Jack Black doesn't look like a Hollywood movie star. He's short and rotund with hawk-like eyes glistening beneath Jack Nicholson eyebrows. And he certainly doesn't sound much like a Hollywood star: "Dude, I reckon I look pretty darn good in stretchy tights". And yet, somehow, the anti-hero has become a star.
The adulation began six years ago with Stephen Frears's High Fidelity, in which Black's obnoxious record-store assistant Barry stole the show from the film's real star, John Cusack. At the same time, a short-lived HBO television series showcased Black's mock-metal band Tenacious D. Later this year they will take their act onto the big screen with Tenacious D in "The Pick of Destiny".
Prior to this, the UCLA college drop-out had built a none-too-shabby resume with small roles in big budget films like Enemy of the State, The Cable Guy, Dead Man Walking, Mars Attacks and Waterworld along with odd roles in TV series The X Files and Picket Fences. But what ultimately catapulted him into the seven-figure salary league was The School of Rock (2003) in which he emerged as that rare film star who can win over both adults and kids. The "arrogant-yet-lovable loser" is now a genre all his own. "People stop me in the store and scream at me, 'Let's party dude! I've got pot and beer!' I never really know what to say. It's really my own fault that I give off this crazy 'let's-party-and-wrestle' vibe. I've set that table for myself and that's OK. I guess if I stop doing it, if I stop being outrageous, eventually people will stop," he says.
While filming King Kong in New Zealand two years ago, Black confessed to GQ magazine: "I'm not one of those dudes who come drunk to the set. But I had a bit of a lost weekend while we were doing King Kong. I did some ecstasy and I went on a crazy rampage, running around, dancing, drinking, and smoking like a chimney. But I seriously don't party as much as people might imagine. I'm not a wake-and-baker," he adds.
At least not any more. So it is a reformed Black, 36, who arrives promptly at Santa Monica's elegant Casa del Mar hotel.
"I'm starting to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I have to get up and do things now," says Black, who married the cellist Tanya Haden, 35, in March, just three months prior to the birth of their son. "I even quit smoking two days ago," he says proudly. "I've been quitting on and off for the last 10 years but this time I'm really going to quit for real."
"I have no idea what kind of parent I will make. I guess I'm just going to play it by ear. I haven't read any books on how to be a good dad but I'll try to be honest with the kid, and whatever. I'm already thinking about putting up cameras in every room to spy on babysitters to make sure they don't shake the baby... It sounds like a train wreck, doesn't it?" he laughs.
Prior to reuniting with Haden - whom he worshipped from afar when they both attended Los Angeles's arty alternative school Crossroads - Black had lived with the comedian Laura Kightlinger for nine years.
"It [marriage] didn't work out for my parents and that put a bad taste in my mouth," explains Black, whose parents Tom and Judy, both satellite engineers, divorced when he was 10. "Aside from that I had a good childhood. They were very supportive of me and my artistic endeavours. They both came to every school play I ever did." He blames his parents' divorce for triggering the needy "love me, don't leave me" aspect of his personality, which would later translate into his becoming a child actor.
Ask him if he has any regrets in life now that he's expected to behave like a sensible grown-up and he says: "The drugs? When I was a kid I was just looking for fun experiences and you do a lot of crazy things. I don't think I was even completely sane. I'm lucky to be alive, for sure. It was really the car, that's when I could have actually died. I was driving around like a maniac. I had this little VW bug and if my parents knew what I was doing with that thing it would have been over. There could easily have been someone who ran out in the street and I could have just killed them and it would have destroyed my life."
Therapy helped Black for a while. "The first time I went to a shrink it was like a confession. I never really had confessionals because I was raised a Jew. So I confessed all of the things I was guilty about and I cried. It felt so good and then the rest of the sessions were just sort of boring compared to the first one."
Later this year sees the long awaited release of his Tenacious D in "The Pick of Destiny", and then there's The Holiday, a romantic comedy co-starring Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Cameron Diaz and Rufus Sewell. But first there's his current film, Nacho Libre, in which he plays a Mexican priest moonlighting as a "luchador", a wrestler, to raise money to feed orphans and impress a beautiful nun.
"Lucha Libre is kind of the Mexican equivalent of WWF [the World Wrestling Federation]," he explains. "Making the movie was a big challenge, and I faced a lot of fears that I had about getting injured in the wresting ring and, you know, being shirtless the whole movie. Contrary to popular belief I don't really enjoy looking like a fat slob on screen, and this was a role for which I wasn't allowed to lose weight. And I was playing someone from another country. I've never done all those things before so my preparation involved lots of mirror time. Not vanity so much, just trying to make myself laugh and get the accent right.
"At the end of the movie, in the final scene, the whole crowd was cheering and all the cast and the crew were crying. I was hugging everybody and then I started to cry too and that was very embarrassing. I never usually get emotional. Usually I'm just glad when a movie's over because then I can have some free time, but that instance was very emotional and sad."
Black seems genuinely touched when you repeat quotes from his High Fidelity director Stephen Frears and his Shallow Hal co-star Gwyneth Paltrow. who both cite Black's talent for comedy as a "special gift". "That's nice if they said that. When I was a kid I always wanted to entertain, and in Hebrew school I remember I wanted the kids to think I had magic powers. I would tell them, 'there's a dragon that comes into the bathroom that leaves chocolate candies', and I would go with the other kids into the bathroom and turn off the lights and there would be an air-conditioner that would go on and I'd say, 'that's the dragon!' And I would turn on the light and I'd already put some chocolate candies by the toilet. I don't know why I needed that."
He's unsure whether his new happiness will interfere with his muse. "I've still got my dark side. I'm not always so cheerful. I get waves of depression. I'm in good shape."
'Nacho Libre' is released in the UK on 11 AugustReuse content