Jack Black: Fear is the rocket sauce

Actor-musician Jack Black.
CBS News

(CBS News) Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black has been getting a lot of "reaction" lately, for his current performance opposite Shirley MacLaine in the movie "Bernie." It's a more serious role than most fans are used to seeing him play, but one that's now getting some Oscar buzz. He sat down with our own Lee Cowan to talk - and even sing - for this Sunday Profile:

He's often a bit disheveled, with more rounded features than the chiseled ones Hollywood so adores. So Jack Black might seem an unlikely leading man.

Which is why whispers of a possible Oscar nod this year leave him a bit befuddled: "Like, right now when you said that, I got a little flushed, got a little embarrassed, got a little disoriented."

The role everyone is talking about is "Bernie," a seemingly squeaky-clean, slightly effeminate funeral director with a love of gospel music. "I like those gospel jams!"

It's the true story of Bernie Tiede, the nicest guy in a small Texas town, who befriended an angry old widow played by Shirley MacLaine.

"I love mean bitches that are funny!" MacLaine told Cowan. "Oh God, it's sort of like what I've earned the right to be in my own life."

And she plays it to a tee.

Her favorite line in the movie? "There are people in town, honey, that would have shot her for $5."

Funny in a twisted sort of way, because someone DID shoot Marjorie. Bernie did!

To understand what drove an otherwise kind man to murder, Black went to meet the REAL Bernie Tiede, in the Texas prison where he's serving a life sentence.

"Did he ever get mad?" MacLaine asked.

"No, in fact I think that it really his fatal flaw, is that he didn't have a release valve," replied Black.

A convicted killer is a long way from the comedic roles Jack Black is better known for - like the monk-turned-Mexican wrestler in "Nacho Libre." Or the band member-turned-teacher in "School of Rock," a role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

If you sense a lyrical pattern there, there is. Music was actually Jack Black's first love.

"My favorites were Ozzy Osbourne and Bobby McFerrin. I would've liked to have been a hybrid of those two," he said.

"I heard you went through a Billy Joel phase, though?" asked Cowan.

"We don't have to talk about that phase, do we? Listen, there's no shame in it. He wrote some tasty jams!" Black laughed.

Black grew up in Hermosa Beach, Calif., where his parents were both scientists - aerospace engineers, to be exact.

So was he good at math and science?" "Not so much!" Black laughed. "I don't know what happened . . . My parentses were real good at math learnin', but I didn't inherit that!"

His music gene was accompanied by a video game gene - in fact, that's what lead to his first paying gig: A TV commercial for Atari's Pitfall Harry.

He even remembers his lines:

"Just last night I was lost in the jungle with Pitfall Harry, surrounded by giant scorpions and cobra ratters and man-eating crocodiles."

"Ya' always remember your first gig," Black said.

He got noticed early on in the film "Bob Roberts." But it didn't lead to anything big.

So once again, he turned to music . . . and starting writing songs with his friend Kyle Gass for their band called Tenacious D.

"The first one that we wrote was about a painful breakup I had with a girl in college." Not funny.

"At one time I could advise,
but now I'm lost in my own pain.
So easy to die another death,
I can't seem to fall through,
Won't 'cha hit me with your breath! . . . "

"Oh my God, I can't believe I revealed that!"

"Does that bring back bad memories?" Cowan asked.

"Well, that's the end of my career! Good job, pulling out the darkest, deepest secrets."