Ingredient Two:
A healthy dash of playing that same guy, even if that guy is covered in black-and-white fur
You hear actors say it all the time: They love losing themselves in a character, love getting the chance to pretend to be so many different types of people. But it’s rare to see Jack Black in a role that doesn’t kind of remind you of, well, you know, Jack Black. Even in that commercial for Pitfall!, when he was shouting out, “Just last night, I was walking through the jungle with Pitfall Harry, surrounded by giant scorpions and man-eating crocodiles,” you can see the over-the-top style that would eventually become School of Rock’s goofball rocker-turned-teacher Dewey Finn. Esquire recently said this about the similarity of Black’s characters: “In theory, such lack of range should get old in a hurry.”

Except that it hasn’t. In fact, Black’s 2006 comedy Nacho Libre brought in nearly as much at the box office as School of Rock did three years earlier. And, indeed, Black makes no apologies for the way he’s played his most popular roles. “I like to play it close to the vest,” he says. “I’m just not the kind of actor who does something different all the time. I’m not constantly looking for a different accent or a different body type or shape. I’m not a chameleon as much as I am a situational actor.”

Then again, for Kung Fu Panda, Black has to play a giant animal. So you’d think that in that role, for which animators get to choose what his character will look like, he’d be very different from the cook-turned-wrestler Nacho Libre. And you’d be wrong.

“With animation, it’s the same process as with any film,” Black says. “You think about the emotions behind the lines and what this character is going through. Then you get there and you do the lines, and you also riff on it for a while and see where you can take it.”

So did he picture himself as a giant panda while reading the dialogue? “No, I didn’t,” he says. “I didn’t do that at all. I just imagined that it’s a person. Because even though you’re playing a panda, you’re really playing a person. You’re speaking English. You’re living with very human thoughts and dreams. So I didn’t actually [ask myself] anything like, How would I do this if I were 100 pounds heavier and really furry?”