You voice an animated kung fu panda in your most recent film; must be easy money?
It’s about the sweetest job you could have. You go in once a month, work for three or four hours, no hair, make-up and no costumes. You just roll out of bed, show up at noon, do some voice and they’ve got it all scripted. They encourage you to improvise so there’s something to think about, but you just have fun in front of a microphone — you get all the fun of acting without all the pain in the ass of waiting for the cameras to focus.
Have you ever done any martial arts?
I used to do karate and judo when I was a child. I did them for about a year, you know, the obligatory ‘start something and then give up’? But, obviously I was great and I knew all about the martial arts for this film. I actually did some of the moves for the movie; they get the camera on you so they can get the movements. But now I’ve seen it I feel angry, like the panda stole my soul.
Who’s your favourite martial arts star?
It’s got to be that guy who did Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow. He’s my hero. He’s a comedian and that movie, along with Shaolin Soccer, are such great masterpieces. I’m surprised that they didn’t do better business in the States.
Why do you think your rock-folk band, Tenacious D, never really made it as big in the UK as they did in the States?
Dude, I think you are wrong. I think we’re much bigger in the UK than we are in the States. When we went on tour last time we played to our biggest audience ever in Manchester – there were 16,000 people. A complete sell-out. We’re going to be playing at the Reading Festival, Leeds, and one in Ireland and we wouldn’t be playing those tours there if we weren’t humongous. It’s a very happy time for our following in the UK; as, gentlemen, we are planning to bring you our specially designed type of rock…
What’s the best line in rock?
It could be from Dio’s Holy Diver. [Sings] Ride the tiger/You can see his stripes, but you know he’s clean. That’s good, but it’s a toss-up between that and later in the song: [Sings some more] Race from the morning/You can hide from the sun until you see the light. That’s rock’n’roll magic, man.
Who are the best rock band ever?
That’s not too hard. If you asked me to pick the best rock band in the world right now it would be difficult, but of all time? It’s hard to beat Led Zeppelin. I get a lot of joy from old Zep.
How much work did you put into losing some gut for Nacho Libre?
Not much. I do try and work out, but it’s a losing battle with the fine food and good red wine that’s available. I do try to eat foods that give me energy to try to make it through the day. My new thing is to have oatmeal and ice green tea for breakfast. Then I have a second breakfast later on. I’m a bit like a hobbit. I’d never do weights, rather I do some special stretches, sit-ups and sometimes even some push-ups. Mostly, though, a walk down the street is my workout. They say it can be good for you, and I suppose if you flapped your arms, that would be even more exercise. And what if you then did a funny skip to add to the flapping arms, you’d be burning three times the calories than if you were just walking.
Your dad was a rocket scientist, does he approve of your chosen career?
Actually, he didn’t mind. I think he just wanted me to get a college education. He didn’t care what I majored in and what my pursuits were. He didn’t expect me to follow in his footsteps. Saying that, I didn’t actually graduate college so I disappointed him at the time. Now, I think he forgives me.
Is it true comedians are all miserable people on the quiet?
I’m often in a terrible mood — I do throw tantrums. I never really break stuff, but if I lived in a cartoon there would be steam coming out of my ears. Sometimes when I’m in the car alone, if I’m mad about something, I yell in the car. Alone. And I know it looks really ridiculous from the outside, but then no one needs to hear.
In Be Kind Rewind you ‘sweded’ a load of famous movies (ie did low-tech short versions of them), which one of your movies would you like to see remade?
I’d like to see someone else do Nacho Libre. Let’s get to see them shirtless and wearing stretchy pants. I don’t make a habit of waxing or shaving my chest but I waxed it for Nacho Libre. Let someone else do that. It stung, to put it mildly.
What’s with the new blond hairdo?
This hair is from the last movie I did, Tropic Thunder, which is a military comedy directed by Ben Stiller. We are all playing actors going out to make a war movie, but then we get into trouble when we go to Vietnam. We stumble into a different part of Asia and trespass into a drug cartel’s territory and they are shooting at us for real, but we think it’s part of the movie, so we just keep on acting and shooting blanks. I play kind of a Chris Farley-esque comedian. My hair was totally blond, but it’s been a few months since I did that so my dark roots are coming back. The beard is for a movie I’m doing now called Year One, a Harold Ramis comedy set in Biblical times. I’m not the messiah — yes, I’m a very naughty boy — I’m actually a character named Zed who is wandering through Biblical times. He’s not in the Bible anywhere. You won’t find him.
You once did a spoof TV pilot, Heat Vision And Jack, with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, which parodied sci-fi shows from the ’80s. Which TV or film era would you want to have been a part of?
I’d like to have been in The Six Million Dollar Man. He had the really cool circuitry. He was also an astronaut. I loved that show as a kid, although, honestly, sometimes my taste when I was younger was a little embarrassing. For example I really liked that John Hughes film, The Breakfast Club. It’s very embarrassing to admit that I liked The Breakfast Club, but I’m just trying to be honest, dude. However, I also liked Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior so you can write that down to make me look cooler.
Who makes you laugh?
Right now, I think Sacha Baron Cohen is doing some exciting stuff. I love a lot of the UK dudes. The guy from Extras, Ricky Gervais. The Office made me laugh real hard, and the bald dude, the dude who has no hair on any part of his body? Do you know who I mean? Er, never mind.
Did you use comedy to get women before you were married?
I was kind of the class clown, but was benign. There were no practical jokes or exploding toilets. I’d just behave strangely to get laughs. I’m not sure that it helped me to get girls, though. I didn’t really go on any dates. I would just call girls I liked and I wanted to go out with and ask them to go out right then and there. A date you have to premeditate. I’d get too nervous so I’d call and I’d say, “What are you doing tonight? Would you like to do something right now?” So not until later was I able to cash in laughter for girlfriends.
Wasn’t your wife at school with you?
Yes, but we never went on a date. I never even tried as I was too scared.
Your recently became a father, how’s it going changing the nappies?
So far, no screw-ups. He’s super cute. He’s a dance machine. He does scream when he doesn’t get what he wants. I think that’s normal, but I’ve learned some new techniques. Someone told me that you have to explain to them why they are not getting what they want. Even if he doesn’t speak a language yet, he can tell that I’m trying to communicate with him. He still cries, but he cries with less urgency and less protest.
Original interview by Will Lawrence in the July 2008 issue of FHM UK magazine.