Jack Black Reminisces About 'School of Rock' and His Personal Connection to 'Apollo 10 1/2' (Exclusive)

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Jack Black's new animated Netflix film, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, is about the Apollo 11 moon landing, but hits surprisingly close to home for the actor and musician, who has a personal connection to the historical moment.

Black's late mother, Judith Love Cohen, was an aerospace engineer who worked on the Apollo space program in the 1960s and is credited with helping to develop the Abort-Guidance System in the Apollo Lunar Module. 

"She worked on an Apollo mission at that time, but the stuff that she did wasn't used until Apollo 13, a few years later, when the astronauts were in an emergency situation and her Abort-Guidance System that she worked on as a programmer helped save some astronauts' lives," Black explained when chatting about his upcoming film with ET's Matt Cohen.

In fact, Cohen was such a devoted worker, that her son recounted, "There is the legend of how when she went to the hospital to give birth to me [on Aug. 28, 1969, just one month after the Apollo 11 moon landing], that she had some paperwork, she was still working on a problem. And after she delivered the baby, she called into work and they said, 'Hey, congratulations, you just had a baby! How are you?' And she goes, 'Fine, fine, I'm faxing you over the papers, the mathematical equations.'"

jack black and his mom judith love cohen

Black and his mother at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards.

Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

"She was much smarter than me, I did not inherit those mathematic genes," Black added with a laugh, "but there's a sense of pride and connection to telling this story, 'cause I know my mom was in there working on it too."

In Apollo 10½, which was shot in live action by writer and director Richard Linklater, and later animated in a process similar to his early 2000s films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Black narrates the story of an elementary-aged boy growing up in Houston during the time of the space race, and his imaginings about what it would be like to go to the moon.

It's a story that, like many of his films, is pulled from Linklater's real-life experiences. The director himself grew up just miles from the Johnson Space Center, something that made an impact on him from an early age.

"I got to the second grade, and I was like, I live near NASA," Linklater recalled marveling as a kid. "We walked on the moon that summer... It was such a momentous human achievement, maybe the greatest ever from a kid's point of view."

It was a far cry from Black's childhood in southern California -- listening to rock and finding "the roots of my music comedy" in offbeat personalities like Weird Al Yankovic and Dr. Demento -- but the actor knew he would be in good hands with Linklater following the pair's beloved collaboration on 2003's School of Rock.

"I thought a lot about School of Rock while we were making this movie, because that's a Richard Linklater joint as well, and that's when we first met," Black said of the film. "He brought that same kind of realism and humor and genius to both projects. Even though they're very different movies, there's that Richard Linklater DNA."

"He's got that specific style, and what he brought to that project was just wanting it to be believable and real," he continued, recalling their first collaboration on School of Rock, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next fall. "Even though it's this crazy story about this substitute teacher that goes rogue and takes these kids on a rogue journey, he wanted to keep it grounded, because that's where the real juice is. When it's real relationships, it's funny in, not a wacky way, but in a way that's believable. I think that's what made that movie last so long -- we still talk it 20 years later."

As for Linklater, he told ET he knew that he could trust Black to bring the right energy to the musical comedy.

"I was trying to capture -- and I knew Jack could do this -- that feeling when you were a little kid and the one adult who treated you like a peer, who treated you like you were a real full human being. And I said, that's gonna be the vibe for the movie," the filmmaker noted. "Not the pat on the head, 'Oh, you're the cute kid, I'm the adult, let me tell you.' It was about him treating them like equals, and how much that means to kids at a certain time to be treated as a full human."

"My best memories are just that group of kids and how funny and how great they were, and what funny and great actors they were at 10, 11, 12 years old," Black recalled. "It's very young to be thrown in the deep end of a major motion picture and they just did... I still get compliments from kids going, 'Oh, I started playing music because of School of Rock.'"

Check out some amazing School of Rock flashbacks in the video below. Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood debuts April 1 on Netflix.

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