We recently had a chance to attend roundtable interviews with the cast and directors behind the new comedy The D Train. Written and directed by Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, the film stars Jack Black as certified loser Dan Landsman who believes that he can slough off that mantle if he can convince the coolest guy in high school to attend their reunion back home in Pittsburgh. James Marsden stars as Oliver Lawless, the aforementioned BMOC, now a struggling actor in Hollywood, and Kathryn Hahn plays Dan’s uber-patient wife.
Things spin out of control when Dan and Oliver embark on a wild night out in L.A., with a surprise twist that catches many viewers off guard. So at the The D Train’s press day, we chatted about that surprise, making the movie, high school reunions, first big breaks and even Touched by an Angel. Here are 10 of our favorites:
“We started with the character. We just like the idea of this guy who’s kind of haunted by his high school past, desperate to change it in some way,” Mogel said. “We’re both at the age of our 20-year reunion and maybe that seeped in subconsciously,” added Paul.
Here’s a bit of trivia: The D Train isn’t the first time that Jack Black and James Marsden appeared onscreen together. They were both guest stars on the same episode of Touched by an Angel. “We had to be reminded of the fact that we worked together on that years ago,” said Marsden. “And it wasn’t like we were two different guest stars in two different storylines. We were like the drug dealers. We were partners in crime in the episode.” (We looked it up: It was 1995’s “Angels on the Air”—which also starred Melissa Joan Hart.)
In The D Train, Oliver’s big break is a national Banana Boat spot that plays in Pittsburgh, setting Dan’s scheme in motion. Black and Marsden were asked about their own big breaks. “I did a date rape episode of Blossom,” Marsden said. “I date raped Blossom. It was ‘a very special episode.’” Black added, “I had a commercial when I was 13, that was in 1983, and that was for an Atari video game called Pitfall. And the kids at school saw me in that commercial—which was my whole mission. I was super famous and popular for about two days.”
He knew then he was bitten by the acting bug. “I knew I had to get more. It was just like a little taste of crack.”
Marsden missed his most recent high school reunion (in Oklahoma). “I wasn’t against going, but I was out of town working or something, I couldn’t go. I would have gone. The people that I was friends with in high school, I still keep in touch with.” Black added, “I went to my 20-year reunion (in Santa Monica, Calif.) and had a good time. But there was some anxiety. Some of those old feelings come rushing back. And suddenly, you’re a teenager again.”
Hahn, who went to an all-girls Catholic school in Cleveland, Ohio, said she last attended her 10-year high school reunion. “I’m still good friends with a couple of the ladies from my class … but yeah, [reunions] are nightmares. … It’s a place for reinvention. You can decide what you want to show of yourself after all these years, what you’ve become. It’s an idealized version of yourself.”
“I like my character because he wasn’t really likable, and that was an interesting thing to see in a comedy. I hadn’t ever really read anything like that before. Usually the formula is that you got to root for your hero in some way, and this guy’s kind of a turd,” Black said. “And you don’t really root for him. You don’t really like him, and sometimes it’s difficult to watch him. He’s getting [into] cringeworthy situations where he’s so desperate to be liked and loved.
“There was something very intriguing about that guy. That guy usually doesn’t have a movie made about him.”
“It was so refreshing. I never get to play these parts. Very rarely am I like the grounding anchor. And this is a role and trope that you’ve seen like a gazillion times, and I really dug her specificity. I liked her goodness, and I was interested in the mystery of her. Like why is she with this person [Dan] after all this time? It was interesting investigating that. She’s a big mystery.”
“I’m very gifted at impressions,” she cracked. “No, I have the worst Christopher Walken. I have the worst anything … Someone [at People magazine] asked me to do an impression, and I was embarrassing … but who doesn’t have a bad Christopher Walken impression in their back pocket?”
“I think I saw A Child’s Christmas in Wales [at the Cleveland Playhouse], being moved by it and then begging my parents to take classes.”
The D Train was shot on a condensed schedule. “When [Dan and Oliver] first meet in the L.A. club—just in terms of the scale of it, all the extras, and we were very rushed,” Paul said. “We shot it in New Orleans, and making New Orleans look like Los Angeles, that was probably the most difficult. We had 21 days to make it, and it was … tight.”
Spoiler alert: In The D Train, there’s a surprising moment of passion between Dan and Oliver. “That was the last scene of the movie that we shot,” said Marsden. “We were very professional,” joked Black. “I think we had some powerful mints. [We] just tasted… What are those curiously strong mints? Altoids. Altoids and barbiturates. Added Marsden, “I wasn’t ready for the sensation of what stubble felt like.”
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.