In Richard Linklater’s “Bernie,” Jack Black plays title character Bernie Tiede, a real-life Carthage, Texas, resident who was driven to murder by his increasingly parasitic relationship with local widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine). Black completely and totally embodies Bernie, and much of the schtick found in his film career disappears here in favor of something much more human and likeable.
The Daily Texan participated in a roundtable interview with Jack Black during last month’s SXSW Film Festival.
The Daily Texan: How did you get involved with this role and what kind of preparation went into it?
Jack Black: You know, Rick [Linklater] was talking about it for years. It was something that he was thinking about doing for years, and then we were talking about doing “School of Rock 2,” we were working on that, trying to figure out how to do it, and we never could crack the nut to get it right. So he was like, “You know, there is something I’d like to do now, this ‘Bernie’ movie that I’ve been working on.” So I read it, and I was struck by its originality and dark humor, something I’d never really dipped my toe into before, this level of darkness. Really, I would have done anything because I love Rick and wanted to work with him again.
DT: Some people have been saying that they think it’s an ‘old person’s movie.’ Do you agree?
Black: Is that what the campaign is saying? An old person’s movie? If anything, I think it’s got a real punk rock sensibility. I think some of the rebellious youth will be more into it. Some of the older folks might be ... It’s hard to say. Maybe no one will like it.
DT: Did you, as an actor, get as exhausted taking care of Shirley MacLaine as Bernie did with Mrs. Nugent?
Black: Did I get as exhausted as Bernie taking care of Shirley MacLaine? That’s a real loaded question! (laughs) Of course not. I did get into the role. We inhabit our characters. We... Actors. (laughs) I got into it, she got into it. She was in character a lot in between takes; we’d stay in there. I was her servant at times, taking care of her needs and shielding her from the prying eyes of the outside world and making sure she was comfortable and all her needs were met. Was it as hard for me? No, obviously not. I never had flashes of “Leave me alone! Let me out of here!”
DT: Can you talk about the film’s Texas setting and how that affected your portrayal of Bernie?
Black: The locations were so important to Rick. He was so familiar with this story. He had visited Carthage and went to the trial. He saw when the verdict was brought down. So he painstakingly recreated that locale in Bastrop County. There were a lot of similarities to the location. It just felt good to know that it was accurate. I felt like I was in good hands. Was it important? Yeah, definitely. It wouldn’t have been the same if we were on some Hollywood studio lot. It felt like I was ... immersion acting.
DT: You have a background in rock, but much of your musical contribution to “Bernie” was in hymns. Did you enjoy doing that?
Black: I loved it. Loved those songs. Graham [Reynolds], the guy that was in charge of the music, was instrumental in that I went over to his house and jammed a lot. We listened to tons of gospel, and this next Tenacious D album is a gospel album. (laughs) That’s not true. But I could definitely see it creeping into my future music work. There’s some great untapped music there.
DT: You got to meet Bernie. Did he charm you in his own way?
Black: I was charmed. I could see why he was the most loved man in town. And he was the most-loved man in the prison, as far as I could see. Everybody loves Bernie. He’s there, leading the Bible study and teaching people how to cook gourmet meals. He’s just active. He’s a caring person, and it can affirm our feeling about the story. He was a basically good person that had a bad day.
Printed on Friday, April 27, 2012 as: Jack Black delves into darkness behind 'Bernie' character