Jack Black's journey in music began when his relationship with the pop group Journey ended — and in School of Rock he's trying to instill our kids with the innocent joys of hell-raising heavy metal.
Black has a history of playing slackers and stoners and might seem like an odd choice to star in a family film. But fans who remember his scene-stealing performances in High Fidelity and his uproarious singing with Tenacious D are in for a big surprise.
Black is Shallow Hal no longer. In School of Rock, the 35-year-old bad boy plays it clean as the substitute teacher who turns a prestigious prep school upside down, transforming classical music students into rockers.
"It's a celebration of immaturity," Black tells reporters in the days before the movie's release. "In many ways, that's where my whole love of hard rocking came from."
"I think I was 12 or 13 when I went into a record store to get the new Journey album. But then there was an older kid there who said, 'Hey, Man! Don't get that record! Do yourself a favor dude, get this thing.' And he gave me Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Ozz, and that is when I truly raised the goblet of rock." Black Refrains From F-Bombs
School of Rock has opened to strong reviews, with an A-rating from Good Morning America's Joel Siegel and ubiquitous praise for Black's unlikely turn to the family film market.
But Black said it wasn't as hard as you might think to reel in his raucous persona enough to make him someone you might want to introduce to your children.
"Obviously, I wasn't going to drop any F-bombs in the room," Black says. "You have to mind your Ps and Qs a little bit. But I didn't hold back at all. You have to communicate those cuss words through your face muscles."
The film earned a PG-13 rating because of a single reference to drugs. But it's mostly good, clean fun.
It's not easy to make a film that truly appeals to the whole family, and Black seems like an unlikely candidate to take on that challenge. But perhaps a bigger surprise is the talent behind the camera. Director Richard Linklater is best known for Slacker, SubUrbia and Dazed and Confused — three independent films that take unflinching alcohol-and-drug-drenched looks at disaffected American youth.
Screenwriter Mike White also had a reputation for making quirky independent films, like Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl. White had previously scripted Black's part in Orange County in which Black accidentally gets his younger brother's college admissions officer high — a role that seems pure Black.
Such a trio nearly guarantees that School of Rock would not become yet another bland family film.
"The only hesitation is that there's a stigma with kids' movies, where it's like, "Oh it's a kids' movie, it can't be that good. It can't be funny, right?'" says Black. But it can be, he maintains.
"Back in the '70s, like one of my favorite movies ever was The Bad News Bears, and that was a kids' movie, but I don't think of it that way. I think of it as just a great movie because Walter Matthau was so funny and so harsh with those kids.
"He wasn't taking it easy on them. He was treating them like people and he was so grumpy and we wanted this to be kind of like The Bad News Bears of Rock." Filmmakers Ponder, ‘What Would AC/DC Do?’
Black has more than a bit in common with Dewey Finn, the substitute teacher he plays. Finn is a singer-songwriter and guitarist. But Finn's band, No Vacancy, kicks him out … and music is the only thing in his life. Black has much more going on in his life.
Tenacious D, an unlikely success, is still going strong. The group's self-titled album became a hit in 2001 and they've toured to sellout crowds, both as an opening act for Weezer and Kid Rock and as a headliner. The group's HBO variety series showcased Black's comic and musical skills as a performer and a witty songwriter.
But even when he's not singing, Black's hard rock underpinning is at the heart of his success as a comedian and actor. In High Fidelity, he played the part of a slacker hanging on to his childhood as a record store clerk to perfection, convincingly flashing an encyclopedic knowledge of rock while being otherwise incapable of adult living.
Last year, he co-hosted the MTV Movie Awards with Sarah Jessica Parker, earning the show's highest ratings ever and making it one of the top-rated cable programs of the year.
Black next teams up with Ben Stiller in the Barry Levinson film Envy.
Black and White teamed up to write many of the songs the School of Rock kids play in the classroom, including several musical solos.
"They're not really songs so much as nuggets of songs," says Black. "I could have stretched them out into songs, but they're more like comedy nuggets." The title song of the movie, played by the kids in the film's finale, was written by The Mooney Suzuki, a band Black had coaxed into the project after he had seen them open for The Strokes in New York.
White passed along ideas for The Mooney Suzuki contributions in a creative process the screenwriter won't soon forget.
"We were trying to write lyrics and I thought, 'What would AC/DC do?'" White says. "I don't think I've ever been in a script meeting where I was thinking, 'What would AC/DC do?'"
But with Black's star on the rise, AC/DC-influenced theater might become its own genre.