Nacho Libre (2006): Wrestling Comedy, Starring Jack Black

Jared and Jerusha Hess, the creators of the indie hit “Napoleon Dynamite,” team up with writer Mike White, and star Jack Black, for the offbeat comedy, Nacho Libre.

Jack Black plays Nacho, a man without skills. After growing up in a Mexican monastery, he is now a grown man and the monastery’s cook, but doesn’t seem to fit in.

Nacho cares deeply for the orphans he feeds, but his food is terrible, mostly, if you ask him, a function of his terrible ingredients. He realizes he must hatch a plan to make money to buy better food for the young orphans who have nothing. And if in doing so, Nacho can impress the lovely Sister Encarnacion that would be even better.

When Nacho is struck by the idea to earn money as a Lucha Libre wrestler, he finds that he has a natural, raw talent for wrestling. As he teams with his rail-thin, unconventional partner, Esqueleto (the Skeleton), Nacho feels for the first time in his life that he has something to fight for and a place where he belongs.

Jared Hess says he suspected Black’s excitement from the onset: “I think when Jack first heard about the idea that he’d be able to throw down in some tights and cape, it was very appealing to him.”

Explaining the character, Jerusha Hess says: “Nacho is a poor little orphan kid who’s stuck in a monastery, gets shoved into this life, and is never really accepted by the brothers in his church. They don’t respect him. He’s always felt a bit put upon; when he decides to become a luchador, something awakens in him.”

From the beginning, it was clear that only one actor had the kick-ass comic skills, the boundless energy, and the physical build to bring Nacho to life. Recalls producer Julia Pistor: “In our first meeting with Jared, he said that he and Jack Black had already been talking and wanted to do a project together. We thought if you put Jack Black in a mask, he’d still have such expression with just his eyes and eyebrows, it would be very funny. It all fit together perfectly.”

White, who co-wrote the film and serves as a producer, says that the y were motivated by the combination of elements that inspired the movie, from the true story that served as a jumping-off point to the classic Lucha Libre films with the immensely popular Luchadore, Santo. “Even though I wasn’t a Lucha Libre expert when we started, in retrospect, it all seems inevitable,” says White. “First, this factual story of a guy who cooks for friars and orphans by day and wrestles by night felt like such movie material. Later, the more old Santo movies we saw, the more matches we went to, the more we saw that this was a colorful, comic world and how much fun it would be to have Jack as a huge centerpiece to it.”

The producers were confident that Jack Black could handle the Lucha ring. “Aside from being one of the best physical comedians, he’s actually also an incredibly agile and energetic man,” says Pistor. “If you’ve ever seen him singing and performing in Tenacious D, he’s all over the stage, doing acrobatics and crazy jumps. We knew he would be able to deliver the physical comedy and stunts.”

While it was clear that only Jack Black could play the lead role, the filmmakers were also sensitive to the fact that they were telling a Mexican story with an Anglo in the lead. Thus, they carefully wrote the role specifically for Black. Says White: “Nacho’s mom was a Scandinavian missionary and his dad was a Mexican deacon. They tried to convert each other, but got married instead. When they died, he grew up as an orphan. Even though he’s grown up, he’s still there, the fun hy among all the humorless, disciplinarian monks. He’s the buddy that these kids need in their lives.”

White points out that Black came to the production prepared. “Jack speaks a lot of Spanish,” says the writer, “When he came down to Mexico, he quickly picked it up again, and he came up to the first day of rehearsal with a fully-born take on the accent.”

De La Reguera was impressed with Black’s accent and discipline. “He’s very professional,” she says. “Jack’s always thinking about the character. Because he has to have a Mexican accent, he’s very concentrated and focused all the time. Sometimes, I gave him tips that he imitated.”

“That’s guy’s a triple threat,” says director Hess of Black’s comedic, athletic, and acting skills. He’s a total genius. He’s very funny, a team player who has no ego; working with him was great. Everybody on the crew just felt like they could totally approach him. He was such a funny, happy-go-lucky guy.”