Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 13:35 UK

Talking Shop: Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman

Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman
Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman launch Kung Fu Panda at Cannes

Animated adventure Kung Fu Panda was the first mainstream hit of the Cannes film festival.

It follows the adventures of Po, a lazy bear who trains in the martial arts to save his village.

The main character is played with typical ebullience by larger-than-life actor and singer Jack Black - while two time Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman breathes life into his mentor, Shifu.

The duo told the BBC News website's Mark Savage about the animation process, plans for the Glastonbury festival and the hero within us all.


Jack Black - apart from the fact that it has the best title since Snakes On A Plane, what can you tell us about Kung Fu Panda?

It's about a young panda dreaming about becoming a Kung Fu master. It's his quest, it's his odyssey. It's a world populated by talking animals.

Jack Black
Jack Black made a dramatic entrance at Cannes last week
How do you get into the mindset of a panda?

I didn't really concentrate on behaving like a bear. I just acted like myself, very human. I let the artists take care of the panda part.

Before you even knew about Kung Fu Panda, the animators made test shots of your character using lines of dialogue from your films. Is it flattering that they always had you in mind?

Yeah, I like that. That got me into the mode. I saw what they wanted. In fact, the footage was part of the original pitch - when [Dreamworks studio boss] Jeffrey Katzenberg called me in to tell me the concept of the movie, he also showed me footage of my voice with the panda animation.

You've been working hard - this is your third day promoting the film out here in France.

Yeah, but this is just the beginning, you know. We still have to do the rest of Europe and we have to do Japan and Australia.

Have you got over the jet lag yet?

No, and I'm going home tonight! I have a little break to have my baby at the end of the month [Black's second child with cellist Tanya Haden] and then I'm off to God knows where.

Has Angelina Jolie forgiven you for letting slip that she was having twins yet?

She's not mad at me at all. I don't really think I'd slipped up. Hadn't you heard that they were twins? Everyone was talking about the twins - I thought it was common knowledge - but then she said I let the cat out of the bag.

Angelina Jolie and Jack Black
Black unwittingly let slip that co-star Jolie was expecting twins with Brad Pitt
You don't really get involved in that world of the paparazzi and gossip magazines. How do you manage that?

This last few days in Cannes, this is the epicentre of all the entertainment industry. I'm here to use it. We help each other, them with their crazy photo taking, and us with our promotions. But I wouldn't want to deal with that crap every day.

Has your son seen Kung Fu Panda yet?

No, he's not even two years old yet. It's pretty action-packed, so it might be a lot for him to take in. Would it freak him out to hear his dad's voice coming out of a panda? I think it would.

Will you be doing any more work with your band Tenacious D?

Yes, we've got a little tour coming up in England and then we'll be making another album soon. And we're coming to play some festivals - Reading and Leeds, and Glastonbury.

Have you been to Glastonbury before? You'll need to bring some protective footwear.

Oh really? Why?

Because it will rain for three days solid.

Oh man. Oh God. That's good to know.


Hi Dustin - welcome to the BBC.

Dustin Hoffman: Hello! Should I speak in my best BBC voice? I was told that English speech changed with the BBC. Suddenly everyone in London had to speak in the BBC voice.

Dustin Hoffman speaking in a British accent

Okay, then, in your best BBC voice, tell me what happens in Kung Fu Panda.

[In his best cut-glass accent] Well, I don't want to give away the plot of it, if you will, because you are paying your hard-earned money to see it.

But I can say that I do believe that animated film is becoming more sophisticated. Heretofore it was considered like pop art when Warhol came along - it was not taken seriously. Now it is becoming its own art form.

The press release says your character is a two-foot tall red panda, but before I read that, I saw the film and I thought you were a raccoon. So which is it? And how do you get into the mindset of either of those animals?

Well, I've always been in the mindset of a raccoon, so that's a redundant question. But you cannot believe how many people have asked me whether I'm a rodent or a raccoon. Somehow, no matter how wonderful the animators of this film were, they have not made it specific enough.

I am a rare red panda. I cannot be responsible for their errors.

Dustin Hoffman
Hoffman joined the press pack at the film's launch
People know you principally for the outsiders you played in Death Of A Salesman or The Graduate, but your last films - Meet The Fockers, Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium, and now Kung Fu Panda - are much broader comedic roles. What made you change paths so dramatically?

I always think I let loose in my films. The Graduate was a comedy; there was great humour in the Midnight Cowboy; Rain Man was not Rain Man without the comedy.

I thought you were going to ask why I always played anti-heroes and anti-social characters. And my answer to that is that we're all anti-social. None of us are normal. It's pretence.

And that's the message of the film, isn't it?

Yes, and I do believe in that message. If this film works, it's because it says something which I feel is worth saying. The whole idea of the superhero, which is quite in vogue right now, must come from a deficiency which we feel in ourselves that we need to project an ideal on the screen.

This film is saying: "What if we present the superhero as Jack Black, who is normal, who is overweight, who is lazy, who is the antithesis of the superhero in order to exemplify the notion that the superhero is within you?"

Do you feel that children need to hear that message?

Yes, because the minute we get into school, whatever it is that makes us individual is knocked out. The idea of being outside of the norm is to be laughed at and scorned. It's a bizarre inversion of the miracle of life. There has never been you before. There will never be you again. And that uniqueness is all your own.


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