Gulliver's Travels - Jack Black
Horatio (Jason Segel) and Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) exult in the triumphs of their new super-sized friend Gulliver © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox

In Jack Black’s updated version of Jonathan Swift’s fantasy Gulliver’s Travel, he portrays Lemuel Gulliver and mail clerk at a Manhattan newspaper that bluffs his way into an assignment on the Bermuda Triangle, and ends up in an alternate universe called Lilliput, where he’s a giant compared to the country’s population.

Emily Blunt plays Princess Mary of Lilliput, who is engaged to General Edward (Chris O’Dowd) but, with the urging of Lemuel, a commoner named Horatio also begins to woo her.

Finding great success playing hard-edged characters, Emily Blunt admits it was fun to play a ‘girly’ role for a change.

Princess Mary isn’t always the sweet princess.

Gulliver's Travels - Jack Black
Gilliver (Jack Black) gets acquainted with the citizens of Lilliput © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox

No, she has a good arc. I think at the beginning she’s quite whimsical, conforming to tradition, and she’s very girly and a bit melodramatic. And I think Gulliver encourages her to be more forthright and opinionated and be a modern woman, which I think is a good thing. She’s pretty feisty.

It was time to play someone sweet and innocent for once. Gulliver has an edgy, modern sensibility that Jack really brings to life. His Gulliver comes to our little world and gets everyone riled up, enabling them to see the world in a new way.

As a Lilliputian, how did you do your scenes with Jack Black?

It’s definitely a strange way of working, but Jack would always be on set, which helped, because there was a lot of improvisation in the movie, so if we didn’t have Jack there then it would have been quite hard to keep the scenes fresh and funny.

He was there every day, so they’d be recording his voice but he’d be standing over there and we’d be staring up at a tennis ball on a crane, which is so weird to have to emote to a ball. It’s a strange way of working and everything in your body just wants to lean towards Jack’s direction.

He picks you up at one point too.

Gulliver's Travels - Jack Black
Gilliver (Jack Black) talks to Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) and other dignatories © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox, Photo by hy*drau"lx

He does, that was done on another crane. It was just a platform that I stood on and it lifted me up. It was a bit scary, because the crane was a little rocky, and there was no safety net. It’s movie magic.

Were you a fan of the Gulliver’s Travels book?

Yeah, I was a fan of it. But I think the original was much more of a satirical, quite cynical version, different from what we’ve made. Probably when my mom read it to me as a kid a lot of the metaphors went way over my head and I didn’t even realize them, but it’s still an amusing book. I think our version is a much more lighthearted approach to the novel, but it’s still with some great messages for kids.

Speaking of humor, what was it like being in scenes with Billy Connolly?

I just was glued to his side. It was just pathetic. I followed him around like a [young girl] with a crush. He was so wonderful and he’s such a joyous person to be around. You know, sometimes when you meet comedians they are actually quite severe and cold, and they hate to laugh which is an odd thing, but Billy is the kind of person you want to make him laugh, because he’s got a great, uproarious laugh.

He’s really silly and really game for people telling stories. He’s also a great listener. He’s just a joy.

Being a Princess is still such an iconic idea for girls.

Yeah, I guess, people still get nostalgic about Disney movies so I can see where people are drawn to princesses and it’s a little girl’s fantasy. It wasn’t mine when I was a kid because I was much more of a tomboy. It’s such a spectacle being a princess with the crown, there’s something really girly and frilly about it. And I think that little girls will always been drawn to that.

The movie is in 3D, what is your opinion of 3D?

3D I think has come a long way, and I think Avatar definitely shook up the industry and what was possible. Is it something I want to do all the time? No. Are they the kind of movies that are predominantly out there right now? Yes.

That side of the industry can get frustrating just because I question, from a personal level, where are the great Sissy Spacek, Jane Fonda roles? Where are they? I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone does, so I think on that level we’ve taken a shift away from the ‘70s movies which were, of course, my favorite movies and the best movies ever made.

So I think in that sense it can be sad, but I do feel it’s coming back, those movies will always rear their heads and that’s why it’s also important to be proactive and create jobs for yourself that you love, and read books and option books, and be a producer, because I think it’s basically the only way to make films that you truly love. I think we’re just inundated with big budget movies nowadays.

What do you have coming up?

The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon. It’s got a sci-fi element to it. Essentially it’s a romance thriller, but it’s hard to pin down what the story is. It’s more psychological than aliens and people on wires, it’s not The Matrix.

George Nolfi is the writer/director of it. He wrote The Bourne Ultimatum and that’s how Matt is involved. This was his first directing job and he did great.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.