When Bethany, a high school self-obsessed queen bee, is drawn into the mysterious Jumanji game, she chooses to play a “curvy genius,” Dr. Shelly Oberon, who will help navigate in the game as an expert in cartography, archeology and paleontology.
Just one thing: Shelly is a nickname for Sheldon. The image-conscious Bethany is suddenly, in her words, “an overweight middle-aged man” – that is, Jack Black. (And Bethany is not surprised when Shelly’s weakness turns out to be endurance.)
When they discover an old video game console with a game they’ve never heard of, they decide to play and are immediately thrust into the game’s jungle setting, in the bodies of their avatars, played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan. What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – Jumanji plays you. They’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, or they’ll be stuck in Jumanji forever…
For Jack Black, the appeal of the role was twofold. First, he would enjoy channeling his inner teenage girl – and to do it right, he made sure that he and the young woman with whom he shared the role were on the same page. “In my mind, I know how to be a hot babe. It’s in my toolbox,” says the comedian. “But the teenage girl I know is circa 1980s, so before we started filming I asked Madison Iseman a ton of questions. I had to do my research. ‘What are you listening to now? What’s your favorite music and what TV shows are you watching?’ I watched and listened and got into that headspace. Madison was very helpful.”
But not only would he enjoy the role – he’d get to play the role under the direction of Jake Kasdan, one of his favorite collaborators; the director and actor first worked together in 2001 on the comedy Orange County. “Jake Kasdan is one of my favorite directors to work with. Orange County was the funniest film and the best on-set environment. He’s super smart and super funny and we had such a good repartee. So, immediately, I was intrigued and wanted to jump in and party with him again. He knows how to tweak my brain to make the best acting happen. He’s a good acting scientist.”
“Jack is one of my all-time favorite people to work with. I have a thousand percent confidence in his brilliance, always,” says Kasdan. “So, when we asked him to play this teenage girl, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would look like, but I knew he would be amazing. He is Bethany, every second he’s on screen.”