DreamWorks Animation’s KUNG FU PANDA 3 AWESOME EDITION is out on Digital HD July 4th and on Blu-ray™ and DVD July 11th and we caught up with Jack Black to find out more about our favourite panda and his friends!Kate Hudson plays Mei Mei in the latest installment of the Kung Fu Panda series, a ribbon dancer that is filled with passion! There will be reunions, a new path for Po, all of your favourite characters and of course a brand new villain, Kai for Po to go up against.
What attracted you to the KUNG FU PANDA franchise and your character?
My family loves the KUNG FU PANDA films so I was really honored to be asked. Kids are drawn to the wonderful animal element in the film, the pandas, and I love Po. He is such a great hero; he’s vulnerable, he’s funny and kind of klutzy, and I think kids really relate to that. He’s a goofy hero. Also, I have never done an animated film before; this is my first and it’s so exciting. I loved Mei Mei! She is such a funny character. It all happened very quickly. I came in and started reading the character and understanding what was going on in the film. She’s so funny… she is quite fabulous. She is a ribbon dancer; in fact she’s the best ribbon dancer in the world!
Mei Mei takes quite an interest in Po doesn’t she?
She does, she really has a thing for Po, but in Mei Mei’s world, she turns it all around and looks at it in a different way. In her mind, Po is madly in love with her and obsesses over her. She’s like, ‘oh please, Po.’ She has a massive crush on him, but she acts as if he has a massive crush on her. Po doesn’t really know what has hit him because she’s just so full-on!
How did you find the experience of working on an animated film?
It was interesting, it’s actually very bizarre at first, because you don’t really know what is going on when you haven’t seen the film. You are working very closely with the directors who are guiding you and helping you understand what’s happening, and then you just go from there. What is great with animation is that you realize very quickly you can go quite far with the theatrics of it all, which is fun for an actor, especially for me since I like comedy so much. When you have an opportunity to be as big as possible, it’s always a lot of fun.
How does Mei Mei fit into the story?
She meets Po in the secret Panda Village where she lives. It is a magical place where all the pandas are living harmoniously with each other. Po arrives with his father (Bryan Cranston) and sees where the rest of the pandas and his own family are living. He’s never seen another panda before, so now he gets to be around all his real peers and learn about the ways of the panda and about his true nature. He meets Mei Mei, she’s performing and doing her dancing as she always does. Mei Mei and Po and all the pandas come together, creating a gang of warriors to fight the villainous Kai (J.K. Simmons). Kai’s ultimate goal is to take all of the chi, the healing energy, for himself, because he wants all the power.
What kind of villain is Kai?
I love what J.K. Simmons did with Kai, because he’s scary, he’s terrifying, but he’s also very insecure. Kai wishes he was more famous, more recognizable, which is very funny.
Mei Mei is great role model for girls isn’t she?
Yes, she is a really great, cool, ‘girl power’ figure. Mei Mei becomes empowered by her ribbon dancing and becomes a badass ‘Nunchuck’ chick. I love that about Mei Mei so much. She is a tough cookie and she turns into a warrior. She’s absolutely feminine and at the same time she kicks ass. Mei Mei unapologetically loves herself, and she is fabulous.
How much fun was it inhabiting this delightful character and how much of you is in Mei Mei?
I loved it, it was so much fun. I think Mei Mei has a great sense of herself. She’s so funny, and I think the character will crack girls up. She is extremely confident and thinks she is so beautiful. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of confidence? I can definitely relate to her, but I am nowhere near as sure of myself as Mei Mei. I am not vain like her! She’s just in her own world. She sees things her own way and she’s always performing. That’s how she lives her life.
It’s great to see a female character with such strong self-esteem. How do you achieve that kind of ‘Mei Mei’ confidence do you think?
I don’t know really, confidence is a funny thing, isn’t it? I have a different type of confidence nowadays. My 30s have been important learning years of my life. I still feel like the same person, but my experiences have shaped me. The confidence I have now is not about how I do things, it’s more about being true to myself and to what I believe in, not being scared of what other people think. That is very important to me. At times I do still have those moments of wavering confidence, but I think the older I get, the more I understand about life and the easier I think it all becomes.
What are the themes of KUNG FU PANDA 3?
I think the film is all about finding yourself, understanding yourself and identifying with who you really are. It looks at that crucial point in life, adolescence, life as a young person, which is really what Po is. Po gets to discover his true nature. It also looks at how Po was orphaned, and as we know, how he has been raised by a goose (Mr. Ping). I love the whole story about how Po’s father arrives and finds him and how his adoptive father, the goose, is so loyal and won’t leave his son. As far as the goose is concerned, Po is his son and as he says, he raised him for 20 years. He loves Po.
What happens to Po when Li, his biological dad, arrives on the scene?
Po had felt that he didn’t belong, that he didn’t fit in. And now he’s finally looking around and understanding who he is, so that he can be the best version of himself. And he finally gets to sort out all kinds of things. For example, when he meets his dad, he realizes he hasn’t been eating enough (laughs)! He says, ‘I knew I wasn’t eating at my full potential.’ Bryan Cranston is great as Li, Po’s dad.
There is a strong family theme. Both Li and Mr. Ping love Po and consider themselves to be his father.
t’s interesting and families that are unconventional or non-traditional are actually so common nowadays, probably as common as those that aren’t. I would say the film is about acceptance. There are great themes that I think will be really relatable to a lot of people.
What was your reaction when you first saw the footage of the film and the quality of the animation in KUNG FU PANDA 3?
The artistry is beautiful; the colors are amazing; and the jade zombies are fantastic. I think kids are going to love the jade zombies as toys. I know mine will. I’m excited about the Mei Mei doll!
It must be exciting for your sons that you are in this film?
They are both excited, Ryder loves the comedy in the Kung Fu Panda movies and Bing is going to love all of the action.
I know you didn’t work with Jack Black; most of the voice work in animated films is done in the booth without the other actors. But have you come across him before?
I hadn’t, until now. We actually went to the same high school, but we weren’t there at the same time. We’re having a ball now that we’re starting to promote the movie together.
What was it like working with the directors?
They’re great and they have a nice balance between them. They are like the yin and the yang, which actually reflects the whole movie. I think Jennifer is pretty direct and knows exactly what she wants, and both of them have a nice way about them. I enjoyed working with them.
Aside from your acting career, you’ve built a very successful business with your active wear company Fabletics. How interesting is that for you?
It has been an amazing process for me, learning about the business. I’m really proud of what we have accomplished and how it is evolving and expanding.
You are a positive role model for women as a female business owner. Is it important to you to be inspiring other women?
It really is, I feel very excited about that part of it all and the success that we’re having. I’m hoping we are going to be doing some talks with women who want to start their own businesses, discussing what is involved in creating and running a business. I believe we need more women entrepreneurs, creating more businesses. My partners are men, but our business is predominantly run by women, which I love. I think that women should always be supporting other women and that goes without saying.
You design fitness clothing and you look fantastic. How much do you enjoy working out?
I love working out, I’ve always been a very active person, ever since I was little. I am happy being physical, but what has made the difference for me has been bringing in a more mental, mindful aspect to my practice, which involves meditation, tuning in on a daily basis, understanding where I’m at emotionally. I’ve just finished my first book, “PRETTY HAPPY: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body,” which is coming out in February. It’s all about finding the balance between enjoying your life and being as mindful as possible when it comes to your overall well-being. I’m not a fan of perfectionism. Trends and fads come and go and are not a long-term solution. We all need to discover what works for us and allows us to be true to ourselves in our individual journeys.
Returning to KUNG FU PANDA 3, what would you say sets this film apart and what do audiences have in store?
I think the film brings all of the elements together that we love to see when we watch these kind of movies. There are the more emotional, grounded moments about family and discovering who you are. It’s about an orphan (Po) who is finally connecting with his roots. That is very relatable. And then you have the humor and nuance that Jack Black always brings to this character. There is so much humor in this one and the relationship with Po and Li (Bryan Cranston) is fantastic; it’s a great mix. Both children and adults can relate to the comedy in the KUNG FU PANDA films. I don’t know how they do it. You can have a very sophisticated joke that an adult completely understands, but the children are laughing at the same thing; everyone’s enjoying the joke and the laughter. Also, I think when we see these movies, they help us connect with something in ourselves and our own challenges. What are the obstacles we are up against and how do we conquer our fears? How do we deal with our mistakes? How do we deal with our imperfections? These are great things that we want to be teaching our kids — and teaching adults, frankly, about how to face the world and face ourselves.
You are busy with your business, acting and motherhood and you have some interesting projects coming up I believe?
I finished filming DEEPWATER HORIZON with Mark Wahlberg and my dad (Kurt Russell). That was fun. I didn’t really work with my dad, he worked more with Mark. I play Mark’s wife; my dad and I had just one moment together. But it was great to be on set with him. I also did MOTHER’S DAY with Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston, which Garry Marshall directed. That is a really fun comedy. I’m also going to be shooting Lee Daniels’ biopic about Richard Pryor, which I’m really excited about.
How fulfilling is life right now and what are your dreams at this stage?
I’ve got lots of dreams. I would like to do lots more projects with music, maybe a musical, on stage, that’s definitely something I want to do. And I will direct a film at some point, for sure. Right now, I’m very happy, everything is good … life is actually excellent.
DreamWorks Animation’s KUNG FU PANDA 3 AWESOME EDITION is out on Digital HD July 4th and on Blu-ray™ and DVD July 11th.