Actor Ad-Libs Kisses in Marley & Me
Working with an actor who constantly ad-libs isn’t always easy, veering from the script and blocking (movement on the set) can throw off the other actors, camera’s and the director. However, when the ad-libs are funny, and you’re making a comedy – it’s hard to argue. Besides, this ad-libbing actor, named Clyde, is also a Hollywood newcomer, and he happens to be a Labrador Retriever.
While 22 dogs play Marley in “Marley & Me,” (opening Christmas Day), Clyde is in most of the scenes involving an adult dog.
Director David Frankel defends the novice Bowser actor, “After all, Clyde was playing Marley, the most unruly Labrador Retriever in the world – so he was just getting into the part if he did something unexpected.”
Look for the spot in the movie where Clyde (as Marley) gives a big time dog kiss to Owen Wilson (playing John Grogan, who authored the book “Marley & Me” which the movie is based). Wilson looked surprised because he really had no idea that dog kiss was coming. “That was a first take,” says Frankel. “Clyde was usually best in the first take. And he just ad-libbed that dog kiss, which Owen Wilson gave himself up to. It’s like Owen was attacked with a dog kiss. And it was perfect. That happened to be an important moment in the movie to show their affection (Marley and John Grogan). It was times like this which we loved.”
Frankel continues, “Then sometimes we had to stop a scene cold. On occasion, Clyde would kiss Jen (Jennifer Aniston) so affectionately she literally couldn’t get her dialogue out.”
Around half the 22 “Marley dogs” were puppies and a few were stunt dogs. But clearly Clyde was the star. “The trainers looked for more than a year for a dog with over the top Marley energy,” says Frankel, who also directed “The Devil Wears Prada” and several TV episodes of “Sex and the City” as well as “Entourage.”
“I’ve worked with animals before, and Clyde is different because he was simply trained to be a dog,” says Frankel who begins to laugh. “I have five rescued dogs at home, all strays who my wife found. And there’s not a piece of furniture we have that isn’t scarred. Our home looks like the Marley set. The trainers rewarded Clyde to do all the things the rest of us try to train our dogs not to do, like jumping up, or barking or peeing (indoors). Every time Clyde misbehaved, he’d get a treat. Talk about being a lucky dog.”
Frankel says most canine actors have to learn intricate tasks which involve rescuing people or somehow saving the day. “The trainers found it so liberating, all Clyde had to do was act like, well, a dog,” he continues. “He’d simply have to hang around the set, act happy and a bit crazy – which took no acting at all – and slowly destroy our set. “
Everyone knows that American Humane Association tag line which appears in the end credits of movies, ‘No Animals Were Harmed.’ Frankel laughs and says, “Well at the end of this movie, it should read ‘No people were harmed and no scenery was eaten.”
Even in a comedy, American Humane’s Certified Animal Safety Representatives take their responsibilities seriously to protect animals on sets of movies, as well as TV shows, commercials and industrial productions. “They were wonderful, and I was amazed by their diligence,” says Frankel. “They had a constant presence and really had a job to do.”
For example, there was a scene where the script called for Marley to jump out of a moving car into traffic. In all, three dogs and lots of technical preparation were required to pull it off. And American Humane’s Safety Reps contributed ideas to insure it was all executed safely. “It was all more complex than you might think, but with American Humane there, we all felt more secure about our number one priority, the dogs’ safety.”
The movie is based on the book, which spans 14 years, essentially Marley’s entire life. “I think it’s the best performance Jennifer (Aniston) or Owen (Wilson) has ever given.”
Of course, it’s also Wilson’s first role following his much publicized suicide attempt. “All I know is that Owen is a wonderful, smart and unbelievably talented man,” says Frankel. “People who know him will appreciate his comedic skills but we know he’s funny. It’s the depth of emotion both he and Jen bring to this, from the time they meet – kind of young and innocent about life to seeing them as a family in their 40’s with three children. Their hopes and dreams change, even the relationship with one another.”
Of course, over 14 years – marriages, hopefully, continue to evolve, and children grow up. But sadly, that’s not what happens to dogs. The real-life John Grogan adopted a puppy from the “Marley & Me” set, who he named Woodson. Grogan wrote in USA Weekend, this poor pup has a congenital hip condition. The dog could be returned, but Grogan wrote that he told the puppy, “We’re in this together.” Hip surgery may be in the dog’s future. Could it be that Grogan’s next book will be called, “Woodson & Me.?”
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services