Hugable, loveable and squeezable. Those were the three characteristics of Po, the panda star of the animated film "Kung Fu Panda." So producers had to find an actor with those same qualities. “That’s me. I’m the only such human being on the plant,” quipped Jack Black during a visit to Tokyo with co-star Lucy Liu, director Mark Osborne and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg (making his 91st visit to these shores).
A typical DreamWorks animation extravaganza, "Kung Fu Panda" debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and received a standing ovation from the 2,000-strong audience. With voice talents such as Black, Liu, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane and Jackie Chan, "Kung Fu Panda" has been a big hit all around the world (including China), which has been very gratifying, said Black.
Set in ancient China, "Kung Fu Panda" revolves around a clumsy panda named Po (Black), who is being groomed by his father to take over the family noodle shop but secretly aspires to be a kung-fu warrior. To his surprise, Po is revealed as the chosen one to defend the valley. But the villainous leopard (McShane) doesn’t agree and Po must get into shape for the final battle, under the tutelage of temple master (Hoffman), Tigress (Jolie), Viper (Liu), Monkey (Chan) and other assorted characters.
Most of the cast underwent six hours of martial arts training (for no particular reason), the end result being that they can pretend to do kung fu, said Black, 39. “This is my best pose,” he said, jumping up onto the table and showing some moves. “Everytime I do this, I need a massage.”
Liu, 39, making her 5th visit to Japan, said the most challenging aspect of the film was working in a room without other actors. “Usually you get energy from other actors, but when you are recording on your own, it is not that easy,” she said. “You have to put your faith in the director and hope he lets you be as free and open as possible. But I really jumped at the chance to do this movie. My parents, who live in Taiwan, don’t really know what I do, so this is one movie they can embrace because the backdrop is where they are from.”
Black, who was last in Japan five years ago for "School of Rock," said he loved the chance to be able to improvise in a way actors are normally not allowed to do. “All the great animation films in recent years have been ones where the voice actors could flex their improv muscles. Just look at Robin Williams as the genie in 'Aladdin' or Eddie Murphy as the donkey in 'Shrek.' It’s a thrill to be able to work in that style.”
Black, known at time for his frenetic style of acting, said he got some useful tips from Hoffman. “He taught me the value of whispering a line rather than screaming it out. I think that along with the accolades the film has been getting worldwide, the best memories I have are the day-to-day fun we had doing the vocal performances.”
Black, who balances his movie career with his band Tenacious D, already has three new movies in the pipeline, and has just signed on for "School of Rock 2: America Rocks," in which his character goes on a cross-country road trip with a group of summer school students, teaching them about the history of rock and roll and examining the roots of various music genres.
Meanwhile, Liu said she would love to make a third "Charlie’s Angels movie," but is happy to do more animation. “It’s nice not having to concentrate on my hair, make-up and wardrobe. I can just focus on the character.”© Japan Today