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Jack Black and Rita Ora on Kung Fu Panda, Childhood Obsessions & Dr. Seuss

With Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight now streaming on Netflix, I recently got to speak with Jack Black (Po) and Rita Ora (Wandering Blade) about making the new series. The 11-episode series is produced by DreamWorks Animation and features Po and Wandering Blade on a globe-trotting quest for redemption and justice as they try to stop four powerful weapons from ever being used.

If you’re not aware, Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight is actually the third animated series that has been spawned from the hugely popular animated film series, but it’s the first one in which Jack Black reprises his voice role. Other returning cast members include James Hong as Po’s father Mr. ping, Amy Hill as Pei Pei, and the series also features Chris Geere as Klaus Dumont, Della Saba as Veruca Dumont, Rahnuma Panthaky as Rukhmini, and Ed Weeks as Colin. The series is produced by Peter Hastings, Shaunt Nigoghossian, Chris Aick and Ben Mekler.

COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY

During the fun interview, Rita Ora and Jack Black talked about what it’s really like in the recording booth and the challenge of trying to make certain sounds, why Black agreed to come back to voice Po, what they were obsessed with growing up, Dr. Seuss books, the first thing someone should watch if they’ve never seen their work, and more.

You can either watch the conversation in the player above or read it below.

COLLIDER: Rita, I know you haven’t acted as much as Jack, but I’m still going to ask this question, for both of you, if someone has actually never seen anything you’ve acted in before, what is the first thing you want them watching and why?

RITA ORA: Well, I had to go first because obviously Jack’s books are deeper than mine in this department, but I’d like to consider myself a very serious actress in a sense of picking the right characters for me. I love to be able to have the opportunity to curate what I’d like to do in this field. I’m very grateful for that. I think for me, I’d love them to really start with my music videos, because I think with my music videos, you get a sense of my presence, first on camera, and also my communication with others. It was also a world that I created, which I’m really proud of. It’s a mixture of creative control and inspiration and presence. I’ll start with that.


JACK BLACK: When you work on your music videos, do you with the directors and kind of co-direct in a way?

ORA: Well, I kind of have the idea in my mind and then whoever I chose to help me direct it really just brings that to life and adds elements that I wouldn’t necessarily think of, because I’m very open to collaborating. I think that’s such an important part of being creative and I think that’s why I’m here today, to be able to collaborate with Jack Black and do things that I never really thought I could do. This is a huge achievement for me and something that I’d love to continue doing.

BLACK: Yeah, I agree with you. The key is collaboration and when you have that kind of relationship with the director, that’s the kind of thing that I’m the most proud of too. Probably my proudest moment in the industry, is not the biggest hit, but Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, because it’s the only movie that I was in that I wrote, and that I worked so closely with the director. It was like a collaboration through and through, producing and you know…


ORA: Amazing.

BLACK: Yeah, it’s just a great experience. I’d want people… Pick of Destiny, even though I’m really just clowning around super-duper hard. It’s also my baby.

Rita, this is your first time of voicing a character like this on a series like this. What surprised you about making an animated series and voicing a character that perhaps you weren’t expecting going in?

ORA: I think I thought I was going to have to repeat myself endlessly. I thought it was like, oh, let’s do this again, or let’s do this part again, but there’s no time. I think that’s why I loved doing TV animation. Honestly, there’s so many episodes, so much to get done, that you are really going in once a week or once every couple weeks. You’re just going through the episodes. It’s always something exciting. You’re seeing like new characters, obviously we’re not always in the same room, so there’s a lot of experimenting and I love getting in with my project. I was really into sort of like getting involved, figuring out who this character is, because I’m up against iconic characters. You’ve got two people that we… Characters, animations, Po and Mr. Ping and you’ve got these characters that have existed for a long time. How am I going to stand amongst these legends, legends is what I’d like to say in the UK, lege… But I think Wandering Blade herself has really sustained the test of time with her wicked powerful ways, in a really strong woman way. I think I hope I’ve answered your question.


A hundred percent. Jack, if I’m not mistaken, this is your first-time voicing Po, since Kung Fu Panda 3.

BLACK: Yup.

What was it about this story that drew you back in?

BLACK: Well, I got the call from Netflix and they were saying, we know you’ve only done the movies, but would you be interested in reprising your role in a series? They told me the idea of ​​it and it just sounded intriguing because it was higher stakes and more of a global story than the original movies that just took place in China. This took place all over the world, with different cultures and different characters, and Rita Ora’s character, which is this strong woman character who kicks ass, but also has secrets and vulnerabilities. It just seemed like an awesome new adventure. Honestly, it just seemed like a lot of fun. I like Peter, the director, and his vision for where it would go over the course of the series. It was a no brainer, really.


The fourth episode has Po really obsessed with a comic book and really that’s a big part of the story and how the comic book plays into the series. It made me think for both of you, what was something when you were growing up that you were really obsessed with, or even now, something that you’re really obsessed with the way Po is with the comic?

BLACK: I was obsessed with comics actually too. I was really deep into Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight and his run that he did with, what’s the blind guy in the red suit?

Daredevil.

BLACK: Daredevil. And Alan Moore’s Watchman.

ORA: Well I mean…

BLACK: How about you, Rita?

ORA: I loved comic books, but when I was growing up, I was into kids’ books, like Cat in the Hat and The Caterpillar and all these really interesting books. There was this one book about a lighthouse that I’ll never forget. I think it’s called The Lighthouse, and I always used to read it and I’m going to try and find it, but it’s just sorts thoses of books that have those same pictures that I think were really interesting for me. Anyway, I loved that, things like that. I actually just put in an auction for the first edition of Dr. Seuss, Cat and the Hat.


BLACK: Oh man.

ORA: Book, I know, I don’t think I’m going to get it though.

BLACK: Some of his paintings, he also has like fine artwork paintings that go for top dollar now.

ORA: I know. I like collecting books, like first edition books. That was something I enjoyed, anyway.

BLACK: My favorite was The Birthday Bird. It’s kind of a lesser known Dr. Seuss book.

ORA: Yeah, that’s a good one, too.

BLACK: I read that every day, even when it wasn’t my birthday.

One of the things about the voice recording process that I think must be interesting is when you have to record all the efforts, when you’re making those weird sounds, when you’re going up a hill or down, or you have to react to something. What was it like for both of you guys in the recording booth when you have to not do the dialogue, but all those other sound effects?

BLACK: Well, it’s in a way that’s like the most effort goes into those. I always say, can we save those for the very end, because I’m going to blast my throat out on those. We do all my dialogue stuff and the emotional stuff, and then when it comes to that stuff, yeah, I go balls to the walls. Okay? I go a thousand percent. I only have one gear. If I’m diving off a cliff and like blasting through a wall, I’m really going to make those noises and I’m going to work up a sweat. Peter, our director, made fun me because…

ORA: You sweat, no it’s true.

BLACK: It’s cardio.

ORA: Yeah.

BLACK: Hopefully there’ll be some behind the scenes, so you see, I’m not joking. I’m actually, it’s life or death in that recording studio.

ORA: I’m the same, I think, you’re doing animation on our characters jumping off cliffs, running like off literal mountains and boats. It’s insane, so you can’t just stand still. We really are running up and down in these studio rooms, but yeah, I don’t really enjoy those moments, but I do like being able to let loose, I use it as therapy.

BLACK: You got to dress to move, too. You can’t be wearing any jewelry or anything when you bring… You can’t have any jingly janglys. You got to be really just like sweats, t-shirt, kick off the shoes, because it’s going to get real, real physical.

On that note, I need to stop. I’m just going to say, I hope this series is a huge hit for you guys and thank you so much for giving me your time.

BLACK: Appreciate you.

ORA: Thank you so much.

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