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Solvej Schou
November 02, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Jack Black has the kind of silly, spastic face you definitely don’t forget. In most of his comedies, it stretches into a wide-mouthed deranged grin, as in 2006’s Nacho Libre, or a bug-eyed howl, as in 2003’s music-filled School of Rock, directed by Richard Linklater.

In the dark comedy Bernie, also directed by Linklater, Black takes it down about 12 notches, playing sweet, good-natured but still musical Bernie Tiede, with dark hair and a little mustache, a complete 180 from the parts he usually plays. The performance has landed him praise from critics and a lot of buzz for the upcoming awards season. The character Bernie is based on a real person, a gay mortician who sings in the local church choir and is popular in his small east Texas town of Carthage. He befriends nasty, wealthy, unpopular widow Marjorie Nugent, played by Shirley MacLaine, and ends up killing her. The movie, in theaters earlier this year, is out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Black and Texas native Linklater sat down with EW and talked awards buzz, Black going against his natural instincts as Bernie, and how working with MacLaine, who would impress Black with tales of “old Hollywood,” was a dream. As for the future, Black is quite open to playing similarly against-type roles. “I don’t have any plans for any dark comedies presently, but I’m open to it” Black told EW, stroking his beard. “I like the idea of playing more characters that are far away from myself. That was very gratifying. If you think about what people expect of you, you can get stuck in a rut. I’ll be looking for opportunities to go in different directions.”

Check out more from Black, plus Linklater, in the video below:

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MOVIE REVIEW Bernie (2012)

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