Shelter Dogs Are the Real Stars of the New Steve Carell Movie
Opening Friday, June 22, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World stars Steve Carell as Dodge and Keira Knightley as Penny, an unlikely pair on a journey to tie up loose ends in the final days before an asteroid is scheduled to destroy the planet. Joining them on this ultimate road trip, circa 2021, is a little Terrier mix named Sorry. He's played by a canine actor named Aleister, a four-footed force to be reckoned with. More cool than cute, Aleister valiantly holds his own in a closeup with the charismatic Carell.
Although Aleister doesn't actually chew any scenery, he never lets himself be pup-staged. Is he guilty of stealing hearts and occasionally disrupting his co-stars' concentration? Maybe.
"I think I wanted to kill him about day two," confesses Keira Knightley. Audiences will be surprised to see this normally glamorously costumed actress garbed for dog-walking duty, right down to the Converse on her feet! What could've possibly been sweet Aleister's offense? "His ass in my face!" she says with a laugh, adding, "The wonderful thing about dogs is, if they don't want to sit down, they're not going to."
Notes Carell in his signature deadpan, "There was never any fun to be had with the dog, because as sweet as that dog is -- and I think he steals the show -- frankly, dogs never do anything close to what you want them to do. Plus, he had really bad breath." Obviously, the experience didn't turn Carell completely off dogs; he and his family are welcoming home a Golden Retriever pup named Clyde this week.
Amid orgies, suicides, rioting, food stockpiling, and other run-of-the-mill, end-of-days events, the dog is a welcome, grounding presence. Here's how he gets his name: Carell's character Dodge awakens in a park the morning after a very rough night. Tied to his leg is a leash, at the other end of which is the little terrier mix, calmly sitting, staying, and staring at him. On Carell's chest, weighted down with a pebble, is a scrap of paper on which someone has scrawled "SORRY." Like a bite of bittersweet chocolate, this scene perfectly captures the darkly humorous tone of the movie.
Seeking a Friend is the brainchild of a serious dog lover: First-time director Lorene Scafaria, acclaimed screenwriter of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, who conceived and penned the script. The New Jersey native is a Taurean triple threat: Besides writing and directing, she fronts a band called the Shortcoats (another band member is actor Adam Brody, who plays Knightley's ex in Seeking a Friend). Scafaria resides in Los Angeles with her own two beloved rescued mutts, Ronja and Nora. "When I saw Aleister and his wonderful scrappy snaggletooth and wiry coat, I loved him and felt, 'Here's our hero dog,'" she says.
Great care was taken in casting the movie's plum roles, from Martin Sheen as Carell's father, to Derek Luke as Knightley's other ex, to, yes, the pack of dogs who play Sorry -- Aleister plus his two stunt doubles, Mulligan and Rita, all "discovered" at California animal shelters and trained by star wrangler Sarah Clifford of Animal Savvy. Aleister got his big break when he was sprung from a shelter in 2008. Although he's appeared in numerous print and TV commercials and had a part in a student film, Seeking a Friend marks the dog star's feature film debut.
Meanwhile, Mulligan, one of Aleister's stand-ins, was pulled from a shelter on the very morning he was scheduled to be put down! Talk about raw talent: "He learned the ropes and was doing takes only two weeks after we took him out of the shelter," Clifford says. "Mulligan did the scene where Sorry is crawling down the fire escape, and anything else that required a lot of action."
There ought to be a special award, on Oscar night, for movies that showcase shelter mutts as the superstars they are -- and for the filmmakers who recognize those pups' performing potential. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is just that kind of flick.
If you're seeking a good time at the movies, go see it. You won't be sorry.