After working as writers for several years on projects like Yes Man and the TV show Allen Gregory, Jarrad Paul (who’s also an actor) and Andrew Mogel make their directing debut on The D Train, which they also wrote. The movie is a sharp comedy about age, sexual identity and celebrity culture, starring Jack Black in an outstanding performance as Dan Landsman, a small town family man who tries to track down the most popular guy from his class (James Marsden) and convince him to attend their high school reunion.
Dan’s scheme doesn’t go exactly as planned, and while he does convince Marsden’s Oliver Lawless – now an actor in Hollywood – to come home, that ends up only being the start of Dan’s problems. Screen Rant got a chance to chat with Mogel and Paul about their wickedly funny and truthful movie.
What was behind the decision to shoot this in New Orleans (it takes place in L.A. and Pennsylvania)?
Mogel: It was really a tax incentive…
Paul: Tax weird stuff…
Mogel: It wasn’t set in New Orleans and that was kind of a challenge, but…
Paul: Making New Orleans look like Pittsburgh and L.A. is very difficult.
You had to make it look like two different cities.
Paul: We wouldn’t have chosen to do it there – nothing against New Orleans.
Mogel: But it ended up being great. We were very happy.
Paul: It ended up working out.
I read that you worked on the script for three years, so how did it change over time from the initial concept to what was in front of the camera?
Paul: The script wasn’t three years, the whole thing was probably three years, but…
Mogel: The script didn’t change that much.
Paul: Yeah, the script didn’t change that much. You always tweak stuff as you go, and when you cast certain actors, you know, we adjusted certain things. But no, we…
Mogel: But it was pretty much what it was. The basic structure of it wasn’t very much changed.
Is the character that Jack plays, Dan, based on people you’ve encountered? How did you come up with the character?
Paul: Not really. I mean, there’s always people that you know that seep into the stuff, but…
Mogel: And we’ve always loved delusion as a character trait.
Paul: Love delusional people.
Mogel: People that have no sense of what they’re doing (laughs), so it started with that kind of idea, and somebody who was really desperate to change his high school image, and how far would somebody go to do that.
There’s also the idea of being unfulfilled, which is kind of a universal thing that everybody can feel, and certainly the two of them (Dan and Oliver) are feeling that.
Paul: Yeah. So that’s personal; we have huge issues with unfulfillment.
Have you satisfied any of those issues by directing your first film?
Mogel: (smiling) Not really (laughs). No, this was incredible.
Paul: Yeah, an incredible experience.
Mogel: But I think if we went back to high school, we would still feel unfulfilled.
Paul: Oh definitely.
If you went to your high school reunion now, what would you expect to find there?
Paul: Nothing, nothing good. I can’t imagine…
Mogel: A lot of judgment?
Paul: Yeah. That’s maybe the universal thing you’re talking about, just that kind of –
Mogel: Fear of what that is.
Paul: Yeah, and just how you fall back into exactly that high school persona that you…
Mogel: No matter what you do in your life, you go back and you’re that, it’s that same dynamic, it feels like.
What did you learn about yourselves as first-time filmmakers and what were the challenges of directing your first film?
Mogel: Want to handle that one?
Paul: It’s a good question. I don’t. But what did we learn about ourselves as filmmakers? Just that, I think, there are so many hurdles every step of the way, especially with a movie of this size, there’s just a lot of people saying “no” constantly, and I think that maybe, you know, you learn that you’ve just got to keep barreling through. It’s a lot of…
Mogel: A lot of problem solving. It seems that at every turn there’s just another issue that you’ve got to figure out how to deal with.
Was there one sequence in particular that was especially challenging?
Mogel: It wasn’t so much that. I think it was really in general the amount of time that we had to get what we wanted was very limited, and not much rehearsal time with the actors beforehand, so it was just kind of jumping right in our first movie and…
Paul: So that was challenging. I guess we learned to kind of trust our instincts on the fly a little bit, and how to work out things that needed to be worked out, fixed and stuff.
How was working with Jack, James and Kathryn? You didn’t write with people in mind, but how was the experience of creating the characters with them?
Mogel: It was so much better than what we had written, basically. They brought so much to it and made it their own, and they’re just all so good at both comedy and drama, so that was – all the actors we had just do both really well, and that was what we were looking for, because there are moments of, you know, real stuff in it and there’s also comedic moments, so.
Paul: We always had Jack in mind. We always were huge fans of his and thought that he would be amazing in this, and not only is he so funny, but he’s such a…
Mogel: Great actor.
Paul: Amazing actor.
All his life, Dan Landsman (Jack Black) has never been the cool guy. That’s about to change – if he can convince Oliver Lawless (Marsden), the most popular guy from his high school who’s now the face of a national Banana Boat ad campaign, to show up with him to their class reunion. A man on a mission, Dan travels from Pittsburgh to LA and spins a web of lies to recruit Lawless. But he gets more than he bargains for as the unpredictable Lawless proceeds to take over his home, career, and entire life. Showcasing Jack Black and James Marsden’s most intoxicating performances to date, D TRAIN serves up the question: how far would you go to be popular? Co-starring Kathryn Hahn and Jeffrey Tambor.
The D Train is directed by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel; produced by Mike White, David Bernad, Jack Black, Priyanka Mattoo, Ben Latham-Jones, Barnaby Thompson, and stars Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Mike White, Kyle Bornheimer, Henry Zebrowski, Russell Posner and Jeffrey Tambor
The D-Train is now open in limited release..