The Lost Roles of Jack Black
Lost Roles is a weekly column exploring “what might have been” in movie and TV comedy as we take a different actor, writer, or comedian each week and examine the parts they turned down, wanted but didn’t get, and the projects that fell apart altogether. This week, we focus on Jack Black, who spent years honing his chops in supporting movie roles and in the ’90s alt comedy scene with the Mr. Show gang and his rock outfit Tenacious D before becoming one of the biggest movie stars in the country following his breakout role as record store clerk Barry in High Fidelity. Since then, he’s starred in an eclectic array of feature films, appearing in everything from lowbrow comedies (Saving Silverman) to big-budget action adventure flicks (King Kong), animated family movies (Kung Fu Panda) to indie dramedies (Margot at the Wedding). Most recently, he generated some serious awards buzz for his performance in Richard Linklater’s dark comedy Bernie and is planning the rock comedy festival to end all rock comedy festivals next.
Let’s take a look at all the parts Jack Black didn’t end up playing over the years, including a comedic take on the Green Lantern, rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, and a superintelligent mutant astronaut with a talking motorcycle.
Heat Vision and Jack (unsold TV pilot, 1999)
Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab created the pilot Heat Vision and Jack, a riff on cheesy ’80s shows like Knight Rider that starred Jack Black as a superintelligent astronaut with a talking motorcycle (voiced by Owen Wilson), for Fox but the network passed. Since then, the pilot, directed and intro’d by Ben Stiller, has gone on to cult fame. You can watch it below. Since then, there’s been talk about turning Heat Vision and Jack into a feature film or a web series, but neither have happened yet.
Almost Famous (2000)
Jack Black and Jon Favreau both auditioned for the part of rock critic Lester Bangs in writer/director Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous but were beat out by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, according to IMDb. Black says he’s often beat out for parts by Hoffman: “He’s tormented me over the years because we’re like a similar body type, but he’s always been a little bit better than me… I never saw him at an audition; I would just see him in the movie… I wanted that part in Boogie Nights; I wanted that part in Happiness… (but) I’m a huge fan of his.”
Dieter (unfilmed, in development 2000)
Wayne’s World is far and away the most successful SNL spin-off movie ever, and in 2000, Mike Myers was set to turn another one of his characters into a feature film: Dieter, German host of the talk show Sprockets. The Dieter movie was set to follow Dieter traveling to Los Angeles to find his lost pet monkey Klaus, with Myers penning the script alongside SNL writers Jack Handey and Michael McCullers. Jack Black, hot off of his breakout role in High Fidelity, signed on for a supporting role as Dieter’s best friend and sidekick Daryl, a monkey tracker who’s the owner and operator of “Monkey-Mobile, the latest in low-tech monkey tracking technology.” Will Ferrell was onboard to play Dieter’s American cousin Bob Sheeder and David Hasselhoff, who was playing himself.
Myers backed out of the project before production began and was sued by Universal for $3.8 million and Imagine Entertainment for $30 million. He said being disappointed with the script was his reason for backing out.
Do That to Me One More Time (unfilmed, in development 2002)
Do That to Me One More Time was a movie that Jack Black signed on to star in as one-half of a Sonny and Cher-esque couple who hate each other and have a War of the Roses-style relationship.
Untitled Will Ferrell/Jack Black/Judd Apatow Motorcycle Cop Comedy (unfilmed, in development 2003)
Judd Apatow’s feature directorial debut was The 40 Year Old Virgin, but prior to working on that project, he was preparing to write and direct a comedy that starred newly-minted movie stars Will Ferrell and Jack Black as Los Angeles motorcycle cops. Ferrell was to play a police officer who leaves boring Irvine, California, because of its complete lack of crime. Once he arrives in L.A., he’s partnered with Jack Black’s character, a guy who’s unfit for the job but joined the police force because the rest of his family are cops. This one never came together, but everyone involved went on to make big hits right afterwards.
Hosting a Channel 101 reality show (unsold TV pilot, 2004)
Jack Black was involved in Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s monthly short film festival Channel 101 since its early days. In 2004, when Harmon and Schrab sold the FX network on a pilot presentation based on Channel 101, movie star Jack Black came on board to host, with Jeff Davis, a Star Search-style version of Channel 101 in which competitors produce a short film voted on by a live audience each week. FX didn’t pick up the show, but Harmon and Schrab got a Channel 101 series, Acceptable TV, onto VH1 three years later.
A Confederacy of Dunces (unfilmed, in development with Black mid-2000s)
Jack Black at one point was attached to play the lead role of Ignatius J. Reilly in an adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces in the mid-2000s, according to Will Ferrell, who was linked to the project. This is said to be a “cursed” movie, having been in development since 1980 with early stars involved with the project like John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley all dying young. Since then, folks like Ferrell, Black, and Zach Galifianakis, who signed on last year, have not met the same fate.
Robert Smigel’s Green Lantern (unfilmed, in development 2004-06)
Back in 2004, Warner Brothers started developing a comedic version of Green Lantern with Robert Smigel (TV Funhouse, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) writing and Jack Black playing the titular superhero. Smigel did a lengthy interview with Vanity Fair when the actual Green Lantern movie was released in 2011, explaining how the project came to be:
“I know that when the idea was pitched to me to do a comedy about Green Lantern I did a quick review of the specifics of Green Lantern. And I thought, Well, of course this could be a comedy. Basically just the premise that the wrong guy gets the ring and can do all kinds of goofy visual jokes—because the visuals are so potentially ridiculous. What appealed to me about it on a comedic level was that, in order to be a superhero, this requires no physical skill or talent. All it requires is owning this ring. Automatically, that’s a comedic premise. I was told they’re doing it as a comedy, that’s the way they’re going, so I didn’t really think about whether this was a wrong thing to do. I just knew that this was the movie they were making, and when I thought about the potential as a comedy, I felt like, yeah, I can do this.”
Fans reactions on the internet were so negative that the studio shut down the project and opted to make a non-comedic version of Green Lantern, although fan reactions weren’t that much better. Jack Black told the press, “Too many people were mad at the idea of me being the Green Lantern. … You know how it goes with comic-book people.”
The Lost Adventures of Stone Perlmutter Jr. (unfilmed, in development 2007)
Jack Black signed on to play the title role in The Lost Adventures of Stone Perlmutter Jr., scripted by Larry Sanders/King of the Hill writers Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory. Perlmutter would have been “a faux documentary made from recently “discovered” footage from 1979 chronicling the disastrous journey of a self-styled Indiana Jones-type adventurer who traveled the world trying to find the Yeti, El Dorado, the lost tomb of Jesus and other great mysteries.”
School of Rock 2: America Rocks (unfilmed, in development 2008)
School of Rock was one of Jack Black’s biggest hits ever, so it’s no surprise that the studio wanted a sequel. The original’s writer, Mike White, penned a script called School of Rock 2: America Rocks, in which Black’s character leads a group of summer school students on a road trip across America to teach them about rock history. Jack Black and original director Richard Linklater signed on for the sequel, but the movie never came together. Linklater said a year after the project was announced, “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. Never say never but currently, no. It never seemed to gel.”
Yes Man (2009)
Years before Jim Carrey signed on for the lead role, Jack Black was developing Yes Man, based on the book by Danny Wallace, as a starring vehicle for himself in 2005. Black signed up to produce the project alongside frequent collaborator Mike White, but he became busy with other projects and never got around to filming this one.
Land of the Lost (2009)
Adam McKay gave an interview in 2005 in which he said he considering directing Land of the Lost as his follow-up to Talladega Nights and that Will Ferrell and Jack Black were possibly starring. By the time the movie made it into production a few years later, Ferrell was still starring but Black wasn’t and McKay was producing but not directing. It seems like Jack Black would have probably played Danny McBride’s part in the movie, but given how poorly Land of the Lost was received at the box office, it’s better for his career that he didn’t.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2010)
Ben Stiller was originally supposed to star in this family comedy, but when he dropped out, the studio considered Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Jim Carrey to replace him. They ended up going with Jim Carrey.