Jack Black is seated next to a real dummy.
That’s not an insult to one of his co-stars from the new “Goosebumps” movie. The actor is in the chair next to Slappy, the ventriloquist dummy who comes to life in the film.
Lots of creatures come to life in “Goosebumps,” where Black plays R.L. Stine, the author who has created countless nightmares for children through his pre-teen horror books. The film looks at what would happen if Stine’s stories were real and the creatures escaped from his books.
The monsters include the Abominable Snowman, a werewolf and some pesky yard ornaments. Slappy is the only one invited to help promote the film.
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“You don’t have a microphone, Slappy. Can they still hear you?” Black asks his co-star.
The dummy whips around, raises his eyebrows and explains, “I swallowed it so I’m always miked no matter where I go.”
Despite the internal amplification for Slappy, it’s Black who ends up doing the majority of the talking. Black certainly has far more acting credits than Slappy, having worked on projects from the big-screen update of “King Kong” to the cable series “The Brink.”
Working on “Goosebumps” was a different experience for Black.
“It was a lot of fun on the set because we had a different monster every day,” Black says. “It was like ‘Today is mummy day.’ Then it was ghouls and zombies.”
Director Rob Letterman is happy with the number of characters from Stine’s books that they were able to put in the film. He would have added more had the film budget allowed it.
“We did get in all of the important ones,” Letterman says. “We had this war room in the production offices where we had pictures of every Goosebumps monster. We worked it and shaped it that way.”
This is the third time Black has worked with Letterman. They previously collaborated on “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Shark Tale.”
“The best thing about working together so much is the shorthand we have created over time. I really trust his instincts. I have real control issues, but now that we are on our third movie, I was just ‘let him do his thing’,” Black says. “His greatest strength is his calm in the eye of a storm. That has a relaxing affect on the whole set.”
Black’s introduction to the scary world of Stine came through his two sons, who are 7 and 9 years old. They listened to a few books on tape on the way to a camping trip.
“I had never read any of the books or seen any of the television shows,” Black says. “But, I loved the screenplay and jumped into it. Then I read some of the books as research. They are fun to read. If you never have read them you should check them out.”
Slappy interrupts Black to point out that he was in them so he didn’t need to read any of the books.
Another part of Black’s research was meeting with the real Stine before filming started.
“We asked him for his notes on the script and for his blessing,” Black says. “He didn’t mind that I was doing a much different characterization of him. He’s got a great sense of humor and was fine with me playing him as this anti-social grouch.
He understands the necessities of taking liberties.
Jack Black on author R.L. Stine
Black was cast to play Stine. But Slappy ended up playing himself. A suggestion that Chucky, the doll that comes to life in the “Child’s Play” movies, might have been approached for the role gets a quick response from Slappy.
He says that he was made to play the part.
“And yes, I hate Chucky,” Slappy says.