Having the natural ability to enthrallingly captivate audiences, particularly by naturally infusing both comedy and important sentiments into their lives as you bring them into other worlds, is an essential skill of all entertainers. But also possessing the pure passion to lead by example, and emphasize the importance of helping others without expecting anything in return, is also a vital characteristic that proves how admirable a public figure truly is overall. Actor Jack Black and writer-director-producer Richard Curtis (‘Love Actually,’ ‘About Time’) commendably not only bring their fans into intriguing worlds in their films, but are also working to reverse the harrowing effects that plague children and young adults who are living in poverty in the U.S.. Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The Golden Globe-nominated actor and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker are taking part in America’s first Red Nose Day, a three-hour star studded entertainment event for charity that will air on Thursday at 8:00 pm ET on NBC. Black traveled to Uganda to make short films for the special, and his time spent with children there was funded by the Red Nose Fund, through money raised through donations to Red Nose Day. Curtis is the executive producer and creator of Red Nose Day, which has raised over $1 billion for charity over the last 30 years in the U.K.
Black and Curtis generously took the time recently to talk about participating in the first Red Nose Day in America during a press conference call. Among other things, the actor and filmmaker discussed how the event was brought to the U.S. for the first time, after it found success in the U.K. over the past three decades, as American audiences not only embrace the comedy acts comedians perform during specials for a meaningful cause, but they’re also generous in helping those in need; how Black decided to take part in the Red Nose Day special after Curtis, who he previously collaborated with on ‘Idol Gives Back’ in 2007, approached him with the idea to reunite on his latest charity venture; and how they both hope the event will motivate audiences enough to make them feel powerful and inspired to help those in need anyway they can.
Question (Q): Richard, what is your overall philosophy behind Red Nose Day-why is fundraising important to you?
Richard Curtis (RC): Due to the things that I’ve seen, like Jack has seen in Uganda, I’ve never lost the belief 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, and that can buy 250 malaria nets.” I can never get that out of my mind, as it’s an unbelievable reward for quite a simple action.
The project has lasted so long because it has been surprisingly successful. I think we made $15 million during the first event, and then $27 million on the second one, so 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 difference that the generosity of one human to another can make.
Q: What was the idea and the process of bringing Red Nose Day to the U.S.?
RC: Well, it’s an obvious thing to me because this is such a country of great comedy. At the moment, there’s just so much extraordinary comedy and great films coming out of the country, and it’s an amazingly generous country.
I did the first ‘Idol Gives Back, ‘ and I think we raised $50 million from the public in a couple of hours. So it always seemed like a very natural thing to do, but it’s just taken me this long to get round to it. The particular people I mentioned it to at NBC now were really keen. So it all came out perfectly.
Q: With the event in England being very much comedy oriented, what kind tone will the one here in America have when it airs on NBC?
RC: There will be a little bit more of a broad entertainment streak. We picked Jack because not only is he a beloved comedian, but he also has dramatic skills. So I’m hoping people will get a lot of laughs, as well as emotional moments.
Q: With the event being successful in the U.K., did that encourage you to feature even more A-list stars, now that you’re bringing it to America?
RC: Well, my sons don’t consider anyone in the U.K. famous, so 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 from the American ‘Office’ makes me my sons’ most popular human.
But I think everyone will be impressed by one or two people. We’ve just been shooting with Reese Witherspoon, Zac Efron, Liam Neeson and Richard Gere. So there’s going to be a broad variety of people we wouldn’t dream of getting in the U.K. on the American show.
Q: Jack, you’re known for your on-screen talents, but will you be bringing your ‘School of Rock’ musical persona to the Red Nose event?
Jack Black (JB): Well, I went out to Uganda and spent a lot of time with the kids there, so that was kind of like ‘School of Rock,’ as there was a little bit of jamming and music. But I was out there as a reporter, to let people know what the situation was like in some of these poverty-stricken neighborhoods, and where their money would be going. So it was a lot different obviously than going and doing a movie strictly for laughs.
Q: Will you be jamming with anybody during the Red Nose Day broadcast-will there be any secret collaborations?
JB: Well, if it was a secret, I couldn’t tell you! But no, there aren’t any plans to do any jamming as of now. I’m going to leave the jamming to the professional jammers.
RC: When we did ‘Idol Gives Back,’ do you remember Jack, you did a very passionate version of ‘Kiss from a Rose? ‘
JB: Yes. It was a little ‘Kiss from a Rose,’ and there was also an amazing little number I did with Robert Downey Jr., and…
RC: …’Midnight Train to Georgia.’
JB: 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.
RC: There was a really sweet moment on ‘The Today Show,’ 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 could have fun with their dads in just the same way kids in America can. But they’ve got to spend their whole day picking up garbage.
JB: Yes, I was the one doing most of the learning on that day. I wasn’t doing too much teaching, as I was just taking it all in.
Q: Is there anything about your performance that you can discuss?
JB: 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 it in the audience.
RC: One of the things that we’ve tried never to do on Red Nose Day, and I think it’s really important, is 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. So that’s what I think is so wonderful about the little films he made-it feels like you’re there. You’re not being lectured to by someone who knows everything about all the charities, politics and economics. You’re just are a human being reacting to other human beings, which is what we’re trying to do on the night. We want to make people identify with other people whose lives are hard, and see if they can spare some money. Jack just did that so beautifully.
Q: How did the trip to Uganda come about-Richard, did you just call Jack and ask if he wanted to go to Uganda to make the films?
RC: Well, Jack and I had come across each other when we were doing ‘Idol’ gives back. Then Jack went to the U.K. to make ‘Gulliver’s Travels, ‘ and I received an invitation through a mutual friend to go out and have lunch with him.
At that time Jack said to me, “If you’re do anything like the ‘Idol’ thing again, feel free to give me a call.” So when we decided to do Red Nose Day in America, I called him and 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.”
JB: He didn’t bring up Uganda right out of the gate. He waited a few years before he dropped the idea on me.
When you spend some time with Richard and you see what he’s done with Red Nose Day in the U.K., 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. I don’t know anyone who’s as good at it as Richard. I found it irresistible, so I wanted to jump on board and do some good.
Q: Jack, on the trip that you made to Uganda, what was the most memorable moment for you?
JB: Spending time with these kids and their parents, and just seeing how amazing they were as people, really moved me the most. If I had gone over there and just seen victims who didn’t have any hope, it wouldn’t have been as powerful to me as seeing these kids who were so funny, talented and brilliant.
I just was most blown away by the tragedy of the potential of not seeing these amazing people growing up and making amazing contributions to the world. That’s what really gave me the deep sense of urgency-these kids have magic in them, and they need to be not just rescued, but also inspired.
They’re as hungry for education as they are for food. It’s not just about survival; it’s also about nurturing something really special. That was my biggest takeaway in general. The thing that moved me the most was just how great these kids were.
Q: What do you feel like that you learned from this trip?
JB: I guess just part of living in my little bubble is just assuming that the whole world was modeling themselves after us. I thought all of our music, movie stars and culture just trickles down.
So I was surprised to see amazing music and culture that was homegrown there in Uganda. These kids were making music in their own language, so that was inspired and interesting. So seeing a different side of Africa that I’d never really considered before was the biggest eye-opener for me.
Q: How did the kids respond to the red nose when you put it on in Uganda?
JB: We had some fun with the red nose-everyone wanted a chance to try it on. So there was a flurry of red nose activity. That red nose is as old as comedy, 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.
RC: By the way, we’ve got some amazing pictures of Jack and the kids as they’re wearing the noses. I don’t know if they are being circulated, but there are such beautiful, joyous shots of Jack having fun with the nose, which you won’t see much of on the night of the show. We’re going to try to portray the seriousness of it on the night of the event.
Q: Will your own kids be involved in Red Nose Day at all?
JB: I don’t think that the kids are going to be doing anything in the show. They’re not quite ready for show biz, so to speak. But yes, they knew that their daddy went to Africa, and they knew what that was about. I talked to them about it. But they’re not directly involved in the charity as of now.
RC: Last year on Red Nose Day, we stuck my son to the front door of our house with duct tape. We then we sent pictures of him to his godparents and said, “We’re only going to take him down if you give us 50 pounds.” He made the money quickly.
Q: What do you both hope kids and teenagers will appreciate about the event?
RC: I hope that kids will see a lot of things that they really love and enjoy. (Recently) we were editing quite a big sketch 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 also have a huge number of movie stars from Anna Kendrick to Chris Pine to Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins from ‘Pitch Perfect, ‘ as well as Michelle Rodriguez from ‘Fast and Furious.’ We also have a lovely sketch with ‘The Voice’ and Will Ferrell. So I think they’ll all love something during the course of the night.
We’d really love kids to watch it and encourage each other to do fund raising things, like buy noses, bake cakes or dye their hair red. As Jack has seen, they can also change a life with $5, which can buy a malaria net. So I’m hoping that people will raise a bit of money themselves and then watch the show so that they can see people they love doing really unusual things.
Throughout the show, people can donate online and by text. So during a commercial break, you can save someone’s life. I still believe in the process, even after 30 years. So anyone who finds something they like that Jack, Michelle or Blake Shelton have done can spread that around, because knowledge is power. Anybody who sees something funny can also spread that around, and get people to watch the show.
Q: Jack, you appear in a video with one of the boys you met in Uganda, in which the two of you are singing ‘Let’s Feel It. ‘ What was it about the song that made you so emotional?
JB: He’s a really bright kid. He’s a survivor, and I can’t imagine going through what he’s gone through at his age. I don’t think I would have survived.
He’s also fun to hang out with, and that’s what really tugs at my heartstrings. I hope that that comes through in the films that we shot in Uganda. 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?
RC: Jack, you also met a couple of American doctors while you were there, right? I don’t know if you even knew they were going to be there.
JB: Yes, we were at a hospital in Uganda-actually I it’s “The” hospital of Uganda-and there were a couple foreign doctors there. They went to learn and to help, and it was really admirable and inspiring for them to go to the four corners of the world just to help people that are not of their land. I was glad we got a chance to talk to them for a little bit, too.
Q: Did any of the other children you met while you were in Uganda know who you are and what you do? How were you able to make them laugh?
JB: These kids did not know who I was, and didn’t know about my movies. That was actually refreshing, and I liked that. They were actually making me laugh, and that came naturally. We were walking around, and my go-to when I meet some new people is to get the international language of laughter going. They don’t speak English, and I don’t speak Luganda, so we just made a series of crazy faces, which lead to other funny shenanigans.
Q: What do you think gets people motivated to want to participate and give? Richard, you had 30 years’ experience with these types of fundraising events-is it the comedy, the music or the storytelling that really opens their eyes and shows them the reality of what’s happening in other places?
RC: Well, I think it’s a mixture. It’s definitely the films, like the one that Jack made, that eventually convinces them to give. We do try and say what the money will buy in the films. No one really watches a funny sketch and says, “I must give $10 to thank Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell for that joke.” I don’t think there’s anything disrespectful abut trying to be as funny and entertaining as possible and then once every 20 minutes remind viewers 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 keep watching.
Q: Many young people will be watching the show with their parents, and may be seeing other children in these circumstances for the first time. So what advice can you give other parents about talking to their kids about gratitude?
RC: I don’t know that it’s about gratitude, I think it’s about compassion and fellowship. In the film that Michelle Rodriguez has made, she’s watching a little 6-year-old who leaves school after two hours every day, and works for six hours turning bricks in a mine. It’s good for us all to know that this is the way that other people live, but also realize on this one night that you can make a difference.
Instead of closing your eyes and saying, “This is too hard and I’m too far away,” just say, “Well, actually I can do something.” So rather than making people feel guilty, I hope it’s going to make people feel powerful because they’ll say, “I can do something tonight, and we can do something together as a family.”
JB: Well personally, I just like to talk to my kids like they’re human beings, and not talk down to them. If I’m concerned about something, I’ll talk to them about it, like the things I think about the world, and what would make the world a better place. You don’t have to shelter them from everything.
I think protecting kids from sadness and the dark corners of the world is a mistake we make as parents in general nowadays. Sometimes those are things that they wonder about, but never talk about because they don’t know if they should or could. You’ve got to treat them like human beings, and talk to them about things.
Written by: Karen Benardello