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— by Corey Moss

OAXACA, Mexico — Jack Black faces a dilemma. He's really trying to impress the lady of his dreams (even though she's a nun) and there just happens to be an orphan drowning in a tar pit in front them. But he really doesn't want to get in that tar.

"I don't want to get my sweet-ass booties dirty 'cause I bought 'em special," he confesses.

So what does a love-struck comedian do when forced to choose between booty and booties? And more importantly, how the hell did he end up in this touchy situation in the first place?

Well, before we get to the first question, let's answer the second. If the nun-orphan-and-tar-pit scenario seems too strange for words — too strange, even, for one of Black's goofy comedies — then the film's director, Jared Hess, is doing his job.

After all, for Hess, the director and co-writer of "Napoleon Dynamite," this sort of strange, awkward and funny scene is a specialty. (Who can forget, say, Napoleon trying to woo Trisha by drawing a hideous portrait of her?)

Cookie-cutter comedy this is not.

The movie, Hess' second, is called "Nacho Libre," and Black is "stoked" to be down here in Oaxaca starring in and producing it.

"You would think I'd be laughing all the time 'cause I'm in the comedy business, but the opposite is true," Black says between takes of the tar pit scene. "I've done so much comedy, and watched so much, that only super duper funny things make me laugh [and] 'Napoleon Dynamite' gave me some sweet gut-busters. And there wasn't even any dirty cussing or anything in it, so you knew it was done by a master."

While film aficionados might scoff at the use of the word "master," Black insists that Hess has a vision rare among comedy directors.

"I'll get to the set and he'll say, 'OK, so this is what's gonna happen. You're gonna be doing this scene, but right behind you what's gonna be happening is this,' " Black explains. "And I'll go, 'Oh, that's what's super funny about it!' I already thought it was funny the way I was gonna do it, but then he adds an extra element and he's two steps ahead of me almost the whole time. I like it when someone funnier than me is directing me."

In "Nacho Libre," Black plays a monk who works as a chef at the orphanage where he was raised.

Jack Black talks about his character in "Nacho Libre."
"But there's this other thing," Black explains, "where he just really wants to be a kick-ass 'luchador,' or Mexican professional wrestler. He secretly goes and makes money by wrestling for the children of the orphanage, so he can bring good delicious foods on their plates — and also he gets to satisfy that hunger for the fight."

And then, of course, there's the whole thing with the nun — well, nun in-training — Sister Encarnacion, played by Mexican beauty Ana de la Reguera.

"I'm deeply in love, but it's not an impure love," Black says with a wink. "It's not like a lustful thing. It's more like two souls. I just wanna love her in the most holy of all ways, and I'm torn because it's not the way of a man of God. So that's what the whole movie is about — it's this guy who has an inner battle going on. The love of the fight, the love of a woman, the love of the Lord. It's a pretty powerful flick, a pretty intense piece of cinema. It's probably one of the best roles that's ever been written for me."

Photos from the set of "Nacho Libre."
The script was written by Hess; his wife, Jerusha Hess (who also co-wrote "Napoleon Dynamite"); and Mike White, Black's partner in Black & White Productions and scribe behind "The School of Rock" and "Orange County." The premise of the film is, in fact, loosely inspired by the true story of a priest who moonlighted as a luchador in Lucha Libre — in effect, Mexico's equivalent of World Wrestling Entertainment.

"He wrestled for a couple of years before people finally found out," says the 26-year-old Hess. With his long hair, glasses and a tendency to interrupt himself with pronouncements like "I've got major burpage going on," the writer/director resembles a slightly cooler Napoleon Dynamite. "One of the orphans saw [the priest] putting his mask on and getting ready for a fight and the cat was out of the bag. But he wrestled for a number of years. He retired not too long ago."

Hess, a Mormon raised in Idaho and currently residing in Utah, discovered Lucha Libre while on a yearlong journey as a missionary in Venezuela (where he also learned Spanish, which he speaks to the largely Mexican film crew).

"It's like going to the psychiatrist," de la Reguera says, explaining Lucha Libre's popularity. "You yell and you take away all your worries there, so you just don't care about anything. It's really good for the little kids. Things are not good in Mexico, so it's really good to just yell and have fun and kick ass a little bit."

Jared Hess talks about his inspiration for 'Nacho Libre' and is interrupted by Jack Black goofing around in the background.
The legacy of one of Mexico's most famous wrestlers, El Santo — who, like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the States went on to star in more than 50 movies — has served as inspiration to Hess: He set "Nacho Libre" in the '70s as an El Santo tribute.

That was good news for Black, who grew a moustache and wears a small Afro wig for his role as Ignacio — or "Nacho," as he's known in the wrestling world.

"It's kinda based on [David] Hasselhoff," Black joked of his 'do. "I'm pretty stoked about the way I look. A lot of the time in the movie I'm shirtless and I wear super tight spandex pants. It's pretty embarrassing but that's when I know that it's really good, 'cause if I'm really embarrassed that usually means it's funny."

Black, who's not exactly known for having an athletic figure, says he trained his "sweet ass off" for the role and happily demonstrated some of his moves. He's also been to a few real Lucha Libre events while filming in Oaxaca and has been doing most of his own stunts.

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"I dinged my head — beefed it really bad doing a stunt," he says. "I don't know if you can tell but I got stitches right above my eye. I got makeup on it right now so you probably can't see, but once I spilled blood on Mexican soil, that's when I was a true luchador and no one can take that away from me."

Black and Hess continually go back and forth with ideas on the set, while Mike White and Jerusha Hess sit nearby, occasionally jumping in. When Efren Ramirez, who played Pedro in "Napoleon Dynamite," shows up for a cameo the already high esprit de corps is ratcheted up a notch, with the cast and crew constantly high-fiving one another.

"We do a lot of high fives on the set. It's a tradition that I started on the Tenacious D movie," Black says, referring to "Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny," which he shot just before "Nacho Libre." "We wanted to break the record for high fives and I think we're actually gonna break that record on this movie. My theory is if you can high five over 2,000 times during the course of a movie, it'll probably win an Oscar. But that's just a theory."

Oh and about that tar pit scene. Like any true luchador, Black's character is quick on his feet, devising a way to both save the drowning orphan and keep his sparkling white booties clean. Black takes off the rope he's wearing, uses it like a lasso and tosses it into the pit.

And from that point on ... ?

"Hilarity ensues," Black says with a grin.


Check out everything we've got on "Nacho Libre."

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