The grimly funny tale is based on the true story of Bernie Tiede, a beloved community figure in the small town of Carthage, Texas, who in 1996, confessed to murdering the wealthy and elderly Marjorie Nugent. Bernie's close friendship with the widowed Nugent was a well-documented dysfunctional relationship, and when the crime occurred, it irrevocably changed the tiny Texas community.
To bring the story of Bernie to life, Jack Black delivers one of the better performances of his career, making Tiede a unique and sympathetic character, full of bombastic Southern personality.
Moviefone sat down with Black to talk about his experiences working on the movie and interacting with the real Bernie Tiede. He also discussed one of his more obscure films of his past: the 1993 rollerblading/surfing teen action dramedy "Airborne" -- a movie that, according to the Tenacious D frontman, proved to be inspiration to one, Paul Rudd.
How surreal was that experience of meeting the actual Bernie Tiede? It was intimidating to play a real person because it's in the back of your head the whole time. What are they going to think when they see it? Are they going to think I did it wrong? Did I not capture who he is? I remember sitting there with him, listening to him talk and feeling a bit light headed. I had a weird sensation that my hands were getting too big, like they were blowing up because I was staying so still. I was so nervous. There's something about playing a real person -- I'm not accustomed to that kind of pressure.
But he was a very sweet guy. And it was surreal to see him in this environment with these hardened killers and serious criminals; he does not give off that vibe in any way. I was glad we portray him in the movie as very sympathetic, and basically say this is a classic case of temporary insanity, if ever there was one. And I was glad that when we went to see him in the prison, it didn't disprove any of the things we were claiming. He didn't come off as someone who would be a threat in any way in the general public, whereas some of these people that do much less time, it's like "You're letting them out!? That guy will go and do some more crime!"
What elements of the Texas lifestyle were you unprepared for? The sweetness. When you look at it on the map all you see is "red state," when you're a big hippie like me. I'm a big left-wing liberal from California and my idea of Texas is this super conservative -- which they are -- tough bunch of a-holes. But when you get there, the southern comfort is real. You really feel welcome and there's a lot of love.
A lot of people would come up and say, "I knew Bernie, he was a real sweet guy." Rick's vision was populating the film with tons of people who were actually there. That's a rare thing. You don't see that in film very much. Leave it to Rick to push the envelope in that way.
I don't really know know how to phrase this question, but I'm just going to say it how I wrote it down: How awesome is Richard Linklater? Oh, Linklater's the best. He's old-school in that he likes to rehearse. He comes from a theater background where he likes to read through the scenes and work the nuances and change it based on the rehearsals. Whereas most directors I've worked with, almost all of them, there's no rehearsals. You just show up on the day and act for the first time in the scene on camera. Then he'll push the envelope at the same time; he's super new school.
Were you already a fan of his before "School of Rock"? I was. "Slacker" was my first introduction to Austin, Texas. It just made it look so cool. Where is this Valhalla of bohemian arts community? It was how people talk about Portland now; that's what "Slacker" was for my generation.
Preparing to talk to you, I forgot just how extensive your filmography is and you've done a lot of work that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Away from "Kung Fu Panda" or "School of Rock," what project of yours do you feel is more deserving of a second look? I never feel the need to go back. I always look to the next thing. I don't think there's any real huge injustice. I like the ones that were well received. Those are the ones I would want people to remember me for. I don't need them to remember me for "Envy" or the Vapoorizer. That's okay, that can go away. [Laughs]
Well then let me ask this: Have you encountered many fans of "Airborne"? Oh "Airborne"! That was a good one. I do get some "Airborne" love which is always appreciated. They probably don't want me to repeat this, but the dude, what's his name, I'm so horrible with names, Paul Rudd. I saw him not that long ago and we were like "Hey man, love your work" and he said [whispers], "Jack I need to confide in you. I was really inspired by your work in "Airborne" when you came out and you gave that little speech in front of the class." I think he's so fucking funny and the fact that he took some weird turn of phrase, that was one of the best compliments I've ever received really. And I know that that movie's a hot piece of cheese.
But it's so fun. That's one of those movies where it aimed to please. It was a crowd pleaser. It did its job but on a small cable; I don't think anybody went to see it in the theater, but on cable it lived, lived and lived for years.
I kid you not, it was shown to me in class. That's how I discovered it. Watch a great movie about kids just hanging out. Hockey and Rollerblading. That's a horrible name for a movie though. Like "Airborne"? Is it about Airforce Rangers? Is it about hang gliding? No, no, no, it's about rollerblading. Why? Because they jump sometimes and they're airborne? It's totally wrong.