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Don't let him fool you

Jack Black is seriously busy, but he's not about to stop clowning around.

December 03, 2006|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

WHEN Jack Black says he wants to tell you a sad story about his childhood, the natural reaction is to brace yourself for a grand, loopy lie that will leave your face hurting from laughter. But what if it's really true? Or does that really matter? Anyway, here he goes:

"I went to a Renaissance faire when I was just a child. I remember there was a woman there dressed as a wench" -- right there he enunciates like a wrestling announcer channeling Olivier -- "and she's on top of a wooden platform. And there's a tightrope, and if you can walk the tightrope you can make out with the wench. I was too young to even be trying to make out with a wench, but I thought that was something."

Here comes the sad part: "Everyone was in costume, wizards and the like. I was dressed wrong. I was dressed like a clown. I was like a Bozo-clown, not a jester-clown. I was a modern clown in Elizabethan times. I stuck out like a sore thumb. It was my sister's fault. She dressed me. I was like 9, and I felt like an outcast."

And there you have it, a worthy secret origin for Black, who took the shame of that youthful clown trauma and turned it into a truly warped and wonderful screen career. The chubby, Puckish actor who grabbed the moviegoing audience by the lapels in "High Fidelity" and perfected his comedy stage-dive with "School of Rock" has two new films, one a surprise and the other a project that pretty much defines his core sensibility.

"The Holiday," a romantic comedy that premieres Friday, has Black making a pivot toward the mainstream that would have Billy Crystal nodding in approval, and "Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny" serves up the go-for-baroque adventures of his spoofy heavy metal band, coming off sort of like "Bill & Ted's Excellent Spinal Tap." The first film reaches out with a wink to women, but the second gets rope burns trying to make out with wenches.

Black is a busy man these days. He is a newlywed and first-time father with a 5-month-old son, and "The Holiday," which also stars Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jude Law, has pulled him through the junket wringer in recent weeks.

"The Pick of Destiny," meanwhile, took more than two years to finish with its assorted reshoots, and its status as Black's personal passion (he wrote and directed it) put him in fast and furious mode to promote it. He toured with the band (which is fronted by him and his longtime straight-man pal, Kyle Gass) and the shows, including two sold-out nights at Gibson Amphitheater, are no joke, despite the screwy and lewd material: They bring elaborate sets and strong backup talent, and draw crowds that bang their heads as if Black Sabbath or Motorhead were onstage.

It's all funny business but that doesn't mean it's not serious too -- the soundtrack to the movie debuted at No. 8 on the U.S. pop charts, and at Gibson a lot of the fans sang along with every word and toasted the band with beer cups and joints held high.

"It is the greatest spectacle since Pink Floyd's 'The Wall,' " Black said with just the right tone of grandeur and deeply sincere falsehood. "It's the greatest rock 'n' roll ever unveiled. It's like 'The Wall' and Styx's 'Mr. Roboto,' which a lot of people thought was crap but I know it was genius."

The 37-year-old Black seems to have his mental radio stuck on the classic rock of KLOS-FM and the Colonnade seats of the Forum, circa AC/DC's "Back in Black" tour. He's an L.A. kid through and through. He grew up in Hermosa Beach, attending the private Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica, a favored hothouse for blossoming L.A. intelligentsia and showbiz kids. After a run through UCLA he landed in Actors' Gang, the troupe led by Tim Robbins, which led Black to his screen debut in the Robbins political farce "Bob Roberts" in 1992. Today, he's one of Hollywood's top funny guys.

Black was sitting next to a fruit plate in a trailer behind the Shrine Auditorium. He and Gass were a few hours away from taking their Tenacious D shtick to its largest audience ever with an appearance on the American Music Awards, a creaky show that, it turned out, desperately needed their spectacle. Onstage, Black was as reserved as a nitro-burning funny car, but in the quiet of the trailer he was hushed and yawning. He was a bit ragged from traveling the previous night (the band had rocked in San Francisco), and the laptop in front of him was loaded with behind-the-scenes "Pick of Destiny" footage for him to review for the eventual DVD release.

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