INTERVIEW: Jack Black On Playing A Closeted Mortician In The Dark Comedy Bernie

Get ready to see Jack Black play gay. Well, closeted.

Filmmaker Richard Linklater (Slackers, Waking Life), the director of the new black comedy Bernie, has worked with the portly funnyman before—most notably in School of Rock—but never in a role like this. For starters, Black is playing Bernie, a closeted mortician living as the manservant/male companion of wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) in small-town Texas. Kind and generous, Bernie is the most popular man in town—but when he befriends the cantankerous and demanding Nugent, townspeople’s eyebrows are raised. And when Bernie’s had enough of Marjorie’s abuse? Well, lets just say she meets a tragic end.

It might sound like the plot to a Lifetime movie, but it’s based on a true story: The saga of Bernie Tiede was profiled in a 1998 Texas Monthly story by Skip Hollingsworth, who co-wrote the script with Linklater over the past ten years.

Bernie is a classic closet case—when he was arrested for Marjorie’s murder, police found explicit videos in his home—but Black didn’t play it up for laughs: “I never really thought about it that way,” he told Queerty. “He never said that he was gay and, in that community, I don’t think there’s many flamboyantly out-of-the-closet gay people. ‘Keep it well-hid’—that was definitely part of his character. So I tried to keep it subtle.”

But like a good gay BFF, Black did kind of become MacLaine’s bitch in real life: “We fell into the roles of the movie,” he says. “I kind of became the Bernie to her Marjorie. I took care of her needs, made sure she was always comfortable and attended to. If she needed something cool to drink, if she needed a hand to walk from here to there. I never actually gave her a foot massage [like Bernie does in the movie], but a little hint of that relationship was happening.”

Below, Queerty’s Evan Mulvihill chats with the 42-year-old actor about working with Maclaine, meeting Bernie Tiede in prison and unleashing the “real” Jack Black.


What drew you to this story of a middle-aged homosexual who basically snaps and kills this mean old lady?

The story itself was so compelling. This was the most like guy in town, who’s the least likely to commit a murder. Add to that—he puts the body in a freezer for nine months. There’s just so many question marks.

This is the first time we’ve seen you play a real person. Was  that hard?

There’s a lot of pressure to play someone who’s real and alive. If it was just a made-up part, I wouldn’t feel bad about acting like an ass sometimes. I don’t want it to be a smear at all, I want it to be accurate.


Click through for the rest of the Queerty interview with Bernie star Jack Black

Photos; Millennium Entertainment

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  • Greg

    I’m a big fan of Jack. can’t wait to see this.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    He never said that he was gay and, in that community, I don’t think there’s many flamboyantly out-of-the-closet gay people.

    Why do straight people also associate being openly gay, with flamboyancy? Some of us are, a lot of us are not. When are they going to understand that?

  • kevininbuffalo

    @Mr. Enemabag Jones:First off that’s how the media portrays us. Secondly most straight people probably don’t spend 10 seconds a month thinking about GLBT people, they may have things to think of that are more important to them. Third, if you’re really worried about our image you might consider changing your handle Mr. Enemabag.

  • Peter Fitz

    I have just always taken for granted, that Jack Black was gay
    but than again, I always thought John Edwards was gay

  • LadyL

    @Mr. Enemabag Jones: I was thinking the same thing! “flamboyantly, out of the closet gay”?? Excuse me? I take kevininbuffalo’s point in his reply to you, but I’m not convinced that logic applies to people like Black and others in the entertainment industry. He works with (and is interviewed by) too many LGBT movers and shakers too regularly to be so annoyingly tone deaf.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones


    That’s Mr. Enemabag Jones, to you!

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones



  • EvonCook

    This actually sounds like Doris Duke and her butler. Remember he inherited everything after she died. I ran a gay charity at the time and contacted him and he promised to give us a lot of donations from the estate –but, then he died suddenly from alcoholism, years of alcoholism finally took its toll. Perhaps having a tough mistress had kept him going.

  • J Stratford

    @Mr. Enemabag Jones:

    Because for a long time now (and still on going) flamboyant gays compose a greater portion of the out of the closet gays and “manly” gays compose more of the closeted ones.

    Of course, nowadays, its getting to be less and less so. but think about it, who is less likely to be out, femme or straight-acting?

    Hence, the way straight people view us. The only solution really is for self-confessed manly gay men to come out and show our other side – just like Mr Gay World is advocating.

  • J


  • J

    @J Stratford: You know what? Most gays are girly like.That’s just how we are! That’s the norm.The remaining minority are the exception who are naturally manly.

    It’s just like most straight guys are manly and a minority are girly like.Yes,I have seen straight guys who are kind of girly.

  • Paul F

    @Mr. Enemabag Jones: Right, next thing someone is going to try to tell me that Floyd the barber on the Andy Griffith show was a closet case. (He just liked the feeling of running his hands through the hair of all the guys in town, there was nothing gay about that, is there?)

  • Stephen

    @ J Stratford

    No. We’re just as out of the closet. We don’t always get credit for it because we’re not as obvious, though, so there is that.

    @ J

    What planet are you on? Gay guys are just guys. Some are naturally “girly” (like some straight guys are naturally “girly”). Some aren’t, but develop that affectation to “fit in”. Most are, you know, just guys, somewhere in between the two extremes, and can be “camp” when required, but otherwise wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, because they’re just average guys.

  • James M. Martin

    I know a local gay man who looks and acts just like Jack Black. When I first saw one of his movies I did a double take. Unfortunately, this person locally I find nauseating and thus I was predisposed to dislike Black. He has lived up to my worst expectations, too.

  • David Ehrenstein

    Love this movie and love Jack Black. He doesn’t portray Bernie as “effeminate’ or even “flamboyant” as it’s generally understood. It’s simply obvious he’s not a “Manly Guy” by Texas standards.

    There’s a very subtly written and played scene of Bernie chatting up a hotel bellhop that says everythig about his gayness and how he had managed to compartmentalize it in his life. To me Bernie’s ceasless efforts to get everyone to love him were his way of “making up for” being gay — even though his gayness was pretty well closeted. Fascinating subject.

  • Skeeter Sanders

    This isn’t the first time that Jack Black has played a gay character in films. Remember “Saving Silverman?” In it, Black played J.D. McNugent, a member of a three-man Neil Diamond tribute band called “Diamond in the Rough,” who comes out of the closet to his bandmates — who are also his best friends since grade school.


  • Marc Devin

    I find it very unnerving that so many of you are so upset that Jack Black is portraying Bernie as slightly effeminate, and yet, seem to have no problem with him portraying someone who shot his “friend” in the back and then blew her face off at point blank range so that he could continue stealing her money, as delightfully whimsical.

    Likewise it bothers me tremendously that, whereas at the time of trial the prosecution was forbidden to bring up Bernie’s homosexuality because it was thought that it would be unduly prejudicial to the jury, now it is being used to make him look sympathetic and harmless.

    The truth is that Bernie is a convected murderer. The Nugent family are the only ones who deserve sympathy.

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