Jake Johnson and D’Arcy Carden have never talked in person. Well, they were introduced in passing at an awards show a few years back, but they didn’t get to have much of a conversation, and they certainly hadn’t collaborated prior to starring in the new indie comedy Ride The Eagle, which was co-written by Johnson alongside director Trent O’Donnell. Despite literally sharing the screen in the film, the two still haven’t met face to face, only via texts, emails, and Zoom windows. That’s because Ride The Eagle, like many productions since March 2020, was shot under strict COVID safety guidelines, and their characters’ relationship—one of a possibly rekindled romance—plays out entirely over the phone. That Johnson and Carden’s winning chemistry is as technology-reliant as their movie counterpoints’ chemistry gives Ride The Eagle a charming naturalism and a meta-textual level of profundity.
For Jake Johnson, Ride The Eagle was initially about rekindling his love for acting. In the thick of the pandemic, he and his frequent New Girl director Trent O’Donnell began kicking around ideas for a small movie they could make, just the two of them. As the ball started rolling, their movie grew to something a bit more expansive, though no less personal: After the death of his mother, Leif (Johnson) is left with a conditional inheritance, in which he must complete her peculiar to-do list in order to move into her gorgeous cabin near the Yosemite valley. One such “to-do,” was for Leif to call and apologize to “the one that got away,” and it’s a role Johnson knew would be crucial to the story. But, once The Good Place’s D’arcy Carden signed on for the part, the filmmakers were certain they had nothing to worry about: “There was a lot of anxiety,” says Johnson, “and after all those rehearsals and talking [we did]—once D’arcy was in—we knew, ‘alright, this thing’s going to work.’ And [even] if nothing else works, we now had this, the heart of it.”
No strangers to conversing over Zoom, Johnson and Carden were happy to virtually reunite with The A.V. Club to discuss Ride The Eagle’s remote production schedule, and to share how the film’s themes have stuck with them, even as many Hollywood productions have gone back to business as usual. In the video below, the pair share how they were able to quickly find their collaborative groove, and gush over Ride The Eagle’s breakthrough performance: Nora the dog.
But, because Jake Johnson and D’arcy Carden never got to film together in-person, they missed out on one of the great traditions of a film’s press cycle: Reminiscing about stories from set. To make up for it, The A.V. Club decided to revive our game, Stock Photo Cinema, in which we show random stock images to some of our favorite funny performers and challenge them to come up with the stories behind the photos. This time around, Johnson and Carden riffed on some (fake) behind-the-scenes shots from Ride The Eagle, revealing the (fake) juicy secrets from set. For example, did you know that Michael Douglas had a role in the movie that got cut? Or that D’arcy and her stand-in didn’t get along? Or that Nora the dog had an affair with the dog who ran craft services? If it all sounds a little too wild to be true, well, you might be onto something. You can hear the two gifted improvisors riff on Stock Photo Cinema in the video below.
Trent O’Donnell’s Ride The Eagle stars Jake Johnson, D’arcy Carden, Susan Sarandon, and J.K. Simmons. It’s available via On Demand and Digital beginning July 30.