Channing Tatum is back after a long hiatus and this time, he’s not only starring in the buddy comedy Dog, but is also making his directorial debut alongside his producing partner Reid Carolin. The origins of Dog are based on Tatum’s own experience taking a trip to California’s Big Sur with his own dog Lulu, who died in 2018. The film follows Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum), who is tasked with driving an Army K9, a Belgian Malinois — also named Lulu — down the Pacific Coast in a 1984 Ford Bronco to a fellow soldier’s funeral. Unlike other films about man’s best friend, what makes this film hilarious is the adventures, or rather misadventures, that the two go on — from running into cannabis farmers to crashing a swanky hotel.
Neither Briggs nor Lulu is particularly fond of each other so watching the banter on-screen is a treat. Tatum, off-screen however, is a huge dog lover. He is now a proud doggy dad of a Dutch shepherd named Rooklin, in addition to his other dog Cutie. Ahead of Dog’s theatrical release this Friday, we caught up with the actor to get the scoop on his pet project (pardon the pun), driving the Bronco, his favourite road trip movies, and more about his new pup.
Did you always have dogs growing up and how did that shape your childhood and make you the man you are today?
Yeah, we always had [dogs growing up]. I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a dog, to be honest. We always had some animals and/or were around animals. My mom’s family has a big farm in Alabama, where there were always outside dogs, horses — all kinds of farm animals. Dogs were always near and dear to me. I always wanted to have one of my own. We always had family dogs, but I never had my own dog. And then when I got old enough to have a dog of my own and had the time to do it, I got my Lulu. It was just one of those things that is almost indescribable — what a dog really does for you. And in a way they do so many different things that it’s kind of hard to choose one. But I think they just give you unconditional love, you know? And you’re never alone, they’re just there. They’re just like, “Alright, what are we doing today?” And if it’s nothing, I guess they’re like, “Alright, cool. I’ll just do nothing with you.” And they’re just there inside your little sphere at all times. I mean, there are studies that show people who have a pet live longer — just having a being, like a little organism that’s there and loving and gives you their affection, their time, their energy — it makes sense. It’s special.
Not only do you star in a film with a partner that doesn’t always cooperate, but it’s also your directorial debut. How much of a challenge did it pose to balance wearing these different hats or did it allow you the freedom to control all facets of the movie instead of just the box of your performance?
It was a bit of a process. I’m not a veteran by any means. I’m still learning this whole business, and I think I’ll be learning forever. But I’ve been on a lot of movie sets now at least and I got to learn and watch how some of the best directors today are making movies. And you think you’re alright, you know, you’ve cherry picked all the things from all the different people that you’re like, ‘OK, I think I know how I would like to direct,’ but you can’t really know until you get there and then when you get there, you just sort of do your best. I don’t know if I wore all the hats very well to be completely honest. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without my buddy Reid, my creative partner and co-director. We didn’t have enough time for me to even go back and look at the monitors very often so it was just catching what you can. You know, we were just trying to make a movie! (Laughs) The fact that we finished it and I’m proud of the movie is a win in my books. I hope people see it and enjoy it.
Reid said that when you two connected all the dots of these experiences you’ve had in life, everything pointed towards making a road movie. Road movies are your favourite kind of movies, so what are some of the road movies that influenced you?
I know Reid always says Blues Brothers but mine is definitely Last Detail. That’s gotta be my favourite road movie. I just love anything where you got to get from point A to point B because it’s an easy structure in some regards. You know that [the character is] going to get knocked off — they have all these obstacles in their path and you just watch them navigate it knowing that they just got to get to one place and that’s the main goal and so they’re really fun.
Was your character’s car always going to be a Bronco?
No, actually. I mean, we were trying to figure out what it was going to be. I think in the back of my mind, it was always going to be a Bronco because you know, I grew up in Florida and there were always Broncos or Bronco IIs around. I remember sleeping in the back of a Bronco a couple times on a road trip. My buddy had one when we were young and we went to somebody’s house, but then we couldn’t stay the night at their house for some reason. So we just slept in the Bronco (Laughs). So I know that it’s big in there and when you have to shoot inside of a car, it’s really important to have space. If you watch the movie Green Book for example, there was an old Hudson or something like it but that thing was like a living room. It was like a giant room, you know, and you want space inside of a car to be able to move the camera around and to give the characters a landscape.
My favourite scene is when you’re walking Lulu and she just collapses. How many takes were needed to capture that scene?
You know, I think we were both pretty tired. So that one weirdly wasn’t a hard one to do. The only thing that was difficult about it was getting her to put her head down. I think she just wanted to keep looking at her trainer. And when she wanted to look at her trainer, she would do this thing where she kind of puts her head up so when we needed her to like fully put her head down and kind of relax it was a little tricky — but luckily, it didn’t take that long. There were other ones that were infinitely more complex.
Which was the most complex scene to shoot?
Anytime we needed to ask the dog to do one thing, we could do that — it was a pretty consistent, we could do that right. Anytime you start adding [directions] is when it [starts getting more complicated]. When we wanted her to pick something up and then walk to her mark, well that’s an additional step — that’s two things we’re asking her to do now. If you wanted her to pick things up, walk to her mark, and then walk out, you’re now in no man’s land like you’re just praying that she does it — and does it in the take where your own acting is half decent so you could use it.
Just like the ‘I Love Me‘ book we see in the movie, if you created one for your new pup Rooklin, what would that book look like?
It would be kind of empty so far (Laughs). You know, those books for the military soldiers and the dogs do so much. There’s just normal stuff in there like medical stuff and whatnot, so it would probably have a bunch of that so far — as well as some pictures from the activities and things we’ve done. Since I was working on and directing the movie, my buddy Aaron was taking care of Rook and they got to bond too so that was nice. At least I still have my other dog Cutie also [in case Aaron feels like Rook is his dog now].
Dog, Channing’s directorial debut (alongside the lovely Lulu) is set to open in theatres February 18, 2022.