By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It’s mid-afternoon and funnyman Jack Black is looking a bit weary.
“I stuffed my face so hard at lunch, I need to stay here and take a nap,” he confesses.
But soon Black is back to his old, convivial self, making jokes and pulling faces as he talks up his newest film, the kid-friendly effects-laden fantasy “Goosebumps.” Based on the wildly popular series of children’s books by author R.L. Stine, “Goosebumps” stars Black as a version of the author as an overprotective father who doesn’t cotton to his new neighbor, a teenage boy who takes an instant liking in his pretty daughter.
There’s good reason why Black doesn’t want young Zach (Dylan Minnette) hanging around his daughter or his home. Inside his home are volumes of his books that are locked up, which, of course, are irresistible to the lad once he’s wooing Hannah (Odeya Rush). When he and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) open the books, all heck breaks loose as the monsters and villains from the stories Stine has written are released into the real world. It’s up to Zach, Hannah, Champ and Stine to round up and return to the books all the figments of Stine’s imagination, including sassy Slappy the Dummy, the girl with the haunted mask, gnomes, invisible boy and before they completely terrorize the town.
Black’s depiction of Stine as a standoffish professorial type is a far cry from the lovable teddy bear he often plays onscreen. As a father of two boys, the Santa Monica, Calif. native relished the opportunity to play against type and bring the popular “Goosebumps” tales to the big screen.
Q: Can you talk about your introduction to “Goosebumps” and do you read them to your kids?
Black: I have not read them to my kids yet but we did listen to a couple of them on tape on our way to a camping trip. My introduction to “Goosebumps” was this screenplay. I had never read any of the books or seen any of the television episodes but I loved the screenplay and I jumped into it then read some of the books as research, my Daniel Day-Lewis research and they’re great. They’re really fun to read. If you’ve never read one you should check them out.
Q: Was it a lot of fun on set?
Black: It was a lot of fun on the set. We had a different monster every day. The make-up and costumes were unbelievable. Like today is mummy day. It’s ghouls and zombies. Every day was an adventure. My boys came and visited near the end of the shoot and it was a dream come true for them.
Q: How did meeting the real R.L. Stine compare to what you read in the script?
Black: We met him before we started filming so we asked him for his notes on the script and his blessing. He loved the script and he didn’t mind that I was doing a much different characterization of him. He’s got a great sense of humor so he was fine that I was portraying him as this antisocial grouch. He understands drama and the necessity for liberties to be taken.
Q: Was a lot of the humor ad-libbed by you?
Black: It was mostly in the script. I didn’t have to come up with improvs. Were there any genius improvs you remember (asking director)? Of course there were a few moments of pure genius. We had some good rehearsal read-throughs before we started shooting. Of course all of Slappy’s dialogue was ad-libbed.
Q: If you could write a “Goosebumps” story what would it be about and what is your favorite monster?
Black: If I was a writer, what would I make into a reality? Oh God, I don’t know. That’s the problem. I’m not a writer. If I were a writer I’d have a great answer probably not a monster though. If I could make anything real, it would be something really pleasant. I’d probably imagine world peace or a really good massage (laughter). I would make it real. Both of those are very good, yeah. Who is to say which is better? My favorite monster? How could it be anyone but Slappy, and not just because of the eerie resemblance (to me)? He really is quite charismatic. He kind of steals the show.
Q: What is the best part of working with director Rob Letterman?
Black: It’s been thrice now (following “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Gulliver’s Travels”). I’d say the shorthand that we have over time working together and I just trust his instincts. It took me a while to let go. I have real control issues but now that we’re on our third movie I was like “Okay, now just let him do his thing.” But I think Rob’s greatest strength is just his calm in the eye of the storm. There is no panic in his game. He just is very methodical and it has a relaxing effect on the whole cast, on the whole set. Whenever you’ve got a director who is gripping or is a little bit stressed out, it really puts a damper on the proceedings. His Zen-like approach is (great).
Q: This is a different demo than most of your movies. Does becoming a parent make you want to do movies that appeal to kids?
Black: I don’t feel that it’s that far out of my wheelhouse. I did “School of Rock” for a similar demo. What was different about this for me was having a character that was not like a lovable, squishy loser hero. This was more of the dark, brooding genius. It was kind of a fun change of pace for me. I’m no stranger to entertaining the kids. I’ve been doing that for more than a decade now. I have a lot of childish qualities myself. I’m like a big manchild so I can relate to what kids think is funny and cool, hopefully.
Q: What gives you goosebumps?
Black: Home invasion. Right before I go to bed sometimes I’ll be like “I’m so tired but did I lock all the doors?” But my thing that gives me goosebumps sometimes is the size of the universe. When I think of it I’m like (makes scared noise) and also the survival of the human species. Sometimes when I think about the inevitable death of every human being on the planet. I mean it would be sweet if we live all the way to infinity but we’re going to have to build a death star. The sun, at some point is going to wink off on all the planets but that won’t be for a billion years. We’d be lucky if we make it that long. So anyway, we’ve got to build this death star and build a million of them and spread them all over the galaxy. I’ll leave it at that. Or taking off in a plane in a stage one hurricane. That’s never good.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene?
Black: I like my scene with Slappy when we’re in “The Shining” set at the high school. It was just me and Slappy mano-a-mano.
Q: What were some of the influences you had on crafting the Stine character, especially that voice you had?
Black: Mostly it was Orson Welles but I wanted to give him a little extra gravitas. I couldn’t just be good old Jables (his nickname) playing the genius writer so I wanted to do someone who was considered a genius and maybe had a dark secret and just seemed like Orson Welles fit the bill so I just literally watched “Citizen Kane” 40 times then went straight to the set. I’m no Daniel Day-Lewis, okay? I watched “Citizen Kane.”
Q: This movie is aimed at kids so it has to be scary but it can’t be too scary.
Black: That’s the line that R.L. Stine danced around his whole career so that’s what we were aiming for and he sold 400 million copies so you know there’s an audience out there for it. Kids like monsters. I don’t think it’s that big a stretch at all and there’s no blood in the movie and it’s good wholesome fun. My kids love it. It’s only hard because there are not a lot of movies to compare it to. You’ve got “Ghostbusters” or maybe “Goonies” is kind of scary.
Q: Will there be a sequel?
Black: Yeah, there could be eight of them.
Q: At this point in your career you’ve got a few classic roles under your belt. What’s it like to know that people are going to be watching your work years from now?
Black: It’s true. After “School of Rock” I was like, “I can die now. That’s going to be the best thing I ever do. I’m never going to connect with a character like that again.” It felt good.