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DOG DAYS

People, Places and Pooches
Geography, locations, and landmarks are part of the falling in love process: we remember the streets we walked down while holding hands with someone for the first time, the parks and beaches where friendship began, and the restaurants, bars, and cafes that become markers for momentous times in our lives. And any great romantic-comedy movie knows how to mark its territory. Whether it's London in Love, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones's Diary; New York in Moonstruck, Hitch and New Year's Day; or Chicago in About Last Night, My Best Friend's Wedding and While You Were Sleeping, the art of marrying movie places with memorable stories is essential. Now, Dog Days makes Los Angeles its own, looking at the city's picturesque corners with fresh eyes. "We made Los Angeles a real character in Dog Days," says producer Jennifer Monroe. Adds Liddell, "People always walk their dogs and meet that way in L.A., so it's really a perfect way into the movie."

Populating Dog Days' cozy, canine-centric L.A. is a mix of characters whose lives echo the day-to-day dilemmas we all experience. They're played by a top-notch cast: Nina Dobrev (xXx: Return of Xander Cage, The Vampire Diaries), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical, Spring Breakers), Adam Pally (Dirty Grandpa, The Mindy Project), Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives, Empire), Rob Corddry (Ballers, Hot Tub Time Machine), Tone Bell (Bad Judge, Disjointed), Jon Bass (Loving, Molly's Game, Baywatch), Michael Cassidy (Men at Work, The Magicians), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things, It), Ron Cephas Jones (This is Us, Luke Cage), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!, Sean Saves The World, The Odd Couple), Tig Notaro (Transparent, One Mississippi), Lauren Lapkus (Orange is the New Black, The Earliest Show, Crashing), Jessica St. Clair (Veep, American Housewife), Jasmine Cephas Jones (Broadway's Hamilton, Mistress America) and young newcomer Elizabeth Caro.

Their stories are an amalgamation of modern issues. Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) worries that her job as a coffee shop barista is keeping her from using her college degree, while she crushes on dreamboat veterinarian Dr. Mike (Michael Cassidy). Watching from the other side of the counter is Garrett (Jon Bass), a nice guy who runs a rescue-dog agency ... and wishes Tara would look his way. Meanwhile, across town, Grace (Eva Longoria) and Kurt Chapman (Rob Corddry) are nervous about making a good 5 impression on their adopted daughter Amelia (Elizabeth Caro); and Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), host of the local morning show "Wake Up LA," breaks up with her adulterous boyfriend and she soon begins dating her new co-anchor Jimmy Johnston (Tone Bell). Far from the dating scene are Ruth (Jessica St. Clair) and Greg (Thomas Lennon), frazzled parents of newborn twins who ask Ruth's irresponsible musician brother Dax (Adam Pally) to take in the family dog while they adjust to parenthood. Then there's Walter (Ron Cephas Jones), a widower whose contentious connection to a pizza delivery boy named Tyler (Finn Wolfhard) improves when the pair search for Walter's lost dog. Providing occasional comic insight is Danielle (Tig Notaro), a dog behavior consultant whose rate is $350 an hour, though her advice to humans like Elizabeth is just as crucial.

Life is tricky for all of them, but things are made easier and sometimes a bit messy by the canines they care for. Charlie is the labradoodle Ruth asks her brother Dax to take in despite his building's no-pet policy. Mabel is Walter's pug, and as he and Tyler search for her, Mabel is found by the Chapmans, whose daughter falls in love with the wayward dog. Sam the mutt has abandonment issues, something his owner Elizabeth can relate to after her breakup. Brandy is Jimmy's pet, but as he and Elizabeth go through dating ups-and-downs, so do their pets. And a stray chihuahua becomes Tara's best bud after they meet-cute by the dumpster outside the coffee shop.

Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama's script toggles between dating life and pet-owning life, balancing household issues with a sweet, generous spirit towards everyone: the old, the young, and those who measure their lives in dog years. "I love a good romantic comedy in which all the stories are intertwined and connected," says Longoria. "I remember reading the Dog Days script and thinking. 'I'd play all of the dogs in this movie!' It's such a great script." Monroe says good characters and a satisfying story are what a great movie hinges on. "If there is some kind of emotional response you have to a story, that's always a good thing, in all genres," says Monroe. "You know a script is working if you read it in one sitting - just read it all the whole way through then you suddenly say, 'Oh my gosh, I just read the whole thing and I loved it!' That's how the script for Dog Days was."

Topping it all off is the stellar ensemble who bring that script to life. As Monroe says, "We got so lucky with this cast." Adds Jessica St. Clair, "I love romantic comedies, and I don't think enough of them are made, so any chance to get to do something like this is a dream for me. I love how this movie is intergenerational as well. It's not just all young people or all older folks. Everyone's stories are mixed together." Says Dobrev, "I feel the expression 'Love makes the world go 'round' should really be changed to, 'Dogs make the world go 'round'! This film is all about the fact that everyone needs love, no matter who you are, or what you do - everyone craves love, and the companionship of an animal provides that. It's a special bond, and we tried to capture that feeling. Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation or end up in a relationship with a person because of your dog that you wouldn't have had otherwise. It brings unlikely people together."

Within those universal themes, the characters all have their specific situations. "Grace Chapman is a mom who just adopted a child, and I've never played a character like her," says Longoria. "She'll do anything to make things right, her house right. She almost over-corrects everything, and her husband Kurt has to try and pull her back into normalcy. All she wants to do is give this girl a happy and loving home, and when a beautiful little dog comes along, it helps to changes the family dynamic." Corddry says he can see the couple's efforts and emotions grow as the film goes on. "Kurt and Grace's daughter is a little slow to warm up to them, and they're probably trying a bit too hard. But for their part, they're a little nervous. And when they find a dog, they maybe don't try as hard as they probably should to find the owner."

Hudgens says that Tara is at a "transitional point in her life when we first meet her. She finished college with a degree and isn't sure what she wants to do next. By the end of the film, she finds herself in a place where she feels like she is making a difference. I think the thing I want the audience to take away from this character is that you can find meaning in life through helping. To give back is a really fulfilling thing." Ron Cephas Jones remarks that Walter's story arc is at the opposite end of the spectrum; He's someone who learns about life from someone helping him. "Walter is kind of getting up in age," says Jones. "His wife just passed away, and he has a dog, Mabel, that was really his wife's, and the dog's been living with him but he hasn't really paid much attention to the dog over the years. Now that she's gone, the dog is a connection."

When Mabel goes missing, Walter realizes the dog is the link to his past and his present. "Life is precious, as is love, whether it be with an animal or family," says Jones. "Animals often become like family members, and they become a big part of reminding us how important love is in our life." That's where Tyler, a teenage pizza delivery boy, comes in. Though Tyler and Walter start as opposites when the teenager delivers a pizza late to the older man's front door, "Tyler is really just trying to help this old retired professor find his dog," says Wolfhard. "He just kind of wants to help Walter. I think people should take from these characters that caring for anyone that needs help can benefit you in so many ways, as much as it can benefit the other person. And you never know what can happen in the future."

As producer Pete Shilaimon says, "I think in general the planets aligned for us with getting this cast and this crew. It was sort of this incredible mega force."

The "performer dogs" on set were also a force to be reckoned with, and all were cared for with complete respect. Mark Harden, a senior animal trainer at the Los Angeles-based Animals for Hollywood coordinated the dog action on the Dog Days set. He says the film's cast, crew and production company were committed to making sure the performer animals were treated well. Animals for Hollywood provided not just three of the five main canine cast but also worked with fifty "background dogs" for various scenes in the film. When Harden read the script, and saw the personality of Charlie - the dog Ruth gives to her brother Dax - he suggested one pooch performer specifically. "I rarely push to cast a certain dog," says Harden, "but our labradoodle Tucker had the perfect personality to play Charlie. That was awesome, because he's a lot of fun to work with, and he really is the character."

As for Elizabeth's dog Sam, Harden saw the range that was required and recommended another special dog. "In the script, Sam is supposed to be sad, and reflects Elizabeth's emotions after her breakup and during her dating issues with Jimmy. So, the dog is on a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster, and that's what our dog Benny could do; he can look really sad, because he's got a bit of dachshund in him, and then he can look happy and exuberant. He's a lot of fun."

For Walter's dog, there was a different challenge. "Mabel has an arc in her character where she has to lose weight after she's been separated from Walter, so we cast two different Mabels," says Harden. "One of them was our pug Gracie, who is a normal size and shape. Then we had to go and find a different pug that was a bit overweight, but still healthy and able to be trained. We found one and had her for about five weeks. They were both awesome."

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