Film Preview: Shark Tale

Actor Jack Black follows his smash hit, School of Rock, in which he played a down-and-out rocker masquerading as a teacher who turns his fourth-grade class into a rock band, with another fish-out-of-water story. This time Jack plays an unlikely vegetarian shark named Lenny, who cooks up a scheme with a fast-talking fish named Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) designed to make Oscar out to be a “shark-killing” superhero and provide Lenny with an escape from his father Don Lino’s (voiced by Robert DeNiro) “family business” at the top of the fish food chain.

We chatted with Black about his first foray into playing an animated character, a couple of months prior to the film’s opening and just a few days before he left for New Zealand, where he’ll star in a new version of King Kong for director Peter Jackson, who brought us The Lord of the Rings.

Was playing an animated vegetarian shark very different than playing other characters that he’s done?

“Usually I play characters that are very “overconfident,” says Black, “who think they’re the ‘best’ rocker, or the most intelligent whatever. This was a character that was very insecure and ashamed of himself.”

In fact, Lenny was so different than Black’s usual characters that he realized he’d have to change his voice for this role.

“I’ve done no character voices until this role,” he admits. “But this character seemed like a good one to do something with, because he’s a lot different than me. He’s more sensitive than any of the other roles I’ve done, and he needed to have a Brooklyn accent. So I wanted to do that, but without him being a tough guy. So (Jack segues into Lenny’s voice) ‘he had to change to a sort of nebbishy guy.’

What about providing the voice for an animated character, how did that differ from a live-action role?

“You’d have the script pages there and the director’s there to set the scene and explain what’s happening,” he says. “And they’d show you some footage, but there was zero lip-synching to it. I was looking at nothing.”

Did he move around while doing his lines and get into acting it out? “Yeah, a little bit. I ‘physicalized’ it,” he says. “I’d contort my face, which helps me get the voice and the emotions out.”

The press notes indicate that Black got a chance to work with Will Smith and trade lines with him: “We did a session or two together and it was cool to have him there. We were able to riff a little bit. And it was fun to watch him work.”

Black has now done a couple of films that are appealing to kids. Is that intentional?

“No, not intentional. It just ended up happening that way. But it makes sense though, because uh, I feel pretty childish,” he snorts.

Shark Tale opens Oct. 1. Based on the scenes we saw, it looks both funny and appropriate for the whole family, including young children. It has been rated PG for some mild language and crude humor.

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