In the new comedy The D Train, Jack Black plays Dan Landsman, a small town family man who’s desperately clinging to his position as chairman of his high school reunion committee. Dan becomes convinced that if he can lure back the popular Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) — who headed out for Hollywood years ago — to attend the reunion, it will make him a hero in the eyes of his friends, fellow former students and patient wife Stacey (Kathryn Hahn).
But Dan’s best laid plans go wildly awry and he finds himself telling more and more lies to himself, his boss (Jeffrey Tambor), Stacey and just about everyone — while also discovering that neither Oliver nor he are what they seem. The characters and situations in The D Train are rich and well thought out, and we sat down briefly with Black and Marsden to talk about both.
Jack, your character is not the most likable guy in the world. What did you find to like about him, or do you need to find something to like about a character when you play him?
Black: Well, yeah, usually that is the thing that you look for in a character, is “Okay, how is this character relatable, what are his hopes and dreams, what does he love and how will audiences relate to this character?” And you really just want people to love you as a character. But this is a much different kind of movie and that is part of why I was so into it, is that it’s unconventional in that the “hero” is kind of a turd and not really likable at all. And that’s what the movie’s about, being popular or unpopular and what that means. It might not always — sometimes it’s hard to watch, ‘cause he keeps on getting into these awkward situations, but I find it very compelling and interesting as a character study and that’s why I wanted to do it.
James, for you, you’re an actor who left Oklahoma, came to L.A. and has a career out here. Oliver left Pennsylvania, came to L.A., and hasn’t had as good a go at it as you have had, it’s fair to say, but can you relate to that aspect of leaving home, then going back and seeing the way people perceive you when you go back?
Marsden: Yeah, when I moved out to L.A. like 22 years ago, first of all I was too young and naïve and dumb to worry about, like, failing. I was just like, this is going to happen and I’m going to take the town by storm. That didn’t necessarily happen, but yeah, I never thought about had it not worked out, would I be able to — would I go back and like show my face and go to school, or would I just be like, “Oh, I’m going to hide out in L.A. and tell people that I’m doing well.” I don’t know. But I never thought about those pressures…I wasn’t too concerned with what other people thought. At the time I was just like, I knew that this was the only thing I felt like I was good at, and if you weren’t a successful actor, I’d figure something else out and do something else in the business or whatever. I just knew that I wasn’t going to, you know, sell insurance or ride a tractor.
The movie centers around a man crush that goes sideways and there’s some sexual things involved, but it avoids the clichés that a lot of other movies might get into. There’s not a lot of homosexual panic going on, but a lot of other feelings. Can you address that a bit?
Black: Yeah, I mean, when these scenarios have been broached in past comedies, it’s always like, “Oh, I’m so not that, I’m a normal guy, I’m so horrified that that happened that I’m going to take a shower and (makes gagging sound)…” You know, that’s kind of an old joke now, the homophobic joke. So that was another reason I was kind of into this approach, was that it was just something new. It was a little more of a brave and real approach, yeah. That’s what you look for.
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..