Early last week, a select group of journalists submitted questions during a virtual press conference over Zoom for canine dramedy, Dog. Seasoned actor (and co-director) Channing Tatum and co-director/writer Reid Carolin answered a variety of questions about their excellent new film. The moderator selected one of our questions, which Channing answered with childlike glee. Read on for our interaction with Channing, as well as a select array of answers from the remainder of the conference!
Channing, what was your favorite part about pulling double duty as both director, co-director, and lead actor?
CHANNING TATUM: My favorite part?
REID CAROLIN: Yeah, what was great about it?
CHANNING: I mean, it’s tough to say what’s favorite, you know, when you’re in the middle of the throes of trying to make a movie. It’s chaos! You don’t know if you’re doing anything right. Just being an actor alone, you never leave a scene going: “nailed that one!”
You never ever have that feeling. I don’t care what scene it is. So that is part of it. I think the directing of it… I really enjoyed the setting it up more than the actual experience of directing. I think I was directing the dog more, and Reid was directing me. We just didn’t have any time, no one has enough time on a movie. Enjoyment is a really tough word there. Fulfilling, it was definitely fulfilling. I can say I scratched that itch, and tried to direct a movie.
If I ever do it again, I definitely won’t be in the movie. Editing I did not like. There was enjoyment in editing. I should never edit myself period. I found out that was mentally an unhealthy thing for me.
Aside from our question that was picked, there were several others that I found eye-opening about Dog.
Channing, there are several dogs who play Lulu in the film. Can you talk about all the training you did with the dogs, the work that went into it?
CHANNING: Yeah, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd (basically the same dog, just different colors) are primarily the work dogs in these high-level multipurpose canine spots, for all the teams, like Navy Seals, Rangers, Special Forces. On any of the teams, these are like the ultimate tool.
If you’ve not been around them, they are different animals. They are not your normal dog. It’s hard to describe it. Their brains, their minds work so fast. I liken it to when a cat sort of sleeps all day, and then does something so fast that you can’t even quite understand how they just did it so fast? You’re just like, what just happened? Because a cat can move really fast, their mind works really fast when it wants to. These dogs are like that a hundred percent of the time.
They’re switched on, they’re hyper, they love working. They wanna constantly be doing something, they’re almost like a shark. They sort of pace and just be like, ‘what are we doing, what are we doing, what are we doing, what are we doing?’ I own a Dutch Shepherd now and she is very much the same. You can’t go to the bathroom without her being like, ‘I’m coming with you, this is what we’re doing.’ I would never wanna do a movie ever without doing it with one of these dogs. If I get later in my life offered a movie to do a part that has a dog, I’m probably gonna say no.
These dogs are really specifically set up to want to do this job. They never got tired. They never didn’t want to do a stunt. They were just ready to rock the whole time. I’ve worked on other movies that had little moments with other animals. Horses are generally amazing to work with, but dogs and cats? Nah. These are the only dogs I’ll work with.
We used three dogs. Lanafi was our smallest, Britter which was our middle, and Zuza which was our biggest dog. Britter, our middle dog was kind of our hero dog. She did a lot of the acting. Zuza does a lot of the wild stuff, you know, we taught her some of the really bucking, kind of crazy pulling on the leash and wild things. Lana was really one that would lay on her side and lay down. These dogs generally don’t love to lay down and do things like that. They all were kind of really specific for how we used them, and I bonded probably the most with Britter because I had most of the really close acting with her.
Reid, there’s humor, there’s heart, there’s action, there’s a cute dog in the film. What do you hope audiences experience when they see this movie?
REID: Honestly, I hope they have a great time at the movie theater, like I just hope people laugh a lot, I hope people stay engaged with the film. They’re gonna take from it whatever they take from it, but I hope they get a window into a world of people and animals that we rarely ever get to see.
This community of special operations soldiers (canine handlers specifically) and their dogs really gifted us incredible access to their culture. They started gifting that to us in a documentary that we did with them or HBO called War Dog, this was a handful of years ago. Our friendships with them continued into this movie. Those guys were on set with us for a lot of the movie. They’re with us, now doing press, their dogs are always around. I hope people get to see how extraordinary they are, and how incredible the bonds between these soldiers and these animals are, and really how thin the line is between animal and human.
What did you have to do to make sure you nailed it when it came to portraying the bond between handler and dog?
CHANNING: Technically, I am not a handler in the movie, right? So I wasn’t really focused on becoming or being a handler because Briggs, my character, doesn’t know how to be a handler. He’s watched his buddy in his unit work with Lulu, so he gets a little bit of it, but these dogs, they’re very specific, you know? Each dog, not only are they specifically trained, but they’re also just individual animals. One dog is not like the next.
He wouldn’t know all of her tics, he wouldn’t know all of her things, her commands. He knows what they’re capable of. I think these dogs are often some of the highest ranked soldiers in a unit. They’re very, very, very, very special, and really put on a pedestal as such. When one of ‘em gets hurt, they’re a solider, they’re not just a dog. So I didn’t really focus too much on the handling.
I’ve had dogs my whole life. The inspiration or the theme of the movie came from an experience I had with my dog, my first dog. Lulu was my dog that I raised from like six months or six weeks old, I mean, she was just a little tiny ball of fur and grew into a big strong Catahoula Pitbull mix. She lived about 11 years, she got sick, took her on a road trip in some of her last days. I made some really profound lessons in those last days with her, of just surrendering and acceptance.
I came back and told my buddy about the trip, and we kinda started talking about the story. We played around with that actual story of the bucket list trip of a dog and his owners, or his buddy. It just was a little too sad. It wasn’t really emblematic of me and Lulu. My Lulu’s life together, our life was an adventure. It was joyful and funny and hilarious and crazy at times. That’s the kind of story that we wanted to tell, so we went in this direction, and we had already done the documentary.
REID: I think one of the things I would add in terms of nailing the handler and dog relationship is one of the things we heard from all the guys in our documentary. The dog became more than just a dog. It became a person, a solider, a brother, a sister. It was not looked at as a dog inside that unit. I hope that by the end of the story, both Jackson Briggs, our main character, and the audience feel that way about Lulu, and it’s why we called the movie Dog.
I think people look at the title and go oh, it must have come up within a marketing meeting or something like that because it tested really well. In truth, it’s quite the opposite. It’s about the way we clinically look at these animals, we label them just as animals. Over time, the more extraordinary they become to us, the deeper we see them, the more they become just like us.
Dog comes off its leash when it debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, February 18th. Our full review is coming soon!