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The School of Rock - I'm always flattered when people compare me to John Belushi



Feature by: Jack Foley

IT’S just turned 3pm within the luxurious confines of The Dorchester Hotel, in London, and a room full of journalists are still contemplating the arrival of the man they have come to see.

Jack Black was supposed to have turned up at 2pm, but, over an hour later, he has still not shown. Usually, the assembled media would be moaning and groaning about being made to wait (20 minutes is the standard delay), but today there appears to be an air of calm, almost in anticipation of the comic genius they are about to greet.

School of Rock, the film Black is over to promote, marks a return to the sort of blistering form that first thrust the star into the limelight, following his scene-stealing support in High Fidelity. It is generally considered to be one of the funniest, most genuinely feel-good films in years.

Black stars as a down and out rock musician, who poses as a substitute teacher at an uptight private school, in order to pay the rent, only to discover the band he has long been looking for, in the unlikely form of his pupils.

It is the film which finally provides a pitch-perfect showcase for his undoubted talents, merging his love of film, with his passion for rock (he is also the frontman and co-founder of glam-rockers, Tenacious D).

And when he finally arrives, strolling into the press conference with some of the children he appears with on-screen, there is a noticeable buzz about the place.

Black gets things rolling, early on, with an impromptu rendition of The Darkness track, ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’, which he describes as a ‘free concerto, for you, the press’, before getting on with the ‘serious’ business of answering questions.

Yet despite looking a little tired, and almost fed up, at times, he possesses that uncanny ability to suddenly burst into life, holding the room mesmerised with a series of thoughtful, funny and well-mannered replies, which seldom fail to raise a smile, at the very least.

When asked whether having a film built around him, for the first time, had led to a feeling of greater responsibility, he replied, candidly, that it had not, adding that ‘it makes it easier if there's a really good writer who knows you well, and writes it in your voice’.

"It's like a good piece of writing protects you from being bad," he continued. "I like to say that he [Mike White] is like a tailor who tailored me a suit of heavy metal armour, so I could go into battle, and conquer, and slay the giant wilderbeast!"

Not that this prevented Black from tossing in a ‘couple of little flavour nuggets’ of his own, as he loves to ‘get in there and collaborate’, as well.

The star then went on to dismiss any suggestions that he had ‘sold out’, by appearing in such ‘mainstream fare’.

"Have I sold out?" he asked, in return, almost in bewilderment. "I don't know, the definition of sold out, I would question that. The real question is, have you lost your talent; are you no longer, you know, relevant?

"I just stop liking people when they don't entertain me anymore. If they're doing something for a larger audience, that doesn't bother me. And what are the compromises of doing this movie?

"I don't know, I didn't use the F-word, or anything, so I guess you could say that's a compromise, not using bad language, but who cares? That was a challenge. I didn't show butt crack, like I did in High Fidelity, so I guess you could say ‘he’s sold out, cos he's not showing his arse crack’! So much for the real JB. It's still me, though, in fact this is more me than any of my movies, really."

The character of Dewey Finn is someone Black readily describes as ‘me, five years ago, basically, before I had a career, when I was a little more desperate and frustrated’, although whereas his Tenacious D persona allows him to make fun of rock for a living, ‘Dewey would never make fun of it; as he takes it very seriously and loves it too much’.

Black is certainly riding high at the moment, having won widespread acclaim for his performance in The School of Rock on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as securing a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a musical or comedy (although he lost out to Bill Murray (Lost in Translation). Tenacious D also continue to be tremendously popular.

But he laughs off suggestions that he has become a sex symbol as a result, while sounding tremendously humbled by comparisons to comedy legends, such as Jim Carrey and John Belushi.

"I'm always flattered when people compare me to John Belushi," he responded. "He was definitely an influence. As for the comparisons, I guess, aside from the fact that we're both chubby and have powerful eyebrow technique, we also have a similarly raunchy energy.

"But I think the thing that was great about Belushi was just that you loved him. I remember I wasn't even thinking about how great a performer he was, but rather, how I'd really like to hang out with that guy; he had a great ‘high hangability quotient’. And if I had that, it'd be great.

"As for the sex symbol aspect, is that true? Is that real," he laughs. "Cos, you know, I'm well over 13 stone. In fact, truth be told, at the moment I'm pushing 15 stone; so if a man, at just over 5ft 6ins, and 15 stone, can be attractive to the opposite sex, then I guess I'm a hero!"

Heroic status aside, Black turns his attentions to music, fielding questions about current trends such as Pop Idol, and whether he perceives it as a career boost to anyone who appears on it.

"That's like a Lottery, you know, I think it's a way to be famous, but it’s just basically a karaoke contest, as none of those people are writing songs, so I don't care about any of that," he replied. "I'm not going to buy any of their records.

"I'll buy the records of the people of the songs that they're singing; the people who wrote those songs, but I don't think that's a good thing. I don't think it's helping to further music."

It’s a point well made, and one which any true fan of music will be hard-pushed to disagree with, particularly as Black is such a great advertisement for making it on your own, and realising your own talent.

So does he have any advice for anyone thinking of following the same path?

"If you want to do stuff in the arts, and if you want to make a living from it, I think it's important to do all of the arts, or as many of them as you can - the painting, the drawing, the acting, the directing, the editing, the filming, the music-playing," he enthused.

"You've got to cast a wide net, I think, because I don't think it's good to put all your eggs in one basket. Other arts feed each other, so it's good to do everything."

And with that in mind, Black went on his merry way, pausing to take a few more questions from journalists, and signing autographs for anyone who could get close enough. One lucky reporter was even fortunate enough to get a signed drawing of the Tenacious D logo he had been sketching throughout the conference.

He may have been an hour late, but the wait was most certainly worth it, and journalists retired from The Dorchester in suitably happy spirits, safe in the knowledge that, just as it states on The School of Rock poster, ‘Jack Black rocks’!

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