Last week, I disobeyed the old industry catchphrase about never working with animals or kids. Desperate for work and beguiled by the script, I signed up to perform alongside a dog in a short film.
I had apprehensions about the prospect of working with a dog, of course, and I voiced them to the producer-figures. I got bitten by a Jack Russell in Thetford when I was nine, and I know it’s not cool to tar them all with the same brush, but I do. I thought I should let them know I was on edge and they arranged for me to meet Dodger and get to know him a bit before filming. Spending time socialising with the dog might make working with him in the cut-and-thrust of a movie set less pressurised, was the thinking.
Me, Dodger and one of the producers met for a Chinese the Saturday before filming started. It helped, I think. These things are always awkward, with long silences as the players eye each other up over noodles. I have an ego, Dodger has an ego. I am suspicious of dogs, dogs are suspicious of columnists who also act. But Dodger seemed like a nice enough lad and we had a lot in common. We haven’t had any formal acting training, we both have beards, and neither of us can use chopsticks. The producer went home, me and Dodge had one more in a slightly quieter bar and then we went our separate ways.
Acting with a dog is tough. There’s a lot of propaganda about how intelligent dogs are, but I’m not sure. Dodge was smart enough and I think we shared a lot of affection for one another, but as an actor he was a bloody nightmare. And I say that knowing for a fact he won’t read this. He took very little interest in me the whole week, so certainly won’t be seeking out my column. The only time he gave me the time of day was when my character was feeding him – then his performance suddenly went through the roof. Aside from that, he was impossible; all over the place with his lines and he had a terrible habit of looking incredibly distant right up to the moment we were turning over.
Deep down the problem might have been that I am not a dog person. And here I was in a situation where I had to talk to, run with and hold a dog. And because I’m not a dog person, I found it difficult to hold Dodger and kept accidentally touching his penis. If you’ve never done any acting let me tell you, that’s a big no-no in this game.
The reaction to Dodger on set was illuminating. As an actor with my skillset I am used to a general indifference, but when it’s thrown into relief by adulation for my co-star it can become demoralising. Bung in the fact that your co-star is a dog and it gets plain depressing. I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but any time our director, Jon, said action, I was all over it like a rash, throwing my arms about, yelling my lines, pouring my life and soul into pretending to be whoever it was the script was suggesting. And down by my shins I had Dodger, listless and sullen, seemingly with no real interest in getting under the skin of the character of Floppy. I swear, half the time he was gazing at the admittedly effervescent make-up girls. And yet on cut there’d be a tidal-wave of praise for the little shit’s acting skills. Dodger this and Dodger that. But that’s the game I guess, and he never rubbed my face in it.
By the end of the week I think there was a begrudging respect between myself and Dodger. As they called cut on the final scene, and the crew applauded, he appeared to wink at me. He seemed to be saying “good job” and that felt good. But at the wrap drinks he was distant with me again. Same old story. His handler said he was tired. Still, it doesn’t cost anything to be pleasant.