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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

June 9, 2006

In Nacho Libre, the follow-up to his cult hit Napoleon Dynamite, writer/director Jared Hess casts the comedic Jack Black as the title character--a man of the cloth 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. This offbeat comedy, built on the foundation of Jack Black unabashedly parading around in tights and putting on an exaggerated accent, frequently demonstrates the same quirky sense of humor as its predecessor, and fans of Hess' breakthrough project may find a lot to enjoy in this outrageous adventure.

In this interview, Jared Hess talks about the making of the movie.

The Interview

MEDIA: How did you come up with the idea for this movie?

JARED: 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. [laughs] I hadn't seen anything like it before, and...I just became a big fan of Lucha Libre. And anyway, Nickelodeon had the rights to an article based on a true story of a Mexican priest who wrestled kind of secretly to make a little extra money for this orphanage. And I first learned about it, and then came to [producer Mike White], and him and Jack had just formed this production company, and they were both really excited.

Did you direct Jack very specifically, or just let him loose to do anything that sprang to mind?

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 worked and what didn't. He's such a good guy, man. He really doesn't have an ego. His personality just really lends itself to like an open environment for ideas. So we would do it my way, and then Jack'd be like, "You know what? Let me put some mustard on this one" and we'd go again. It was just great. He doesn't have an ego, so it was very cool to just try whatever felt right.

Did you stick to a script or come up with lines while on the set?

Both. We [wrote] the script and all the dialogue. We really stuck to 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.

Was shooting the wrestling sequences difficult?

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.

Jack told us that he clocked his head on a chair during filming. Did you freak out when that happened?

I did. That was a bad day. But he was a trooper and got stitched up and was back four days later wrestling again.

He showed us this scar above his right eye...

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.

How did you come up with the look of Jack's Nacho costume?

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.

Ana de la Reguera plays a cute nun who catches Nacho's eye. At any point, did the suits suggest a more widely known actress like Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz for the role?

We did get that, man. [laughs] We did get that. But we wanted somebody that just didn't have a lot of, like, 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.

With the subplot of the nun questioning her vows of celibacy, did you get any slack from the religious community, or maybe Da Vinci Code protestors?

"The Nacho Code." [laughs] No, we really tried to play everything pretty innocent. And I think it's more like The Sound of Music than Da Vinci Code.

How did you feel about getting Danny Elfman to work on the film's music score?

He's amazing, man. I feel very fortunate to be able to party with Danny. He just did an amazing job. His music always has 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.

Did you find you had to walk a fine line between being funny and being offensive with the character stereotypes?

Yeah, certainly...The world of Lucha Libre is something that's so outrageous and funny, and 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 the other guys, and they banter back. And 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 I don't feel like it's my movie--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.

Were you tempted to put on the tights and jump into the ring yourself?

Yeah. I wasn't able to wear any tights, but yeah, I did throw down a few moves.

Are they in the movie?

No, I'm not in the movie. I probably should have been, but no.

Both Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre have disturbing closeups of food and characters with sweet rides. Are those going to be signature trademarks in your films going forward?

I don't know. I definitely like food as a weapon. [laughs] But I don't know. It could be.

Did you feel any pressure with this followup, considering how beloved Napoleon has become?

Yeah. You know, 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 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, 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.

Do you feel Nacho is more of a kids' movie?

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. [laughs] 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, elementary school kids got into it. I think it ultimately just boils down to people's sense of humor, what works for them. It is a Nickelodeon movie, but I think a lot of things, just depending on your sense of humor and background, will resonate with adults and kids.

Did you have the shoot the wrestling sequences in a certain way to keep it PG?

We just shot them. You know, it's funny...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 like so outrageous. The fight, the moment it starts, ends up in the audience. And it's just totally crazy. Like there's no rules. It's so theatrical. It's very acrobatic, and there's like two factions--there's los rudos, and los tecnicos. And they're like the good and the bad guys, and everybody has favorites. And a lot of wrestlers play really dirty. [laughs]

Who played the two midget wrestlers? Were they real wrestlers?

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. I mean, back in the day, he fought like Andre the Giant. He's amazing. We were so lucky that he was available, because he still wrestles.

After having done a studio film like Nacho, do you see yourself going back and making another indie movie on the cheap?


Do you think the studios will be flexible enough to let you do that?

I don't know that you always even need a studio to make a movie. [laughs] 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 [in the] indie world.

Thanks for your time.

Thanks, guys. Have a good one.

Related Material

Interview with Jack Black on Nacho Libre
Movie Coverage: Nacho Libre
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