Jack Black‘s performance of the emotional piano rock ballad “Peaches” as Bowser leveled up the box office hit The Super Mario Bros. Movie when it released earlier this year. But the hit song almost never happened.
Black says when he signed on to the film, which hit theaters in April, music wasn’t part of the equation. “They had this idea late, late in the game, ‘What if Bowser sings a song?’” Black tells The Hollywood Reporter, recalling a conversation with the film’s directors, Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic. “They were like, ‘We got this little nugget,’ and they sent over this little 20-second song.”
Black, a Grammy-winning multihyphenate who has successfully combined acting, music and comedy throughout his 30-year career, initially thought, “this is not a musical — you can’t just pop this on me.” But the short demo was funny and likable enough that he called his producing partner, John Spiker, and went to work.
“We fleshed it out and made it more of a song with more lyrics and melody and stuff. And I was like, ‘Ooh, this hits, this slaps. I bet you they won’t want to use this because it’s a little too deeply emotional,’” he says. “It stops being a little family cartoon for a second. It felt like it went into some other realm of deep, painful love that [Bowser will] never have — this deep yearning. It’s too real.”
But the directors loved it — and so does the rest of the world. “Peaches” became a viral hit, finding success on TikTok and the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 chart, where the song peaked at No. 56. The tune even reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Digital Songs Sales chart and ranks fourth on YouTube’s top trends of 2023 list.
And more music is on the horizon for Black, via his band Tenacious D: “We’ve been working on a couple of things. I got a new Kung Fu Panda coming out next year, and they asked if we would do a song for the credits.”
In an interview, the 54-year-old talks about Bowser’s love anthem for Princess Peach, the 20th anniversary of School of Rock, why Taylor Swift intrigues him and his thoughts on artificial intelligence: “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh no, it’s going to be like Terminator where it comes and destroys all the human jobs.’”
“Peaches” has had such a pop culture moment — what’s it like to see this song take off?
It was a real thrill to see it, to get into the ears and minds of people all around the world. I’d never really had that kind of an impact before in that space. I’m in a band and we’ve had lots of fun touring the world and playing music for years, but it hits different when you’ve got a bona fide hit that’s gone viral like that. And it was crazy. Everywhere I looked on social media, there was “Peaches” and I was like, “Hey, that’s me.” There’s a little burst of pride when you are part of the zeitgeist, as they like to say.
It’s funny because the song is just 95 seconds long, but it’s had a big impact.
Good things come in small packages, sometimes. … You never know, there are little surprises out there that can explode on the scene, and that’s why whenever anyone says, “Oh, I’ll never be able to be in the industry like you. God, how do you do it? What do you do?” I always say, “If you can catch a wave and it spark some magic and get it up on social media, you never know what’s going to explode and make you a household name for a minute.”
“Peaches” spent five weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and it also reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Digital Songs Sales chart …
I didn’t know, that’s news to me that it was No. 6 in the Billboards. I guess I don’t have that special Billboard account. You have to pay extra for the special.
There are, by the way, like 30 different Billboard charts …
That’s awesome. We’ll never know all of the numbers. Some of them they keep hidden in a vault, the mysterious numbers. The number that I’m looking forward to seeing is the number on the check whenever I get it. I still haven’t gotten one in the mail, but someday I bet there will be. (Laughs.)
Nothing for the song yet?
Not yet. I think Nintendo’s got to take their piece. Illumination got to take the bite. But in the end, there’s still got to be a chunk of change left for old Jables. (Laughs.)
I think it takes a while, right? You’ve got to wait like a year.
Was Mario Bros. a game that you played growing up?
Oh, yeah. I was there at the very beginning of that character in Donkey Kong in the ’80s. At the corner liquor store, they had a Donkey Kong machine in there, and I’d go play all the time. Whenever I had a quarter, it was going into Donkey Kong. And, of course, later you see it on the home systems, on the Nintendo system, Mario Bros. and Super Mario, but it wasn’t until I got offered this role that I really got into Bowser because he came in way later in the history of Mario Bros., and my sons actually are like, “What? They offered you Bowser?” And they showed me the games and we played those games together, and so I did my research. It’s very serious research for an actor to play Super Mario Bros. for five hours a day until I really feel the character.
It also got you cool points as a dad!
Yeah, I do whatever they say because I trust their instincts more. They’ve got their finger on the pulse of pop culture in a way that I don’t. I told them, “Yeah, Mario Bros.” They were like, “What? Yes!” They can feel the vibes of what’s happening now.
Now that we’re at the end of the year, what music have you loved the most this year?
I’ve been getting in the time machine … I [did] a chronological marathon of all of Rush’s music. I’m going to do Kanye West, from the very beginning all the way to current day. I did it also with The Who, who I love, and I did it with Pink Floyd. And there’s a bunch more that I want to do that with.
It just seems like the zeitgeist this year is all about Taylor Swift — it’s all you hear about because she’s broken all the records. It’s like, “Has anyone ever in the history of music had a more successful tour?” I don’t think so, and when you see videos of the audiences at these Taylor Swift shows, it’s kind of like she’s a god.
She’s more like a goddess. They’re more like worshiping; the screams and the emotions and the love. It’s like, “Wait a second. What’s happening? This is like a religious experience for these people.” They go for like four hours, five hours, and they don’t want to miss a drop so they don’t get the T-shirt, so then they have to buy another $1,000 ticket just to wait in line all day. It’s kind of a phenomenon. I’m fascinated by her success. I don’t know her music that well. I’ve not done the marathon.
Didn’t you sing Taylor’s “Anti-Hero” at an event recently?
I did. I did a little cover. (Black starts singing “Anti-Hero.”) I can appreciate an earworm if it gets in your head and you can’t shake it. But that was actually a little performance I did at a benefit for all of the crews that were out of work during the actors strike. People don’t think about all the roadies, all the people working the lights, camera, action, sound, and all of those workers that were hurting financially to pay the bills to feed their families, so it was a great cause, and everybody came out.
I just started talking to the crowd … “Any requests? Anybody want to hear some songs?” And somebody said “Anti-Hero.” I was like, “Everyone knows that,” and I started singing “Anti-Hero” and doing a little dance, and that was my show, and people loved it. People were laughing and gasping.
It’s funny that you mentioned the roadies — Taylor gave out $100,000-bonuses to the truck drivers on her tour …
I’m half expecting our crew to disappear and be like, “Where’d they go? They went to the Taylor Swift tour.” Who wouldn’t want to work on a Taylor Swift tour now when you know you got that kind of cheddar on the back end? So my band, Tenacious D, definitely felt the pressure. We’re giving out some bonuses this year, but we’re going to have to knock off a couple zeros. That’s just too much cheddar. You have to make $1 billion to give out $100,000 to the whole crew, but she did. She made a billion. I might become a roadie on Taylor’s crew.
It’s the 20th anniversary of School of Rock — what comes to mind when you think of that film?
That was such a big moment for me. That movie put me on the map in a lot of ways. It remains my favorite experience in my career because it gave me a chance to do all the things that I do best, with acting and with performing and writing music, and working with my favorite writer, Mike White, who did such an incredible job writing in my voice. It’s very rare and very special when that happens, and working with Richard Linklater, the director, all the planets aligned on that one, and I’ve always felt like that’s the one that’s going to be on my tombstone, and I’m fine with that: the guy from School of Rock.
Did you ever feel like you had to pick one of those lanes — music, acting or comedy — instead of doing all of them?
No, in fact, one thing has always helped the other with the music and the acting. Even from the very beginning when I was doing musical theater in high school, that combines all of those elements, too. So, I guess at my core, I’m really just a music theater kid.
I wondered — had you done Broadway yet?
No, I did do an off-Broadway show back in the ’90s called Carnage, A Comedy, and it was about televangelism and that world, and that was really fun, and we sang a song in that, and we did a lot of crazy commedia dell’arte performance-style stuff. But no, I’ve always wanted to come back to Broadway. I’ve always thought that would be amazing. Eight shows a week though, that’s kind of a grind.
I do hold out hope that maybe someday I could make it to that stage, too, but it’s a big life decision because you got to go live there for a long time, longer than it would take to make a movie in some cases.
You’ve gotten to play so many different characters throughout your career — is there a role that you haven’t played that you want to tackle?
I guess Bowser is a villain, but I’ve always thought it would be fun to play a real evil live-action villain, like a Hannibal Lecter or something. I’ve danced around it a little bit. There’s been dark characters in Goosebumps, but not really where it’s a clear and present danger, like a scary character. That’d be fun to do. I love Jack Nicholson; I love The Shining, speaking of scary characters, and I loved him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where he’s this inspirational wild card in this insane asylum, and he inspires some of the people to want to get out of there, and he’s like this great motivator. And it would be fun to play a character like that.
How does it feel to know that the strike is over?
It was a huge relief, and it was great to finally get a deal in place, but there is still a vote, if I’m not mistaken. It’s not completely ratified yet. I can’t imagine it’s not going to pass, though, because nobody wants to go back and strike more, but it’s not the perfect deal. I guess there are still some people in the union that are concerned about AI, and there’s just no way you’re going to get rid of all the concerns about AI because there’s no way to stop AI in some ways. It’s coming.
What are your thoughts on AI?
It’s so new that it’s hard to really say what the future holds, but I don’t have all doom and gloom. I don’t feel like, “Oh no, it’s going to be like Terminator where it comes and destroys all the human jobs.” I’m not convinced about that because I can admit, I don’t know, and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a great new world and that it’s going to be a tool that all of us can use to make ourselves better and make the world better. How about it saves the world? How about that possibility? I [have] huge hope, because we could use some saving in some ways, too. Maybe it’ll cure cancer. Maybe it’ll perfect space travel. Maybe it’ll do some things that we can’t even imagine that are great.