By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Funnyman Jack Black takes on a darker character in the black comedy “The D Train.”
He plays Dan Landsman, a guy who’s never been cool. He married his high school sweetheart and works at a consulting firm in his small town where the boss is averse to new technology. No one outside of the small organizing committee he thinks he leads seems interested in attending their 20th high school reunion so Dan comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant idea: get the most popular guy in their class to come to the reunion and the rest of the former classmates will follow.
Dan hoodwinks his boss to send him on a trip to Los Angeles ostensibly to meet with a potential new client, but instead he is actually planning to convince Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) to come to the reunion. Oliver’s the star of a new Banana Boat sunscreen lotion campaign, which makes him one of the big success stories to come out of their school. After a drug-fueled romp around L.A. nightclubs, Dan and reckless Oliver return to Oliver’s apartment, where things get weird.
Dan returns home with a gamut of emotions. When Oliver shows up for the reunion, he seems to be oblivious to Dan’s feelings, which makes things very awkward on the night of the reunion.
Co-directed and written by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, the edgy comedy also stars Kathryn Hahn (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “Happyish”) and Jeffrey Tambor (“The Larry Sanders Show”) and frequent Black collaborator Mike White.
Married with two boys with his real life high school sweetheart, Black says playing an unlikable character was something that appealed to him.
Dressed casually for an interview in a green plaid shirt and jeans, the stout Southern California native, who has been acting since he was a teenager, spoke about his new film, having a love scene with the handsome Marsden and what’s ahead.
Q: Your character is very different from the characters you’ve played before, so what attracted you to this one? Were there specific aspects of the character that you could identify with?
Black: I like my character because he wasn’t really likable and that was sort of an interesting thing to see in a comedy. I hadn’t ever really read anything that was like that before. Usually, the formula is that you have to root for your hero in some way, and this guy’s kind of a turd, and you don’t really root for him. You don’t really like him. Sometimes it’s difficult to watch him because it’s (exasperated sound) just scenario after scenario of cringe-worthy situations because he’s so desperate to be liked and loved, and there was something that was so interesting about that to me that I wanted to play. I’ve always been intrigued by those kinds of people in my life. When I see them—the least-popular people—there’s something interesting about that and maybe it’s something in me that I am working out. I don’t know why I’m so interested in it but I find it very intriguing—a movie about that guy. That guy doesn’t usually have a movie made about him.
Q: Your co-star James Marsden opted not to answer a question about the challenges of being a good-looking actor. Do you agree that’s a slippery slope?
Black: You can never complain about being famous and how hard it is to sign autographs and take pictures with you either. That’s a bad, bad look. You won’t hear me complaining about those things.
Q: Can you talk about your chemistry? You and James have an intimate scene. Was that at all difficult for you?
Black: (deadpan) I don’t know if I want to talk about that. What did they say during “The Crying Game” junket? Did they talk about the penis at “The Crying Game” junket? Did they have junkets back in “The Crying Game” days?
Q: What did he taste like?
Black: What did he taste like? We were very professional. We had some powerful mints. What are those “curiously strong” mints?
Black: Yeah, Altoids … and barbiturates.
Q: James said you and he just went for it and committed.
Black: Yeah, it’s only funny if it’s real. It’s sort of silly, then it turns into something dumb that you’ve seen before.
Q: You guys first met when you guest-starred on an episode of “Touched by an Angel,” where you played drug dealers. Have you been friends since then?
Black: Yeah, we worked on that in the mid-‘90s, and we really didn’t keep in touch. It wasn’t until this movie that we were like, “Oh yeah, we have worked together before!”
Q: Could you talk about your own experience with reunions?
Black: I went to my 20-year reunion and had a good time, but there was some anxiety, some of those old feelings that come rushing back and, suddenly, you’re a teenager again.
Q: Did your classmates change much?
Black: Yeah, the (hot) people were still hot.
Q: Did you go to a large high school?
Black: For my last two years of high school, I went to a little private school for the arts and sciences called Crossroads in Santa Monica (Calif.). I don’t remember how many people were in my class but not that many.
Q: What was it like working with Kathryn Hahn, who plays your wife?
Black: She’s so funny. It’s a super dark movie. It’s a comedy but it comes from a very dark part of the psyche. Just to have her around sort of lit up the days we were shooting. Once she would come onto the set, everyone would have a smile and a more positive outlook because you can get dragged down a lot when you’re doing scenes about a turd that no one likes. So, to have her there, was magic. She’s so great.
Q: You had some fun scenes with Jeffrey Tambor, who plays your technologically clueless boss. Do you know people like that in real life?
Black: Yeah. Members of my family can’t deal with technology.
Q: Your character’s tech-savvy, though. The Apple watch recently hit the market. Are you interested in an Apple watch?
Black: You know what? Somebody said it, and I think it’s true; it’s all about fashion. It’s not really about the technology. It’s easier to do that than to pull a phone out of your pocket to see what time it is. And it can be whatever you want it to be. I guess that’s the cool thing. (He mimes changing setting on an Apple watch.) It’s a Mickey Mouse watch. Now it can be this watch. What do you want it to be? I want it to be a Rolex, and it looks like a Rolex. That should be one of the apps.
Q: What was your big break into show business?
Black: The first one that gave me the taste was a commercial when I was 13 years old, which was 1983. That was for an Atari game called “Pitfall.” The kids at school saw me in that commercial, which was my whole mission, so it was “mission accomplished.” They recognized me and I was super-famous and popular for about … two days. And then, magically, it went right back to the way it was before—not so popular. That’s when I got the (acting) bug and I knew I had to get more. It was like a little taste of crack.
Q: Have you had a fan encounter where you don’t know who’s come up to you and they seem to know you?
Black: I just kind of spin it around and talk about them. It gets uncomfortable to talk about myself. (I say) “What’s happening with you?”
Q: Is there a character you’d like to play that you haven’t yet?
Black: There are a couple cooking that I would like to make but I can’t tell you because sometimes those things get stolen. I had one stolen. I wanted to make it so badly. I was flapping my gums about it all over town and I know that’s why he got the idea.
Q: What was it and who was it?
Black: He shall remain nameless.
Q: Any genre you’d like to do next?
Black: I’d like to make a scary movie. I’ve got one for kids coming up. A real scary movie, like “The Shining.” I’d like to do a rock opera.
Q: You’ve got “Kung Fu Panda 3” coming up. What can you say about it?
Black: I think it’s going to be the best one so far. That’s all I can say.