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by Vivien Santana Hughes
Jack Black – comedian, actor, musician and alter ego to Kung Fu Panda’s unlikely Dragon Warrior, Po – is also Jack Black, married father of two sons: Samuel, 5 this month, and Thomas, 3. So, in February, when Zoo Atlanta invited Black to visit newly named cub “Po,” the first giant panda born in the U.S., his paternal instinct rose to the surface. Well, that and his quest for calm, something elusive to most parents of young children.
“I was really psyched to meet and hold a panda bear because I had heard the legend – if you can hold a panda bear, you have an immediate feeling of inner peace down to your core,” says Black. Then the vet warned him that real pandas don’t like to be touched and to watch out for the cub’s powerful bear claws. Shares Black, “And I was like, ‘wait a second, I was hoping to snuggle!’”
Black’s character Po, who returns to the screen May 26 in DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2, is more complicated. “That’s the magical dynamic of Po,” said Black at the movie’s media preview. “On the one hand, he’s the most fierce, awesome warrior; on the other hand he’s a clumsy silly buffoon. And in many ways, I have tried to model my life after Po just to stay in character.” (After which Black went on to show off his “awesome” kung fu moves. Let’s just say they were more suited to the playground than the Valley of Peace!)
Po’s relationship with his father is very poignant. What was it like for you to become a dad in real life?
The greatest adventure I’ve ever had is having my baby boys … your heart just grows three sizes larger. It's like the Grinch story where you finally have this purpose and reason, and where you're sort of teaching the little building blocks of living in this universe. You're also having little flashbacks to when you were an infant, when you were 1 and 2 and 3 years old. A real, amazing journey.
In Kung Fu Panda, the message with Po is you can do anything you want to do, no matter what kind of package you come in. What would you say is Po’s message this time around?
It's a lot about living in the moment. I haven't really thought about it in those terms, about distilling it down to a one-line poem of what the movie is. But it's got a lot of emotional resonance with a journey to self-discovery.
What is it about Po that, as an actor, you say to yourself, ‘Oh yes, I got this. I know this guy!’?
I think the key to Po is his sweetness, his innocence. Even though he's a Dragon Warrior now, he's just still very much a fan of kung fu. When I was in my teens and 20s – when I really had my heroes, my favorite actors and musicians, these people that I idolized like gods and would spend days just day dreaming what it would be like to be one of them – that's what Po's all about. That's how I get into his skin.
Watch the real Po on Zoo Atlanta’s PandaCam at: www.zooatlanta.org/home/panda_cam
Chat Room columnist Vivien Santana Hughes is a former L.A. Parent editor and the mother of three – two sons in college and (surprise!) a 6-year-old daughter. She lives with her family in La Cañada-Flintridge.
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