SINGAPORE — The relationship between the human species and dog have been recorded back to tens of thousands of years ago. We all know today’s domestic dogs descended from wolves, and so they share similar wolf-like traits with intriguing ties to humans. According to Colin Groves of Australian National University in Canberra, the human-dog relationship equals to a long-lasting symbiosis: “Dogs acted as human's alarm systems, trackers, and hunting aides, garbage disposal facilities, hot water bottles, and children's guardians and playmates. Humans provided dogs with food and security. The relationship was stable over 100,000 years or so, and intensified in the Holocene into mutual domestication. Humans domesticated dogs, and dogs domesticated humans."
Of course, with this piece of history in place, Hollywood takes a leaf out of this wonderful symbiosis to share with us furry friendship tales - whether told from the dog’s perspective or as a supporting character - films like, Marley and Me, Bolt, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale have previously tugged at our heartstrings.
Marley & Me
Based on the bestselling book by journalist Josh Grogan, the film circles around the Grogans who adopt a 12-pound yellow Labrador puppy named Marley, which then grows up to be a handful to deal with. The movie starred actors Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.
An animated comedy voiced by John Travolta, Malcom McDowell and Miley Cyrus, the film tells a story of super-dog TV personality Bolt, who is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City. Cue: an adventure of a lifetime!
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
While our eyes were welled with tears from the original Japanese flick, this movie succeeds in doing the same! Richard Gere stars in the Hollywood remake as a college professor who adopts an abandoned dog, who in turn teaches him the meaning of faith and love with a lifelong bond.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his film debut at 10 years old, in this 1992 family comedy about a dog named Beethoven. While the adorable pup grows up to be a household mishap, a family patriarch hatches secret plans to ditch the furry family member.
Frankenweenie, which happens to be Tim Burton’s pet project, is based on a short film he created in 1984. It follows the story of a boy who resurrects his dead dog ala Frankenstein, and the next thing you know, the neighbourhood’s kids get wind of it.
A pack of sled dogs were left behind in a torturous cold environment but a rescue mission is underway by their owner. The film starred the late Paul Walker, who went on to star in the successful Fast & Furious franchise before his untimely death in 2013.
Lassie Come Home
This black-and-white film actually spun the original TV series named Lassie in 1954. The film centers around the friendship between a dog and a boy, whose pure love goes against all obstacles.
This summer, another film is set to draw coos and tears; in The Art of Racing In The Rain, a funny and philosophical dog named Enzo (voiced by actor Kevin Costner) will take us through a journey of love, family, big dreams and relationships. Based on the bestselling book of the same name by Garth Stein, the film is directed by Simon Curtis and stars Milo Ventimiglia and Amanda Seyfried, as a couple who settles down to have a family.
Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore delves deeper into Milo’s role in the film, his working relationship with actress Amanda Seyfried and whether he is a dog lover prior to working on this title.
Can you explain what the title The Art of Racing In The Rain refers to?
“As you can surmise from the title, racing in the rain is very difficult. Rain is an unpredictable factor. You can apply that metaphor to life: the unpredictability of life and how you don’t know what’s coming your way. You really don’t know as a race car driver how the rain is going to affect your car, so the idea of mastering the art of racing in the rain is akin to how you deal with life and the things it’s going to throw at you to take you off the track.”
So your character Denny is single-minded?
“Yes, he’s a young man who’s dedicated to racing and his career. He wants to hone his skills. He meets Eve and they fall in love and quickly get married and have a kid. I think he takes on a different kind of race at that point, because all of a sudden he has a family to provide for, though he still has his dreams. So Denny’s journey involves going from the passion of driving to the reality of what his family needs, and the film looks at how those two intersect in both a positive and a negative way. Then he loses sight of racing because of the events that happen to his family. Eve gets sick and there are some other circumstances that are difficult in his life. But he finds his way back to his dreams.”
What has it been like working with Amanda Seyfried, who plays Eve?
“She’s one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with. She’s fun, she’s funny, she’s beautiful and she’s unique in her outlook. Everything is real for her. The moments on screen are real for her. That is very much how I work too, and I feel that Denny and Eve come alive through us. So when we’re on set and we’re playing this very deep love story, there is a lot of love between the two of us.”
It is a touching story – as well as being uplifting – and the subject matter must be very emotional for you both?
“Yes, Amanda actually said to me, ‘Hey, you’re going to have to remind me that I’m not sick,’ and so every day we would have to play pretty heartbreaking scenes and at the end of the day, I’ve had to say to Amanda, ‘Hey, you’re not sick. This is all pretend, you’re doing great.’”
What is Denny’s relationship with Enzo like?
“His dog is his best friend, who is always there with him. He even has a line where he says, ‘You and me, Enzo. It’s always you and me.’ And that is something which tracks through the entire story. But Denny has to open his world up, of course, when love strikes his heart with Eve and then when he finds a deeper love with his daughter, Zoë. But Enzo is a constant.”
The film is interesting because Enzo is a central character as the narrator?
“Having Enzo as the storyteller is really interesting because we, as the human characters, don’t know what’s going on in his head, so we’re not hearing anything he ‘says.’ We’re just living our lives and experiencing what we are going through. For the audience to have this journeyman taking them through the story is exciting. When we’re acting, Parker and Butler, the dogs playing Enzo, are my scene partners. I look at them and I think, ‘I need to experience this bond and camaraderie with these dogs as I would as a dog owner. I’m not hearing the narration at all, but I know our script supervisor is timing everything. All I’m doing is looking into the dog’s eyes or petting the dog or walking or running with the dog. I’m just being a dog owner.”
Are you a dog owner?
“No. And I’m not a father or a husband either. But I am a dog lover – absolutely. It was very important to me to bond with the dogs, so any moment I’ve had in between takes or before filming has really been time spent understanding how they train the dogs. I had to connect with the dogs just like I would with Amanda or anyone else in the film. They’re my scene partners and I want to be their scene partner, so the moment the trainers need me to do something, I’m there for them.”
What do you think about the casting of Kevin Costner as the voice of Enzo?
“He has such a beautiful and soulful voice, which we’ve all known and loved for years, so for him to take us on this journey is great. I’m excited to hear him play Enzo.”
Tell me about working with your director, Simon Curtis?
“It’s been fun. We’ve developed a shorthand of knowing what’s right for the moment and for the character. He has given me a chance to expand and grow within the character. It’s been a lot of fun to collaborate with him. It’s always nice to have a director who’s also a partner, sharing the experience of the journey of these characters in the film.”
Denny has a clear sense of purpose in his career – how does he approach racing?
“With racing, it’s all about instinct. Denny is acting on instinct. He doesn’t need to think too much about what he’s doing, particularly in a race car. He knows what he needs to do and that’s his journey with racing in the rain. He knows that because rain is an unpredictable element, if he makes the car do something, he can already react to it before the car knows what’s happening. So, he’s able to control it.”
How does that compare to your process as an actor?
“It is actually the opposite in some ways. Denny goes for control, I let the wheels fall off as an actor (laughs). I don’t control anything. There is something that I kind of discovered in the last two years: I can only prepare, I can’t plan for anything on camera. The second I make a plan, and it doesn’t go according to that plan, I’m lost and then I’m playing catch-up. So, for me, I’ll always prepare, learn the lines, put myself in the right emotional frame of mind for a particular scene, and then I want the scene to go in a direction I never even knew it could go. That’s because I’m paying attention to my partners, so if I’m in a scene with a dog, or with Amanda, I don’t know what’s coming – other than knowing the lines.”
What did you learn about racing during this film?
“Well, Ayrton Senna (the late, legendary, Brazilian Formula One race car driver) is Denny’s hero. Racers say he was the best at racing in the rain. When everyone else would falter and their cars would get out from underneath them, he seemed to go faster and stronger – and that ties into how Denny races. Denny’s strength is like Senna’s. It’s been incredible to embrace that world of racing because I knew very little about it and now I have such great appreciation for what the racers go through. They have the physical strength as well as the mental focus you need to keep the car underneath you and have the car be an extension of you as the driver. I’ve been able to sit in some cars, get in some gear, do a little bit of work, and there are also moments while we’re filming when I can’t do too much.”
You have stunt people doing the riskier action?
“Sure, exactly, and that’s great, because racers train. Me, I’ve taken 23 years to train as an actor, but I can’t just become a professional race car driver!”
The Art of Racing in the Rain opens today in Singapore and 29 August in Malaysia.