Last year, a group of journalists and I went to the set of Rob Letterman’s adaptation of R.L. Stine’s popular young adult horror novels, Goosebumps. Jack Black plays Stine in the film, and the author’s creations unexpectedly come to life thanks to a teen neighbor (Dylan Minnette). Subsequently, Stine must team up with his neighbor and daughter (Odeya Rush) before the numerous and varied monsters destroy their small town.
During a break in filming, my fellow journalists and I spoke to Black about the film. He talked about playing Stine, meeting the real R.L. Stine, filming in Georgia, working with the ventriloquist dummy Slappy, doing a kids’ film, disses the little-known screen adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and more. Check out the full interview below.
Goosebumps opens October 16th.
JACK BLACK: Well, he allowed me to move in with him and I was able to shadow him for a few months. It’s what I do for all my characters, I like to soak in the personality; and I wear his underpants, I’m actually wearing his underpants right now. I live and breathe R.L. Stine.
Just like when Johnny Depp moved in with Hunter S. Thompson.
BLACK: Exactly, exactly like that [Laughs]. No. I spent a couple of hours with him before we started shooting. We went out to New York and had a little lunch and just a little chitchat about scary things and about our plan for the movie and he was into it, he was stoked. I mean, it was important to us that we had his seal of approval and just to see if he had notes on what we could do differently or if he liked the direction that we were going and he was into it, so that was great. And also, we didn’t want a situation where we made this movie based on R.L. Stine’s books and he would be like, “I never agreed to this! This is bull!”
Did you ever read the book before?
BLACK: I didn’t read them before, I was a little before their time. When I was a kid in the ‘70s they didn’t have Goosebumps but…
BLACK: Morse code, yeah, exactly. They didn’t have computers, they didn’t have cellphones. [In a funny senile voice] When I was a child, I walked 30 miles through the snow to get to school! But I did read some of his funny stories and stuff, there was a magazine he was a writer on back in the day called Bananas and also Dynamite, and I would pick up those magazines at the scholastic book fair. So it’s kind of funny that I got to work with him all these years later. But I was into scary things, horror films, I was more of a Sci-fi dude, really, the first book I read when I was a kid was A Wrinkle in Time, a great early childhood mindbender. Did you read it?
BLACK: Yeah, it’s great. Right?
Yeah, I read it a long time ago.
BLACK: Yeah. They didn’t make a movie of that one for some reason.
BLACK: They did?
Yeah, they did.
BLACK: Wrinkle in Time The Movie?
I think so, yeah.
BLACK: It must not have been very good though, because I never heard of it.
BLACK: I would remember it.
Headline: “Jack Black talks smack about A Wrinkle in Time”
BLACK: That’s alright, a little controversy is good for things. Right?
Looks like we found your next project.
BLACK: Exactly, Wrinkle in Time, up next. But yeah… What was I talking about? Oh yeah, did I read his books when I was a kid. No. But I did read some of his books when I got the part in this movie just a research for the flavor.
Have you been reading them to your kids?
BLACK: No, we haven’t been reading the scary books yet. What have we been reading to the kids? They’re really into Captain Underpants, but we’ll get there. Tommy’s into it, my six-year-old is really into scary movies and stuff so I know that he’s gonna like those books. Not really scary movies but scary movies from the ‘40s, so you know, they hadn’t really figured out how to make things actually scary back then; I don’t know if you’ve seen Invisible Man from like 1932 or whatever, not scary at all, just funny and not on purpose.
So no Saw marathons?
BLACK: No Saw! Oh my God! But somehow Sammy, my eight-year-old, was like aware of the Saw guy, just his face from like internet memes and stuff and he thought it was like a cool, funny thing, he had no idea the horror behind that creature’s face.
Can you talk about working with Rob Letterman again?
BLACK: Yeah, it was great. I had so much fun working with him on Gulliver’s so we have a short hand and we know each other’s sense of humor, and it’s been really cool getting back together after these years, both of us have learned a lot since then and I was looking for another opportunity to work with Rob, I really like him.
We kind of got brush strokes of your character, I mean, we know the overall premise about the monsters and mayhem, but could you just talk to us about your character arc specifically, how this version of R.L. Stine is like the keeper of this huge responsibility and how it affects the relationship with his daughter?
BLACK: Right. Well, the premise is that all of R.L. Stine’s characters that we writes actually exist and can be released if he opens the original manuscripts. I don’t wanna give too much away, I’m not gonna tell you why of how that happens. But yeah, he’s the guardian of these creatures that he’s created and he has to keep them under lock and key and the film is the story of how they all are released one night, and it all takes place mainly over this one nightmare night where there’s literally hundreds of monsters and creatures all around the town destroying, wreaking havoc, and it’s up to me and these kids to get them back in the bottle.
Obviously there monsters are a big part of the movie, can you talk to us about the monsters and if you could be a monster which one would you be?
BLACK: If I could be any of the monsters which one would I be? I don’t wanna be a monster… But if I had to be a monster… I mean, Slappy is the mastermind, he’s the genius of the group, but I don’t wanna be a 2 foot, wooden, Pinocchio monster boy.
I was hearing the other day that Slappy was inspired by Pinocchio, but go on.
BLACK: Right. I didn’t know that. You’ve taken me to school. Yeah, a much darker version obviously, Pinocchio never barfed green goo. Did he? Maybe he did, when he was in that whale, might have accidentally eaten some kelp. But I’d probably go with the Yeti, The Abominable Snowman, just because he’s very muscular and once his white hair blows in the breeze he can actually look pretty majestic, pretty heroic in certain light. The ladies love The Abominable Snowman!
When you were reading, doing your research, was the monster you were the most excited to see?
BLACK: It was one of the ones, yeah. That was one of the ones when Rob first showed me the artwork, the conceptual artwork for all the monsters, my eye was drawn to it definitely. And also I have a history with Sasquatch, some people may know [Laughs].
Can you talk to us about voicing Slappy? Maybe a sample?
BLACK: You know, I haven’t started yet because –I mean, we’ve had scenes with Slappy, and we’ve got an amazing ventriloquist who has been controlling the puppet –It’s not called a puppet. What is it called?
BLACK: He’s not a marionette either, it’s just a dummy, it’s just a ventriloquist dummy. Did you meet Avery? It’s earie, he’s too good at it. I think they did one of those like nationwide searches of ventriloquist dummy professionals and this guy just sort of came out of the woodwork and he was blowing everybody out of the water, he was by far the best.
Have you done any scenes with him yet?
BLACK: Yeah, and it’s creepy. And also I was a little nervous because he was so captivating and magnetic that I was like, “He’s upstaging me. He’s too good!” and his voice is so awesome, I’m just gonna be trying to beat what he does but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being his voice, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to top his performance, to be honest with you. We’ll see what happens in the ADR stage.
Has there been a set piece in particular that you’ve enjoyed filming thus far?
BLACK: Well, so much of it is just in our imagination. There’s giant creatures that are not really there, like the praying mantis, there’s a sequence with a giant praying mantis that’s amazing, I imagine it’s gonna be amazing, and we also did a great scene with The Abominable Snowman. You’re screaming at the top of your lungs, your hair is blowing back and you imagine these things but you don’t really know until you see it, which is gonna be the most amazing.
So all of this takes place over the course of one night, all these monsters are popping out of the ground and you guys are trying to put them away. Do we get to see how the rest of the town reacts to the monsters in their town?
BLACK: Yeah. You get to see to see the whole town and how it’s affected by these creatures of the night. But I was just thinking also that we had an amazing scene with Slappy that sort of takes a psychological turn, it kind of like –Did you ever see the movie Magic with Anthony Hopkins? It was before he became famous for playing Hannibal Lecter, he did this movie in the ‘70s called Magic, and he’s a puppeteer he controls his ventriloquist dummy, but then the dummy starts to talk on its own but you’re never really sure, “Wait, is it talking on its own or is Anthony Hopkins going insane?” and there was a little bit of flavor of that while we were doing the Slappy scene, it was pretty cool. I felt like there might be an Oscar. It’s not for me to say, but I just felt like, “I’m really kicking but right now, my acting is pretty off the charts” [Laughs].
In the past you’ve played characters based on real people, but here it’s not Bernie, it’s something a little more kind of twisted and imaginative in that sense. Can you talk about how much of this did you want to be kind of true to who R.L. Stine is, and how much of it is just kind of your own?
BLACK: Well, with Bernie that was just a biopic so I was going for total accuracy. With this one, yes I’m playing R.L. Stine in name but none of the things that are happening here actually happened in R.L. Stine’s life, so it’s a fictionalized version made to a little more –Because he’s a sweet guy, a really great guy to hang out with, funny, but he doesn’t come across as a scary or mean dude and the way that this character is written is a lot different than the way he actually is in real life. So I took lots of liberties, I don’t really look, sound or act like him in this movie. In other words, yeah, don’t be coming into this movie like, “I know R.L. Stine, this is no R.L. Stine!” I know there’s gonna be some haters, there’s no way to stop it so I’m not even gonna try.
Was it different for you when R.L. Stine was on set?
BLACK: Of course, yeah, I got a little nervous. But it was cool, he was laughing, he was into it.
Can you talk a little bit about your character’s relationship with Odeya [Rush], the father-daughter relationship in the film?
BLACK: Right. How do you already know all this? Did someone tell you?
They’ve been very open with that. We just had an interview with…
BLACK: Oh, they told you, right. Yeah, she’s my daughter, she plays my daughter. I can’t really go into it, because if I go into it then it starts to give things away.
Well, the reason we don’t wanna go into it is because part of the group wanted to know and part of the group didn’t wanna be spoiled.
BLACK: They had me sign a non-disclosure agreement, there’s certain subjects I can’t talk about, and one is the origins. But the relationship, I’m very protective of her, I don’t want her dating strange boys, I don’t want her really leaving the house because she, as I am, is a keeper of this secret of the creatures actually existing and a protector of the manuscripts from which they came and escape. So, just like any father it freaks me out when she leaves the house or she’s not around, and maybe I’m a little more protective than your average father and super cranky.
What’s your favorite thing about making a movie for kids?
BLACK: Well, it’s something that my kids can see, and I don’t really think of it differently as making a movie for grownups or making a movie for kids, if it’s boring it’s boring, so you want it to be entertaining and I think funny is funny whether it’s for kids or grownups, the only real difference is language and you can be just as funny, I’m convinced, in a PG movie as you can in an , we just gotta get a little more creative.
We talked a little bit earlier about this franchise, obviously it’s a kids subject matter and from kids books, and we were talking about trying to bring a different Goosebumps experience outside of what you would read in a book, to bring it on screen. Where you ever tempted to add elements to the movie that might make adults more into it or more relatable to adults and kids at the same time, without making it PG-13 or pushing it too far?
BLACK: Yeah, sure. There’s jokes in there that are for the parents and for any grownups that might be in the audience, definitely. It’s a mistake to just go make a movie where the whole thing is talking down to the kids like, “Ok, we gotta bring the IQ of this movie down because it’s a kids movie” You don’t have to do that, kids can laugh and parents can laugh at different parts and that’s fun, and you see that with all of the great kids movies like Toy Story 3, I loved it, it was a great movie. Yeah, a good movie is a good movie.
Do you guys do a lot of improving on the set or do you stick to the script pretty heavily?
BLACK: There’s a little bit of playing around, definitely, yeah. There’s just times where you go, “Oh, you know it feels funny saying this or that, I’d rather do…” and Rob’s real cool about letting you try things. At the end of the day you gotta do one take at least as written, that’s a studio rule, they’re like, “This is a script! They have to read the…!” so you do it, but then you try to beat it on other takes.
Did you have any input into the final look of Slappy, we heard there were several different iteration?
BLACK: Have I seen other versions of Slappy?
More like did anyone come to you as playing part of this character, did you have any kind of input on his design?
BLACK: On the design? No. It was cool just to see him show up on the set already fully done. Luckily, I was totally into it, he kind of looks like me except creepier and a little skinnier, definitely shorter.
Your hair might be a little better.
BLACK: That’s true. Thank you for noticing, my quaft doo. A lot of work went into this design, I had a lot of input.
I know you said you haven’t really worked on his voice yet and Avery’s been doing an amazing job, do you think you will watch the old Nickelodeon Night of the Living Dummy to see how his voice was in the ‘90s, or do you not want to have anything covering your vision of what he should sound like?
BLACK: Yeah, you know, I probably will. I like to turn over all stones, see what everybody else did. A lot of times that’s when I do my best stuff, after I see someone else do it and go, “Horrible! Let me show you how it’s done!” Maybe that’s how it’ll happen.
Do you get to do any singing in the film?
BLACK: No, I don’t believe I sing tunes. But I’ve been thinking about a possible Goosebumps jam at the end of the movie for the final credits.
They used to do that in the ‘90s all the time, the star gets to do…
A monster rap.
The monsters will come out, everybody plays an instrument.
I mean, Dylan [Minnette]’s in a band, so maybe he can like…
BLACK: What do you think about this, this is what I have so far for the final credits: [Singing] Goosebumps! [Pauses]. That’s all I got for now.
BLACK: [Laughs] So far so good. It’s catchy [Laughs].
Looking around there seems to be a lot of nods to past films and big horror icons, has any of this influenced your portrayal at all?
BLACK: No, I haven’t really been influenced by past –Well… there’s a couple of nods to Stephen King, R.L.’s… what do you call it? Arch-rival in the horror genre, and there’s a cool scene in there with a lot of nods to The Shining which also happens to be my favorite horror movie of all time.
Is that why you’re credited on the call sheet as Stanley Kubrick?
BLACK: You know, maybe that is why. How did you know I was Stanley Kubrick? Don’t tell anybody that, that’s my secret identity!
For a recluse, you obviously played that character, you can kind of jazz that up some comedy and throw in a lot of eccentric mannerisms and things, can you tell us about any of that and how you kind of approached the whole recluse angle?
BLACK: Well, that was kind of one of the things that drew me to the character when I read the script initially, I was like, “I know what that’s about, being a recluse” just because when you get to a certain level of recognizability, celebrity, you can’t go out of the house without someone going, “Can I just have one photo?” I don’t mind, by the way, if anyone wants one we can take some photos. But sometimes you just wanna stay in the house or in the hotel room with the shades closed, so it was very easy for me to play recluse because sometimes I feel like that little hermit not wanting to come out.
Have there been any on-location shots where people have recognized what was going on or what was happening and lost their mind understanding what was being shot?
BLACK: Sure. Well, we went to a small town up north of here called Madison, Georgia; I thought it was Madison, Wisconsin the only Madison but they got one here too. So we went to this other Madison and it’s a cool little town and I think it’s gotta be like population 10,000, something small I don’t really know, but we kind of took over the town and shot a scene on their main street where we had to destroy the whole street, it had been ripped apart by monsters; and basically the whole town was watching while we filmed from every nook and cranny and they were into it. Was there a fan fit? I’m not like the Beatles, people don’t come running and screaming, but yeah I would see a little bit of a thing when they were driving me to and from the set, there was a little bit of the… you know.
Is there any additional adrenaline that you get from having that many people watch you as opposed to being on a set, obviously there’s always crew members round but when there’s that many people watching the performance does that add anything to your performance?
BLACK: Yeah, a little bit. You wanna show off a little bit, you feel like Evie Knievel with a crowd watching, “Watch me act!” [Laughs]. It’s interesting to see a few hundred people watching and be like, “This is movie making? This is kind of boring. Why do they wait so long in between filming? Oh, they’re moving the lights, I see. How long does this take? An hour? I’ll be back later…” [Laughs].
We got kind of a huge crowd the first night and then by the end there was like 3 people, Jack was like, “Come here!”
Can you talk about working with young actors, because there are all these child actors and youth people in general that just love School of Rock, when we spoke to these guys they we’re like, “That was our favorite movie! We worked with Jack Black” Are they excited you be around you, what’s that like?
BLACK: It’s cool to work with kids, teenagers because they’re old enough to have seen School of Rock when they were like 7 or 8 or something, and yeah I’m like a God.
BLACK: And Dylan is a rocker in his own right, I got to go see him perform over the weekend he played with his band The Narwhals. Really good band.
Did you have enough fun, would you come back?
BLACK: To Atlanta?
No, to another…
BLACK: To another Goosebumps?
BLACK: Oh, yeah! Absolutely, It’s already like, the deal was done.
He signed like a 20 picture deal.
BLACK: Yeah you know how it goes down, you can’t just do one movie. We’ll see.
But have you had a good time in Atlanta while you’ve been here?
BLACK: I have, yeah, and this is the new Hollywood, they’re setting up shop. I’ve been thinking about buying a house out here because this is where it’s at and I think it’s all gonna go up. I think it’s a good business investment, [Whispers] don’t tell anybody.
Have you had a chance to talk to Bernie since he’s been released?
BLACK: I did talk to him on the phone. But I have not been to Austin, Texas to visit Richard Linklater. But yeah, I think he lives in the guest house of one of Rick’s places, Rick’s got a few places around Austin, I don’t know that they’re really like roomies or anything.
In my kind they’re eating popcorn together every day and just watching like Golden Girls
BLACK: Yeah [Laughs]. I feel almost sure that Rick is thinking about a sequel to Bernie because this chapter is even more crazy than…you know.
That was a fun news story to write, when that came out I was like, “What?”
BLACK: But it would get really weird because someone would have to play Rick Linklater in the movie.
BLACK: Yeah. The go-to.
We got this going, we’ll be associate producers.
BLACK: Ok [Laughs].
Ok I have to clarify something, A Wrinkle in Time was a TV movie in 2003.
BLACK: Ah! TV movie, doesn’t count!
For more from my Goosebumps set visit, click on the links below:
- GOOSEBUMPS Set Visit: Jack Black vs. an Evil Dummy
- GOOSEBUMPS Producer Neal Moritz Talks PG Horror, Franchise Potential, and More