He’s baaaack! And he’s Black. Jack Black, that is. The comic dynamo, who fizzled after his hilarious turns in "High Fidelity" and "Jesus’ Son" in 2000, is back on track and headed straight to the top with "School of Rock." Newsweek’s David Ansen says "‘School of Rock’ made me laugh harder than any movie I’ve seen this year. Jack Black gives a bravura, all-stops-out, inexhaustibly inventive performance. He, and the movie, kick ass!" It's virtually impossible to find a critic who disagrees.

I don’t know what Black is like off-screen these days, but I hope he hasn’t calmed down too much since the spring of 2000, when I did this interview for The New York Daily News. --GUY FLATLEY

He’s a scowling, slouching chub with a rebellious mop of black hair, scornful eyes, a smart mouth and an itchy temper. But he’s as magnetic as he is maniacal, which is why moviegoers are coming away from "High Fidelity," Stephen Frears’ sweet and salty spin on the Nick Hornby cult novel, eager to know more about this audacious supporting player who commandeers the screen as Barry, a super-critical clerk in a barely-surviving Chicago record store, a slob of a snob given to tyrannizing customers whose musical tastes don’t measure up to his own outrageously arbitrary standards.

His name is Jack Black (at least, that’s his stage name; his real name remains a secret), he’s played small parts in the likes of "Waterworld" and "Cable Guy," and he does a riotous turn as a disorderly hospital orderly in "Jesus’ Son," which will be shown in the New Directors New Films series at the Museum of Modern Art this Friday and Saturday and will open theatrically in June. On April 18 and 19, he will be performing loudly—some might say lewdly—as one half of the bold, blue Tenacious D band down at the Bowery Ballroom (the band’s other half is Black’s buddy, Kyle Gass).

Critics may be high on Black, but the 30-year-old actor seems modest and down-to-earth as he talks about growing up in a working-class Los Angeles neighborhood. "My mom’s a Jew, and my father converted to Judaism, but now that they’re divorced, he’s nothing," Black says. "I did the whole Hebrew school thing, but I kind of resented it. Once I got my bar mitzvah, I completely bailed."

When he wasn’t in Hebrew School, he was in plain old junior high. "That’s when I did acid for the first time," he recalls. "I fell in with some rough dudes and did a lot of blow, a lot of cocaine. Then I got taken out of the public school system and put into a private school for troubled youths, and after that, I was fortunate enough to get into a great school in Santa Monica called Crossroads. That really turned my shit around."

He even put in two years at UCLA, before dropping out to tour with Tim Robbins and his Actors’ Gang. "We did a play called ‘Carnage’ in Edinburgh, Scotland," he says, "and then we did it in New York at the Public Theater and got the worst review in the history of theater from Frank Rich, who had a bone to pick with Tim Robbins. He was obviously on a weird Hollywood hatred bandwagon, and his review was an amazing dagger he threw at Tim. I read it the morning it came out and I just started laughing. It was so bad that it wasn’t even an insult."

Robbins (who found tiny roles for Black in all three of the films he directed—"Bob Roberts," "Dead Man Walking" and "Cradle Will Rock") plays a selfish manipulator of women in "High Fidelity," as does leading man John Cusack. Does Black feel this view of the contemporary American male is accurate? "Of course," he says, "and women are selfish too. But this is more about the guys. What I liked about the script was its fresh take on relationships. It explores some areas heretofore uncharted in the genre of romantic comedies. Usually, those movies are soft, sentimental and boring. ‘High Fidelity’ has truth and spice."

Adding spice to Black’s off-screen life is Laura Kightlinger, a standup comic, the author of a collection of stories called "Quick Shots of False Hope" and a writer for "Will and Grace." "We’ve been together for a long time and we love each other," he says. "Recently, we bought a house together in Beachwood Canyon, but we don’t see any reason to get married, to pay for expensive ceremonies and a bunch of people stressing me out. We’re dinks—you know, double-income, no kids. A powerful Hollywood couple."

One suspects that Black, who admits to reading, meditating and taking quiet walks, is more staid citizen than party animal. "I enjoy grass," he says, probably not alluding to his Beachwood Canyon acreage. "But never pre-show, and not usually with strangers."

Lately, total strangers feel certain they know Black. "Some actors love being recognized, but I don’t like losing my privacy," he says with a sigh. "I’ll be in a burrito restaurant and somebody will come over and say, ‘Hey, dude, what movies are you in?’ I think, ‘You don’t even know. You just kind of recognize me and now I have to list all my credits for you!’ What I really want to do is eat my burrito."