suddenly sees only inner beauty after a spell is cast on him and he subsequently falls for a 300-pound woman failed to find an audience. Black managed only a slightly better vehicle with Jake Kasdan's comedy, "Orange County" (2002), in which he played a fairly standard stoner brother of the more ambitious Colin Hanks. Black also provided the voice of Zeke in the popular CGI-animated comedy "Ice Age" (2002) before "Orange County" screenwriter and next-door-neighbor Mike White decided to write a script custom-tailored to Black's strengths, as well as to tap into a sweeter side of him that audiences had yet to see.
The result was "School of Rock" (2003), which starred Black as a failing musician in desperate need of cash, who poses as his roommate (White) to take a substitute teaching job. The only knowledge he has to impart to his young wards is rock-n-roll knowledge, so he sets about forming a 5th grade supergroup to compete in a local "battle of the bands." Working with director Richard Linklater, Black dodged obvious cuteness, steered clear of mawkish sentimentality, and emerged as one of the best loved comic talents in Hollywood, capable of both outrageous, adolescent humor and a charmingly unbreakable confidence against all odds. Black's next release, "Envy" (2004), had been filmed before his "School of Rock" breakthrough and had more in common with the uninspired films he did prior to the career landmark. Unfunny and incoherent to the extreme, Black came off the least scathed in the film, appearing in it far less than his billing suggested. The actor next voiced Lenny, the sweet-natured shark who hides his true personality, in DreamWorks' CGI-animated underwater opus, "Shark Tale" (2004).
Next, Black jumped at the opportunity to work with Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson, who was casting the leads in a remake of 1933's "King Kong." The comic actor might have seemed an unusual candidate for the period action drama, but the description of Carl Denham's character as a cocky, but failing Orson Welles-type filmmaker starving for fame was certainly well within Black's bag of tricks. The epic spectacle was a box office hit, and Black's reigned-in performance won over another new crop of movie audiences. Continuing to experiment with what he could bring to different types of roles, Black co-starred with Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet in "The Holiday" (2006), a panned romantic comedy about the friendship between an American woman and a British woman, both of whom have recently been dumped.
Black stepped into the producer's role and certainly put his imprint on his next pair of outrageous comedies. In "Nacho Libre" (2006), he starred as a monastery cook whose inability to do no right - including make good food - leads him to earn money and find his place as a Lucha Libre wrestler - a pursuit strictly forbidden by the church elders. Despite the direction of Jared Hess, fresh off the success of Napoleon Dynamite" and produced by Black and Mike White's new production company (aptly, Black and White Productions), the promising film missed the mark with critics and came and went at the box office with little more than diehard Black and "Dynamite" fans in attendance.
Black traded in a big salary in exchange for creative control (along with Kyle Gass) for the highly anticipated mock rock biopic, "Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny" (2006). Critics were split over the fictitious tale of the humble beginnings of "the greatest band in the world;" some unmoved by the excessive drug and bathroom humor. Abundant "inside" jokes comprehensible only to diehard Tenacious fans alienated still more moviegoers. In the end, box office showing was weak, though the accompanying soundtrack sold well and reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts. Off-screen, Black quietly eloped with Los Angeles musician Tanya Haden, with whom he had gone to Crossroads High School, but had not seen until the pair reconnected at a party the previous year. Their first son, Samuel, was born that summer. The following year, Black appeared in a small cameo as Paul McCartney in the biopic satire "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" before taking on a supporting role in Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" (2007). In the meaty family dramedy from the director of "The Squid and the Whale" (2005), Black was tapped to play the overbearing "bad choice" fiancé for family black sheep Jennifer Jason Leigh, trying to mend fences with her successful author sister (Nicole Kidman). Darkly comic and bursting with complex family dynamics, the well-made film and Black's mature performance as an insecure blowhard remained below the radar.
In 2008, Black was recruited by director Michel Gondry to co-star opposite Mos Def in "Be Kind, Rewind," a comedy wherein junkyard worker Black accidentally de-magnetizes the stock of an entire video store and attempts to re-shoot all the films with the aid of the owner's son and various neighborhood characters. The microbudget versions of "RoboCop" and "The Lion King" become wildly popular with the customers, transforming the video store workers into local heroes. Black was at his best with the film's blend of outrageous physical comedy and absurd premise, but sweet subplot about the old shop's uncertain future in the face of economic hardship. Curiously, the film had a weak box office showing, despite positive reviews. Later in the year, Black provided the voice of Po, an unlikely contender for martial arts mastery, in Dreamworks' offbeat animated tale, "Kung Fu Panda" (2008). The ancient China-set action comedy proved to be the biggest animated hit of the year, thanks in part to Black's energetic and charming lead performance. Its success led to a "Kung Fu Panda" television series for Nickelodeon, a video game, and promises of a sequel.
Black's third comedy that year was also well-received by critics and audiences alike - "Tropic Thunder" (2008), in which he joined Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. to play prima donna movie stars on the set of a war movie who are thrown into a real life jungle warfare scenario. While Black's send-up of a pratfalling broad comedy star prone to bathroom humor was solid, Downey, Jr. stole the show with his role of a white Australian actor fully committed to portraying an African-American soldier. The following year, Black slowed down his prolific pace with a single release, Harold Ramis' "Year One" (2009), a sort of historic buddy comedy that paired him with Michael Cera as two prehistoric men on a journey through the ancient world. Black took another journey in 2010 as the titular character of "Gulliver's Travels" (2010), an adaptation of the classic literary adventure that found the actor washed up on the shores of an island populated by miniature people. After reprising Po for the animated sequel "Kung Fu Panda 2" (2011), Black earned critical praise for his leading role in Richard Linklater's black comedy "Bernie" (2012), where he played real-life mortician Bernie Tiede, a beloved member of a small Texas town who befriends a mean-spirited, but wealthy widow (Shirley MacLaine), only to be driven to murder. Black's hailed performance earned the actor Indie Spirit and Golden Globe award nominations for Best Actor.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Black is a member of the Los Angeles theater troupe The Actors Gang which was formed by Tim Robbins.
Various starring vehicle TV pilots have been developed for Black including the failed "Heat Vision and Jack", a spoof of "The Six Million Dollar Man" directed by Ben Stiller.
Black on an impending record deal for Tenacious D: "The main thing is we don't want someone telling us what's funny and what songs can be on the album and no fucking control and then bullshit people that are like father figures touching our privates behind closed doors." --quoted in The Onion, 1999
Black on playing someone not named Jack in "High Fidelity": "It was a tough stretch, sure. I had to wake up every day and look in the mirror and say, 'Hey Barry, how ya doing? Let's go get some chow. Do you like the kind of food I do? Because I could go for a QP with cheese.' And Barry would look back and say, 'No, dude. I'm into Big Macs.'" --quoted in Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 2000
Talking about his million-dollar contract to star in "Saving Silverman": "I didn't want anyone to know that I was going to be a millionaire, because as soon as that was printed, I felt like, 'Okay, someone's already started the plot to kidnap me, kill me, take all my millions.' But whatever -- I like the script." --Jack Black to Entertainment Weekly, March 31, 2000
Jack Black describing how reaction to Tenacious D's live show has changed since their short-lived HBO series: "The power of television has been really evident. When they see you on television and then they see you in person, something weird happens, like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe I just saw them on the magic box! And now I'm seeing them in person and the same things are coming out of their mouths!' The children . . . were moved." --quoted in Vanity Fair, April 2000
John Cusack on working with Black in "High Fidelity": "It might be the first time that his talent and a great role have come together with the right director. It's rare to see someone get as broad and as explosively bizarre as you could possibly want and also break it down and do subtle, discreet naturalism with the best of them. That kind of range is dramatic and great." --quoted in Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2000
Black on playing a romantic lead in "Shallow Hal": "It's definitely easier for me to be the jackass sidekick. All my friends are gonna say I've gone soft." --quoted in Time Out New York, September 27-October 4, 2001.
"Besides the smog, why would I ever leave? Los Angeles is the undisputed entertainment capital of the universe. Everyone says, 'L.A. sucks because everyone's phony.' I've got a news flash: There are phonies in every city in the world. In Uzbekistan, there are phonies. You just avoid them. That's what I do."-Black on living in Los Angeles Interview October 2002
"I don't read the newspaper; I just look at the news on Yahoo! Gore was ripping Bush today and it was kind of awesome, even though its weird to talk shit about Bush, because in these tender, terrorist times, we're suppose to support him no matter what the fuck lame shit he does."- Black Interview October 2002
"A lot of actors want to stretch and find roles farther from themselves," says Jack. "Not me. I like roles that get closer to who I really am. It gives me more time to hang out!"---Black InTouch April 5, 2004
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