In “Nacho Libre”, the follow-up to his cult hit “Napoleon Dynamite”, writer/director Jared Hess has cast Jack Black as the title character in his next off-beat comedy. Black plays monk who secretly takes up Mexican wrestling in order to fulfill his dreams and earn a little extra scratch for a group of poor, hungry orphans. Out doing promotion for the film, Hess talks about living up to the pressure created by Napoleon’s success:
Question: How did you come up with the idea for this movie?
Hess: You know, I had been a fan of Lucha Libre for quite a while; my first exposure to it, I saw a movie by Santo on TV late one night. Santo was like the Muhammad Ali of the wrestling world, and he was beating up the daughter of Frankenstein or something, but I hadn’t seen anything like it before. And then later, I was able to go to Wal-Mart or something and dig up, they had some of his videos there. I just became a big fan of Lucha Libre, and Nickelodeon had the rights to an article based on a true story of a Mexican wrestler named Fray Tormenta down in Mexico – he was a Mexican priest who wrestled kind of secretly to make a little extra money for this orphanage. I first learned about it, and then came to Mike, and him and Jack had just formed this production company, and they were both really excited.
Question: Did you direct Jack very specifically, or just let him loose to do anything that sprang to mind?
Hess: You know, we actually did a lot of, in the little time that we had before we began shooting, we did a lot of rehearsals just to try out different things and just kind of figure out what felt like it worked, and what didn’t. He’s such a good guy, man; he really doesn’t have an ego. His personality just kind of really lends itself to like an open environment for ideas. So we would do it my way, and then Jack would be like, ‘You know what? Let me put some mustard on this one,’ and we’d go again. Yeah, it was just great; he doesn’t have an ego, so it was very cool to just try whatever felt right.
Question: So are you working out lines before or on the set?
Hess: It’s both, we write the script and all the dialogue. We really stuck to what the script – how it was written and what was written for the dialogue. But there’s all these little nuggets and moments where you’re on set, and something else just feels better.
Question: How hard was it to shoot the actual wrestling sequences?
Hess: It was something that I had never done before; I had a really good stunt choreographer who choreographed the fights. And we had written the fights down, tried to be very specific with what happened in the fights and everything, but he choreographed them. It was the first time I was working with multiple cameras and all that. But I had a lot of help to figure that out.
Question: Did you freak out when Jack hurt himself?
Hess: I did, that was a bad day; but he was a trooper and got stitched up and was back four days later wrestling again. Yeah, that guy uses his eyebrows more than anybody as an actor, and so it was kind of traumatic at the time. But he got through it all right.
Question: Is there a fine line between being funny and offensive with the stereotypes?
Hess: Yeah, certainly; in regard specifically to Nacho?
Hess: For one thing, the world of Lucha Libre is something that’s so outrageous and funny and something that when you experience it live, it’s like entire families are there, and they are totally making fun of like all the guys that are wrestling. They have their favorites, and they’re totally trashing like the other guys, and they banter back. And it’s just something that’s like – I don’t know, it’s such a funny, crazy, bizarre thing to experience. You know, it was very important in making the film that we shoot on location in Mexico with real wrestlers, real fans of Lucha Libre. And our whole crew was Mexican, they were all from Mexico City, and it was something that…I don’t feel like it’s my movie. You know, everybody that worked on it, I share it with everyone. It was just an amazing experience; it was probably the best crew I’ve ever worked with, and it was good. The last day of shooting, it was just hugs and tears all around; everybody just had a good time, and everybody brought so many unique details to it that we would not have been able to get any other way.
Question: Did you anticipate turbulence moving from the indie world to the studio world? How do the two compare?
Hess: Yeah, just kind of the scale of everything was something that took a while to get used to – just a humongous crew and having money to actually feed everybody. It was something that I took a little while to get used to, but I think there’s a certain mobility that you have with a small crew when you’re doing an indie. But yeah, there’s a lot more personalities involved when you make a studio movie, and sometimes you [butt] heads with people over certain creative things. But I feel very fortunate that I was able to have the experience that I had; there were a few hiccups along the way, but in the end, it was a good experience. I learned a ton.
Question: Was there any temptation to put on the tights and jump in the ring yourself?
Hess: Yeah, I did; I wasn’t able to wear any tights, but yeah, I did throw down a few moves.
Question: In the movie?
Hess: No, I’m not in the movie; I probably should have been, but no.
Question: Did you feel pressure because everybody loves “Napoleon Dynamite” so much?
Hess: Yeah, to me the success of ‘Napoleon’ was something so unexpected; it’s always been a very small movie to me, and a very personal film. And at the time, we didn’t know if it would see the light of day. I hoped that maybe it would be like a stepping stone for me, but I never expected that it would get into Sundance, and then have like a theatrical run like it did. I just want to keep doing things that feel right to me, that I’m passionate about, and just do my best, you know? Everything will always be compared to the last thing that you did before it, but ultimately, I think that ‘Nacho’ still has my sense of humor, and it’s a completely different world than the world of ‘Napoleon’, but it’s a world that I love just the same.
Question: Do you feel this is more of a kids’ movie?
Hess: You know, I think that there are definitely elements that make it more accessible to people than ‘Napoleon’ – just the fact that we have a music score.You know, certain things that maybe seem more polished just because we had the means to do it with this one. But I don’t know if it’s really demographic-specific; with ‘Napoleon’, I thought that it would always appeal to like a college age crowd, and then when moms learned that it was PG and didn’t really have anything too offensive in it, then elementary school kids got into it. I think it ultimately just boils down to people’s sense of humor, what works forthem. It is a Nickelodeon movie, but I don’t think there are a lot of things that, just depending on your sense of humor and background, will resonate with adults and kids – I don’t know if that answers your question.
Question: Could you talk about getting Danny Elfman for the score?
Hess: He’s amazing, man; yeah, I feel very fortunate to be able to party with Danny. He just did an amazing job; his music has always kind of like a weird streak to it, which I really like, and he just seemed like the right guy. And I was really lucky that he was able to come on board.
Question: You said ‘Napoleon’ was a personal movie; when something is that personal, how do you feel when it’s out there?
Hess: No, it’s really amusing. It’s exciting just because I think now that it’s on DVD, people are still kind of discovering it a little bit, and it’s just fun; it’s cool.
Question: Any talks of a ‘Napoleon’ 2?
Hess: A ‘Napoleon’ 2? You know, I’m sure that the studio would like it. But right now, it’s just not something creatively that I’ve really thought about.
Question: Because it’s so personal, you don’t want to make up something or expand?
Hess: Yeah; I mean, just creatively, I’m excited about other things right now.
Question: What’s next?
Hess: You know, I’ve got a couple different original things that I’ve been working on for a while; I’m going to take a family vacation in a week, and in the fall, figure out which one I’m going to do.
Question: Do you see yourself going back and making another movie on the cheap?
Question: Do you think the studios will be flexible and let you do that?
Hess: I don’t know that you always even need a studio to make a movie; on Dynamite, we were able to find other money. But I don’t know; there’s definitely a certain kind of freedom and mobility you have when you’re doing something on the cheap and kind of indie world.
Question: Would you say your studio experiences were positive?
Hess: Yeah, it’s been great; I’ve learned a ton, and yeah, it’s been good.
Question: Did you cast the whole film, aside from Jack, in Mexico?
Hess: We did; we had really good casting directors. We were able to find Hector Jimenez who plays Jack’s sidekick, who blows my mind. It took a couple months. I was down there quite a bit in Mexico City, but we also did a lot of casting in Oaxaca, where we shot the film. And yeah, I really wanted to take the time to find real people to populate the film.
Question: What about the kids?
Hess: The kids -the two main orphan kids, Darius and Moises, are out of LA.
Question: Did anyone suggest Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, etc. for the role of the sexy nun?
Hess: We did get that, man, we did get that; but we wanted somebody that just didn’t have a lot of other movie baggage, I guess. And Ana actually is very well known down in Mexico City and in Latin America; she’s been in a number of films and had a very successful career down there. But this is her first kind of breakout, American film.
Question: What kind of feedback did you get from people in Mexico?
Hess: It’s their movie, man; Lucha Libre is something that’s uniquely theirs, and when we’ve test screened it, they probably get the movie better than anybody.
Question: They’re pretty pleased with the way things were portrayed?
Hess: Oh yeah, the screenings we’ve had for them have just been through the roof.
Question: What about the wrestlers? Have you screened the film for them?
Hess: Yeah, yeah; I’m sure they’re like, ‘It’s not bloody enough.’ But yeah, it’s been great.
Question: Did you have the shoot the wrestling sequences in a certain way to keep it PG?
Hess: You know, we just shot them; it’s funny because Lucha Libre is something that’s so – when you experience it live, when you’re able to go down to Mexico and go to a real Lucha Libre match, it’s the most un-politically correct thing you’ll ever see in your life. It’s so outrageous – the fight, the moment it starts, it ends up in the audience and it’s just totally crazy; there’s no rules, it’s so theatrical. It’s very acrobatic, and there’s two factions; there’s los Rudos, and los Tecnicos, and they’re the good and the bad guys, and everybody has favorites. And a lot of wrestlers play really dirty.
Question: Was it easy to come up with the look of Jack’s costume? Did you try different ideas?
Hess: We did, we tried out a bunch of different things with Jack; ultimately, we decided on the tights that go above the navel, which just seemed to work. It kind of felt a little bit like Adam West or something from the old Batman. But it was really true to like the Lucha style of the ’50s and ’60s.
Question: Where did you find the two midget wrestlers?
Hess: Those guys, man – they’re amazing; one of them is one of the most famous little league wrestlers in Mexico. His name is Filiberto Estrella, he’s like 50 years old; and he can throw down. Back in the day, he fought like Andre the Giant; he’s amazing. We were so lucky to get him, that he was available, because he still wrestles.
Question: Having the subplot of a nun possibly breaking her vows of celibacy, did you get any slack from the religious community, or maybe “The Da Vinci Code” protestors?
Hess: The Nacho Code! No, we really tried to play everything pretty innocent. And I think it’s more like “The Sound of Music” and “The Da Vinci Code”.
Question: Do the wrestlers wear their masks outside the ring?
Hess: Oh yeah, yeah; you know, we’d have guys come and audition – in the film, we have masked wrestlers, as well as guys that aren’t masked, and so we’d bring them in. The younger guys that hadn’t been wrestling for that long, they’d take off their masks like, ‘Oh, sure;’ they’d take it off. Dude, when the old-schoolers came in – that was like sacred ground, man. I asked one guy and he was like, ‘What? Que quieres? No puedo!’ And I was like, ‘Dude, I’m so sorry.’ And from then on, I knew that was, no way. I mean, Santo and all the famous wrestlers – never were seen with their masks off.
Question: Even out of the ring?
Hess: Even out of the ring; Santo, he was buried in his mask, which is crazy. Totally; it’s wild.