Jack Black has hunted and gathered in Sodom, donned the cape of a Mexican wrestler and been tied down by a thousand Lilliputians. But outside a supporting part in the little-seen "Margot at the Wedding," he's never tried on serious garb before.
That changed at the Los Angeles Film Festival opening night Thursday, where Black showed a flair for drama and dark comedy at the world premiere of "Bernie," Richard Linklater's quirky film based on a true story from his native Texas.
The tenacious one plays the title character, a mustachioed, showtunes-loving aesthete living in a backwater East Texas town who, oh yes, is also a mortician and the companion of an eccentric wealthy widow (Shirley Maclaine) on whom he ultimately perpetrates a violent crime. It's by far the most ambitious role for Black — currently starring in "Kung Fu Panda 2" — not least because the actor has to make us laugh at the absurdity of his character while simultaneously conjuring both sympathy and condemnation.
Black said he wasn't specifically seeking a prestige turn. Asked in a phone interview why he chose the "Bernie" role, he chalked it up to Linklater, with whom he collaborated on the 2003 hit comedy "School of Rock." "It was about making the same magic with Rick again," he said.
In an interview on the red carpet Thursday night, Black acknowledged a shift, but only understatedly, "It's a litte bit darker than my usual fare," he said.
Maclaine, though, made sure the actor got some props. "You're laughing at things you don't believe you're laughing at," she said of her "Bernie" co-star. "He's a really good actor. He's not just funny and a comic." (You can watch the video from the red-carpet interview with Maclaine and Black below.)
Black tends to speak in a metaphor that's quaint and almost East Texas-y in its own right. Asked if his role in the upcoming "Muppets" remake would see a return to goofball comedy, he said, "Yes, but I have to give my man Jason Segel credit, there's some dark chocolate in there too."
On the red carpet, Black called Linklater and Maclaine "the honey to my bees." And in the phone interview he said that while the director may seem like a pretty traditional "meat and potatoes" filmmaker, when "the pie came out of the oven, it was delicious."
We're not exactly sure what that means, though besides from making us a little hungry, his thoughts — and, especially, the "Bernie" performance — do make us wonder whether Black might soon break the streak of recent comedy wobblers and again try something more serious.
— Steven Zeitchik and Amy Kaufman
Photo: Jack Black in "Bernie." Credit: Mandalay Entertainment