Pete Wentz Talks Bringing A Little Edge to Nickelodeon's 'School of Rock'

Robert Voets/Nickelodeon
The cast of Nickelodeon's School of Rock. 

Because the world could use a little more Dewey Finn… Nickelodeon’s remix of 2003 film School of Rock as a weekly series premieres Saturday (March 12) after the Kids’ Choice Awards. The show is amplified with a cast cover song in each episode and a story arc featuring Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz.

Although Jack Black isn’t in the lineup – Tony Cavalero of LA improv troupe The Groundlings plays wanna-be rocker/substitute teacher Dewey - the show has the blessing of the team behind the original movie. The film’s director Richard Linklater and producer Scott Rudin are among the exec producers, and Mike White adapted his original screenplay for the small screen.

And it’s got some rock’n’roll cred via Wentz, who plays a pal of Dewey’s from his band days in two episodes.

“I’ve never really done stuff with younger actors before and the energy level is off the charts,” he tells Billboard. “It’s like hanging out with little espresso shots.”

Wentz’s character is a hardcore rocker, but with a touch of innuendo. “He thinks it’s silly that Dewey is now playing with these kids in a band, but you can tell he’s a little bit jealous. He offers a view into what Dewey’s life used to be like, and there’s a character arc where he changes a little as it goes on.”

Nickelodeon isn’t the first outfit to reinvent the hit movie. An Andrew Lloyd Webber-penned musical opened on Broadway in December. The network is hoping to connect with young fans and maybe draw in their parents too, with the cast covering a mix of classic rock tunes and current pop hits. The season’s set list ranges from the Romantics’ What I Like About You to Meghan Trainor’s Lips Are Moving, from Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It to Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance.

Wentz says he was drawn to the project because he’s a fan of the film, “and it’s always fun to do something my kids can watch, too.”

Turns out he’s a bit of a movie buff, too, with “almost anything that came out in the ‘80s, especially John Hughes” topping his list. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, he attended New Trier High School, the setting for Hughes’ 1985 screen gem The Breakfast Club and says, “The neighborhood I grew up in is exactly like the neighborhood in Home Alone.”

Wentz, who’s done some television including as a host on Oxygen’s Best Ink, is jazzed about exploring more roles in front of, and behind, the camera. His production company Bartskull Films is shopping a pilot he wrote and stars in. “It’s kind of like a fish out of water, Curb Your Enthusiasm-type look at the idea that you’re in a rock band and also a dad in the suburbs.” Sound like anyone he knows? Although the show is scripted, “it’s hyper-reality, like the way Larry David does an impersonation of himself in Curb,” Wentz says.

Of course Wentz is keeping plenty busy with Fall Out Boy, currently touring their album American Beauty/American Psycho around US. And even with the band’s continued success, this rocker doesn’t like to exhale.

“It’s still not a no-brainer. Our sound is not straight-ahead for pop radio. Every song we’ve put out, even Centuries, none of them are straight-ahead top 40 radio,” he says. “We walk in and they’re always like, ‘This is a little weird for is.’ Which is good. We’ve always been a little bit outsiders in pop culture and I think pop culture needs outsiders.”