‘Red Nose Day’ – Jack Black and Richard Curtis Interview

Jack Black and Richard Curtis Red Nose Day Interview

Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill) has been dedicated to raising funds for a variety of charities for more than 30 years through a once-a-year event known as Red Nose Day. Red Nose Day has raised over $1 billion in the UK since writer/director Curtis created the fundraiser back in 1985, and now for the first time U.S. audiences will be treated to entertainment from A-list celebrities while having the opportunity to donate to 12 pre-selected charities over the course of the three-hour live Red Nose Day broadcast on NBC. America’s first-ever Red Nose Day is taking place on Thursday, May 21, 2015 with stars including the cast of Game of Thrones, Will Ferrell, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, The Voice coaches, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, and Neil Patrick Harris taking part in the charity event. NBC’s Red Nose Day broadcast will feature music performances and comedy skits, with the goal of entertaining audiences while raising much-needed funds to assist those in need around the world.

In support of the first U.S. Red Nose Day, Curtis and Jack Black participated in a conference call to talk about the special event and to provide a little insight into what viewers can expect when they tune in on May 21st. Black made a special trip to Uganda to check out a project that will receive funds from the Red Nose Day donations, and the experience was eye-opening and life-changing for the actor/musician. In our conference call, Black talked about how being among the children in Uganda affected him and why it was important for him to participate in this very special fundraising event.

Can you talk about the idea and the process of bringing Red Nose Day to the U.S.?

Richard Curtis: “Well, as you know it’s a obvious thing to me because this is such a country of great comedy. I mean just at the moment there’s just so much extraordinary comedy coming out of the country, so many great films. And, it’s an amazingly generous country. I did the first Idol Gives Back and I think we raised $50 million or something from the public in a couple of hours. So it always seemed like a very natural thing to do, it’s just taken me this long to get round to it. And in a way, you know, just the particular people at NBC at the moment I mentioned it to them were really, really keen. So it all came out perfectly. But it doesn’t seem to me there’s any reason, in terms of compassion and humor, that America shouldn’t be exactly the same as the U.K.”

You’ve been doing fundraising for so much of your life, what is it about your nature that makes this important to you?

Richard Curtis: “Gosh, you know, I consider myself a pretty average person. I think that there are two things. I’ve never lost the belief because of things that I’ve seen, like Jack has seen in Uganda, that tiny bits of money can make a huge amount of difference. So it’s massively tempting when you think, ‘Well if I can do this I’ll raise $1000,’ you think, ‘Well it’s $1000: that’s 250 malaria nets.’ I can never get that out of my mind, that it’s an unbelievable reward for quite a simple action. And then the length of it really is because it was surprisingly successful. It was like having a child and then you have to manage it. We made $15 million I think on the first one, and then $27 million on the second one and I didn’t know how to walk away. So I’m just trying to be a responsible adult. But I do hugely believe in the effect that just the generosity of one human to another can – the difference that can make.”

You’ve obviously done wonders in the U.K. with the show and now you’re bringing it to America. Is this going up a notch? Is the level of star that you’re bringing to the table kind of going really into the super-super A List with what you’re doing? How do the stars compare?

Richard Curtis: “Well that’s a very interesting question. I mean of course, you know, my sons don’t consider anyone in the U.K. famous. And if you tell them that Daniel Pudi from Community is in the show they go absolutely crazy. The idea that we’ve got John Krasinski in the show from the American Office makes me my sons’ most popular human. But I think you’ll be impressed by one or two people. I mean, we’ve just been shooting with Reese Witherspoon, Zac Efron, Liam Neeson and Richard Gere in the last couple of days. So I think there’s going to be, you know, a broad variety of, certainly people we wouldn’t dream of getting in the U.K. and doing here.”

Jack, will you be jamming with anybody on Red Nose Day? Are there any secret collaborations you could tell us about?

Jack Black: “Well if it was a secret I couldn’t tell you. But no, there’s no plans to do any jamming as of now. No, I’m going to leave the jamming to the professional jammers.”

Richard Curtis: “When we did Idol Gives Back, do you remember Jack, you did a very passionate version of ‘Kiss from a Rose’?”

Jack Black: “Yes. It was a little ‘Kiss from a Rose,’ there was also an amazing little number I did with Robert Downey Jr. and…”

Richard Curtis: “Yes, and ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’.”

Jack Black: “..old what’s-his-name. That’s right. With Ben Stiller. I’ve had a lot of fun with Richard over the years. We’ve cooked up some cool stuff.”

Richard Curtis: “I mean, there was a really sweet moment I don’t know whether you saw it on the Today Show a couple of days ago, with Jack beatboxing with this little boy. I don’t think it’s going to be in our appeal on the night, but it did demonstrate what Jack came back with – the conclusion that these are normal gorgeous kids who would fool around with their dads in just the same way kids in America can. But they’ve got to spend their whole day picking up garbage.”

Jack Black: “Yes. Yes, I was the one doing most of the learning on that day. I wasn’t doing too much teaching, just sort of taking it all in.”

How did the kids respond to the red nose when you had it on in Uganda?

Jack Black: “We had some fun with the red nose. Everyone wanted a chance to try it on. There was a flurry of red nose activity. You know it’s as old as comedy, that red nose, and yet it still has some magic in it, unlike the pie to the face which really seems to have faded over the decades. The red nose still somehow has survived the years of ridicule.”

Richard Curtis: “You have to say, in terms of malnutrition, the pie in the face might be thought to be slightly tasteless in that context. By the way, we’ve got some amazing pictures of Jack and the kids and the noses. I don’t know if they are being circulated but if you go to the Red Nose Day there are such beautiful, joyous shots of Jack fooling around, which you don’t see much of on the night because on the night we’re trying to portray the seriousness of it.”

Jack, since you won’t be jamming, what will your participation be during Red Nose Day?

Jack Black: “My performance is really something that I did in Africa. It was about me going there and being the eyes and ears for Red Nose Day on location. That was really the extent of my participation. The comedic and musical performances on the day are going to be a bunch of other people. I’m just going to be enjoying in the audience.”

Richard Curtis: “Can I just say something about Jack? One of the things that we’ve tried never to do on Red Nose Day, and I think is really important, is we don’t really want to send experts out. The last thing anyone wants is someone talking about agricultural leaves and holistic health systems. What was so brilliant was that Jack went open-eyed as a normal human being. He just happens to be a human being that most people know or feel they know. And so that’s what I think is so wonderful about the little films he’s made, that it’s like you’re there. You know, you’re not being lectured to by someone who knows everything about all the charities and the politics and the economics; you just are a human being reacting to other human beings, which is what we’re trying to do on the night, just make people identify with other people whose lives are hard and see if they can spare some money. And Jack just did that so beautifully.”

What was a memorable moment that really touched you the most during your trip to Uganda?

Jack Black: “You know, it was spending time with these kids and these parents and just seeing how amazing they were as people that really moved me the most. If I had gone over there and just seen a bunch of victims that didn’t have any hope, it wouldn’t have been as powerful to me as seeing these kids that were so funny and talented and brilliant. I just was most blown away by the tragedy of the potential, and these amazing people that I could see growing up and having amazing contributions to the world. And that’s what really gave me the deep sense of urgency, you know, is that these kids have magic in them and they need to be, not just rescued, but you know, inspired. They’re hungry for education just as much as they are for food, you know? It’s not just about survival; it’s also about like nurturing something really special. That was my biggest takeaway in general and the thing that moved me the most was just how great these kids were.”

What did you learn from your trip?

Jack Black: “You know, I guess just part of living in my little bubble is just assuming that the whole world was modeling themselves after us, you know, that all of our music and all of our movie stars and all of our culture just trickles down. I was just sort of surprised to see amazing music and cultural stuff that was homegrown there in Uganda, and these kids making music that was in their own language and that was inspired and interesting. Just a different thought of Africa that I’d never really considered before. That was the biggest eye-opener for me.”

What do you think teens will appreciate about the special and how do you hope to get them involved on social media?

Richard Curtis: “I hope that kids will see a lot of things that they really love and enjoy. Last night we were working on editing quite a big sketch that we’d been doing with the cast of Game of Thrones as you’ve never seen them before. I think we’re going to be issuing a few things from that in advance so they’ll get a sense of it. We’ve got a huge number of movie stars from Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine involved, we’ve got Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins from Pitch Perfect, we’ve got Michelle Rodriguez from Fast and Furious, we’ve got a lovely sketch with The Voice and with Will Ferrell. So I think that it would be an odd child who wouldn’t love something during the course for the night. So I hope that they’ll all watch.

One of the cunning things is obviously we want them to watch and then get their parents to sit down next to them and give some money. And, you know, anything that can be done on that day. Any One Direction fan knows that One Direction went to Ghana last year. So we’d really love kids to watch it [and] encourage each other. And even encourage each other to do fund raising things, to buy noses, to bake cakes, to you dye their hair red or stick themselves to doors.

I mean because as Jack’s seen, $5, if you’d hunt around the back of your couches and find something, $5, $4 for a malaria net can change a life. So I’m hoping that people will actually do fun things on the day, raise a bit of money themselves, watch the show, see people they love doing really unusual things, and then make sure that their dad or mom’s wallet comes out of the back of their pocket or purse.

By the way, all the way during the night you can donate online. It’s incredibly easy. And then at the end of the evening we’re also just doing donating by text. So it really will be this strange thing that you just during a commercial break you can save someone’s life. It’s a bizarre thought, but even after 30 years I still believe in it. And I think social media can do so much to push things forward. So anyone who finds something they see with either Jack or Michelle or Blake Shelton which is serious, spread that around because knowledge is power. And anybody who sees something funny spread that around too and get people to watch the show.”

What was it about “Let’s Feel It” and singing with the boy from Uganda that got you so emotional?

Jack Black: “You know, he’s a really bright kid and he’s a survivor in a way that I can’t imagine going through what he’s gone through at his age. I don’t think I would have survived. And he’s also just sort of fun to hang out with. That’s what really tugs at my heartstrings is when they’re someone I like, that’s all. It’s just simple. It’s just humanity, you know? And I hope that that comes through in the films that we shot in Uganda, because you know, when you can relate to a person that’s in trouble and you can see the potential there, I think you’re a lot more likely to lend a hand, you know?”

Richard Curtis: “Jack, you also met a couple of American doctors, didn’t you? I don’t know if we knew they were going to be there.”

Jack Black: “Yes. Yes, that’s right. We were at a hospital in Uganda and actually it’s like ‘The’ hospital of Uganda. And there was a couple foreign exchange doctors. Is that what you call them; foreign exchange doctors? I don’t know if there was a real exchange. They just came over to learn and to help on a mission. They were really bright and really admirable to go to the four corners of the world just to help people that are not of their land; it’s really inspiring. And I was glad we got a chance to talk to them a little bit too.”

Did the children you met in Uganda know anything about you? How were you able to make them laugh? Were you nervous about reaching these kids?

Jack Black: “These kids did not know who I was. They had no idea about my movies, and that was actually kind of refreshing. I kind of liked that.

And how was I able to get them laughing? I mean, they were making me laugh. It just sort of came naturally. We were walking around and I don’t know, I guess that’s just my go-to when I meet some new people, I want to get the international language of laughter going. They don’t speak English, I don’t speak Luganda, so it was just a series of crazy faces and that leads to other funny shenanigans. It was a great day. It was painful, but it was also beautiful, if that makes any sense.”

How did the trip come about? Richard, did you just call up Jack and ask if he wanted to go to Uganda?

Richard Curtis: “Well, actually, Jack and I had come across each other when we were doing this Idol thing. And then Jack was in the U.K. making Gulliver and I just got an invitation through a mutual friend to go out and have a bite of lunch with him. At that time Jack just said to me, ‘Look, you know, if you’re ever doing anything again like the Idol thing, feel free to give me a call.’ And so when we decided…you know, no one makes an offer to Red Nose Day and doesn’t find they’ve been hooked on the line…so I called him and it was just amazing. He came straight back and said, ‘I’m in.’ I’ve got a feeling it was the shortest email I’ve ever received except the ones that say, ‘No.’ But no, it was amazing.

So it, oddly enough, started in 2007, met again in 2011 and then here he is suddenly getting on a plane in 2015.”

When you said that did you think he’d say, “Hey, I want you to go to Uganda?”

Jack Black: “You know, he didn’t bring up Uganda right out of the gate. He waited a few years before he dropped that one on me. I mean, yes, you spend some time with Richard and you see what he’s done in the U.K. with Red Nose Day and it’s just impossible to say no to the guy, or at least it was for me. When you’ve had as charmed and lucky a life as I’ve had, you’re already looking for opportunities to give back. And I don’t know anyone who’s as good at it as Richard. And yes, I found it irresistible. I wanted to jump on board and do some good.”

Richard, you had 30 years experience with this. What do you think gets people motivated to want to participate and give? Is it the comedy, the music, or do you think that the storytelling really opens their eyes and shows them the reality of what’s happening in other places?

Richard Curtis: “Well, you know I think it’s the mixture. I mean it’s definitely the films, like the one that Jack’s made that eventually get them to give. We do try and say what the money will buy. So no one really watches a funny sketch and says, ‘I must give $10 to thank Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell for that joke.’ But that’s the way that we entertain people.

The big thing is we don’t see any contradictions between the two halves. You know, when I was in Ethiopia in 1986, and this seems to be everything that Jack’s saying, you just see extraordinary people who want to love, want to have normal lives, want to fulfill their potential. So I don’t think there’s anything disrespectful abut trying to be as stupid and as funny and entertaining as possible and then just, you know, once every 20 minutes remind us of our shared humanity. So it’s the little appeal films which are full of sort of grace in humor in their own way, that make the money, and I think the comedy that makes people stay watching. That’d be my sentiment.”

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