Screenwriters, take note. ”School of Rock” scribe Mike White has found a way to avoid the anonymity that plagues the profession: The heavy-lidded, high-foreheaded 33-year-old applies his goofy anti-charm to acting gigs in the movies he pens, even stealing the occasional scene from pros like Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black. In 2000’s ”Chuck & Buck,” White was a creepy, childhood-obsessed stalker; in 2002’s ”The Good Girl,” he was the Bible-thumping coworker who memorably threatens Aniston with ”night after night of eternal hellfire.”
And in ”School of Rock,” opening Friday, White plays the henpecked roommate whose identity Black assumes to get a substitute teaching gig. White, who’s also working on an upcoming Fox sitcom called ”Cracking Up” for Molly Shannon and Jason Schwartzman, tells EW.com about creating ”School of Rock,” living with his real-life pal Black, and despising ”Good Will Hunting.”
Where did ”School of Rock” come from?
The whole idea of the movie came after I saw Jack in another movie I wrote called ”Orange County.” He was really funny but the part was not written for him. And I just kept thinking there’s so many different colors to his comedy than people have seen, at least in terms of the movies he’s headlined. I just had this image in my head of him jamming with a bunch of little kids [laughs], and while I was kind of afraid of what the Paramount version of that could be, I couldn’t shake the idea. So I just wrote it.
What was it like sharing an apartment with Jack Black in real life?
While we were living together Jack was shooting the movie, and he had a very arduous schedule — he was in every scene and had to pump up the energy in every scene…. So when we got in there I was like, This’ll be awesome, we can have parties with all my friends from the city I haven’t seen, it’ll be so glamorous, all that kinda s—. But Jack was like, ”No parties. I gotta work. I gotta go to bed early.” [Laughs] Jack is either on or off — he’s either the life of the party or playing videogames and almost in an alternate universe.
Why do you write such unflattering roles for yourself?
I have no vanity. I figure, you know, with looks like mine, the good part is you get to throw vanity out the window and play weird parts. But in something like ”Chuck & Buck,” the guy in that is certainly not a flattering role, but hopefully there’s some sympathy there.
But isn’t it masochistic?
I don’t know, sort of. You’d have to talk to my analyst. One of the reasons that I couldn’t stand ”Good Will Hunting” is because I felt they were creating these guys that were like, of the street, but they’re also geniuses. [Laughs] A lot of times I read scripts where the writer’s alter ego is in the script and it’s these inflated, wish-fulfillment fantasies about themselves that are embarrassing to have to consider. For me I try to go the opposite route, which is showing an alter ego that’s even more neurotic and pathetic than I actually am.
You’ve written and costarred in these movies but not directed them. Doesn’t that put you in a strange position of being on set but having no control?
The truth is it’s the way to avoid that, at least for me. You’re in the movie with Jack and Joan Cusack, or with Jennifer Aniston. You don’t want to be the big stinker in the bunch. I feel like the best thing I can do is to focus on not being bad in the movie. It keeps me from being the neurotic backseat driver.
Did you ever think of ”School of Rock” as a sort of take on ”Dead Poets Society”?
The truth is I’m a total sucker for that kind of movie. It did touch me at the time, though I was a teenager. At the same time there were certain aspects where that movie takes itself seriously — and it ain’t funny. I wanted to avoid that. Jack can take himself seriously and it’s still funny.
How do you feel about the prospect of a ”School of Rock” TV show, which Jack has mentioned?
I’m scared. There’s always that possibility. It’s sort of sad how if something hits it has to outstay its welcome, spinning into sequels or TV series. I don’t think I would help facilitate that.
Is there anyone else who could have played Jack ‘s character?
Had he not wanted to do it, I probably would have thrown the script away. It was so inspired by just knowing him that I wouldn’t want to see anyone else do it.
Couldn’t Adam Sandler have done it?