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The Actors: Jack Black and Gary Oldman are hero and villain in 'Kung Fu Panda 2'

Jack Black's Po the Panda must put an end to Oldman's strutting evil peacock Lord Shen and deal with his own identity issues.

May 01, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Po, left, battles Wolf Boss in "Kung Fu Panda 2."
Po, left, battles Wolf Boss in "Kung Fu Panda 2." (DreamWorks Animation,…)

When we last left kung fu master Po, the Furious Five and Master Shifu three years ago in the animated blockbuster "Kung Fu Panda," they had rid the Valley of Peace from the evil snow leopard, Tai Lung.

But Po and his gang face an even more deadly nemesis, an emperor albino peacock named Lord Shen in the sequel, "Kung Fu Panda 2," opening May 26.

"The first villain was no slouch," quipped Jack Black, who voices Po the panda. "But this time the stakes are much higher. This time, the Furious Five have to protect all of China from a much bigger threat. Shen has developed a deadly weapon that threatens not only to destroy kung fu as we know it, but enslave all of China. He is going to rule with an iron fist, or an iron feather — would it be an iron talon? Do peacocks have talons?"

It is that humor that Black brings to the proceedings even though the story has some serious undertones. Squaring off against the lovable Po is British actor Gary Oldman, not one often associated with animation, or even comedies, for that matter. But he jumped at the chance to take part in the sequel.

"My kids loved the first one and if you are going to do a voice for an animated feature then this is real sort of pedigree stuff," said the actor, perhaps best known among family audiences as Harry Potter's godfather Sirius Black (who, we're pretty sure, is no relation to Jack).

And how could he turn down such a juicy role? Oldman sees Shen as a Bond villain with feathers. "I just want to take over the planet, basically," Oldman said of the despicable peacock. "I am royalty and my family history — they were behind the invention of fireworks, so I have simply taken the use of gunpowder for pleasure and turned into a dastardly evil."

Black pointed out that Po and Shen have a history together. "When Po sees Shen, he starts to have memories of his origins before he was adopted by his father, Ping, the goose. He has deep burning questions in the core of his soul about who he really is and where he comes from. He wants to stop Shen from destroying kung fu and enslaving China, but he also wants answers from Shen. So it's a complex little situation he's gotten into."

Though Black and Oldman laid down their tracks separately in the recording booth, director Jennifer Yuh Nelson brought them together for a pivotal scene. "It was a dream come true for me because I have been such a huge fan of Gary's," Black said. "He has been one of my favorites because he has what very few actors have, this sort of little bit of crazy in his broth, his super sauce. It creates a special charisma that is more than your average cool dude, it's like 'whoa.'"

"They rigged it up where we were opposite each other and we could see each other," Oldman said, "It was really like doing a scene with someone in a regular movie."

"It was a tricky scene," added Black, who said they got to ad-lib during the session. "There is a dynamic between the two that couldn't have been gotten without both of us being in the room. It made a huge difference. This whole scene came to life in a great, funny and tense way."

susan.king@latimes.com

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