Jack Black stars in a modern, 3D comedy take on Jonathan Swift’s classic tale Gulliver’s Travels, playing Lemuel Gulliver, a lowly mailroom clerk at a New York newspaper. After he bluffs his way into a writing assignment on the Bermuda Triangle, he goes there only to be transported to an undiscovered land, Lilliput, where he is, at last, a bigger-than-life figure.
Towering over the people, he start telling tall tales, taking credit for his world’s greatest inventions and placing himself at the center of its most historical events; but his antics put the Lilliputians in danger, he must find a way to undo what he’s done and save them.
Black spoke of his new role and the responsibility he felt taking on a family friendly movie at the press day for the film.
Did you ever get to work with the other actors playing the Lilliputians? Weren’t you acting alone most of the time?
That’s not true. We employed a new technique in giant/tiny person filmmaking. It involves two cameras, one on the actual location, like we filmed at Blenheim Place, and the Liliputians would be filming in front of the actual palace and then about ten yards away, or meters when you are in London, I would be in front of a little miniature model of Blenheim Palace, looking at the exact right spot, and they’d be looking at the exact right spot up in the sky.
We would do the scenes simultaneously, and when the cameras moved they were connected with a computer so that they would stay in the right ratio, so that it would move on me very slowly and on them really fast.
The point is that because we were there shooting at the same time with the same sunlight, it had the effect of not only looking more realistic but also we were able to hear each other’s performances so it felt like we were actually having a conversation. The new technology was very helpful.
Are there responsibilities that come with making a family movie?
That was definitely a consideration when we were making it. I thought that while I loved the book there was just a lot of stuff in there that we couldn’t do because people are going to see it and laugh and go, ‘Yeah, but the potty humor is probably all new, that’s just Jack Black stuff.’ That was in the book.
Putting out the fire in the palace with the urine hose, that’s straight from the book and we actually had to cut a lot out because the original Jonathan Swift got too scatological, it would have been too spicy for a family film.
But some of the stuff we added was the theme of giants and tiny people, we added a thing where he felt like a small potato in a big man’s world, and we thought the kids could relate to that.
The whole idea of you don’t have to be the President of the United States or some rock star, or a super famous person to be big, you just need a big heart and be good to your loved ones and honest, and it just seemed like a very natural free-flowing fit into the classic Gulliver’s Travels tale. We ran with that.
Things happen in a comedy way in this, but nobody gets hurt.
It was like the A Team TV show, there might be an explosion but everyone’s going to crawl out of the rubble and go, ‘I’m fine.’ There are going to be kids in the audience, you don’t want to cause any nightmares, believe me, I know all about that.
Could you relate to the character of Lemuel Gulliver or are you more like your persona in your rock band Tenacious D?
Yeah I’m very much the insecure guy that I play in Gulliver’s Travels and other movies, and the bravado is a thing I like to do, it’s my alter-ego, the heavy metal clown that I portray in Tenacious D. That’s a great character that I can put on. That’s my Dr. Jekyll and ‘Comedy-Rock’ Hyde.
When you’re a producer on a film like this, is it hard to take off after your acting day if over?
I’ve produced other films as well. I was probably more of a producer on School of Rock than I was on any of my movies, because I was involved from the beginning. I was talking with Mike [White] about the story before there was script, and I was heavily involve with all the music that was in it, not just writing the music but going out and finding other musical acts to help contribute.
The definition of producing for me is just helping to shape the production from all angles, not just your own personal performance. All the creative decisions, if you want to be involved in those, you have to be a producer. And I love all aspects of filmmaking, so I hope to do more producing in the future.
You have Billy Connolly in this, who is a comedian and a musician. Did you get to jam with him?
Billy Connolly is legend and it was fun to have him on the set, and he did bust out a few jams and he’s got some great comedy stories. He’s been in the industry [for years]. He’s huge over in England, and it was cool to just be in his circle and see the way that people reacted to him.
Did you have some moments in shooting this where you had some flashbacks to King Kong in saying, ‘So this is what it’s like to have the shoe on the other foot?’
Yeah (he laughs). I definitely picked up some useful techniques working on King Kong. In a way, that was the perfect preparation for Gulliver’s Travels. And it was nice to be the giant. The shoe was on the other foot, now I needed to watch where I stepped as opposed to constantly running in fear!