“It was funny to all try to act like dogs, we’d like watch each other and be like, ‘how do you do a dog?’” – Bill Murray
Imagine, if you will, a speed dating scenario. There are tables, chairs and dates. Except in this set-up, everyone who comes to your table is a notable male actor of Hollywood fame, and you have to go on a date with them at the same time as several other rabid journalists.
This was the scene in a hotel in Berlin in February, where Wes Anderson brought the Isle of Dogs cast – or voice cast – to town to celebrate the film’s world premiere at the Berlinale film festival. Anderson fans are by now used to seeing a familiar who's who across all of the director’s projects, regardless of whether they involve humans or stop-motion animals, and his latest is no exception: alongside notable newcomers like Greta Gerwig, Bryan Cranston and even Yoko Ono, names like Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Tilda Swinton have returned to the fold like the loyalest of pets. Besides, other than this jolly to Berlin, it’s not like they had to put that many hours into their contributions, with one group recording session for the primary alpha dog crew over a day or two in New York, and others recording their parts long-distance. (When I ask him if he researched much for the role, Bill Murray says, “I don’t know about Bob (Balaban), but you must have me confused with another actor...”)
For a deeper dive into the beautiful architecture of Isle of Dogs, there’s a longer talk with Wes Anderson and his co-writers Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola on the site today – in the meantime, here’s what all the alpha dogs of Isle of Dogs said when asked hard-hitting questions about doggos. That is to say: how many different ways can a prominent male actor say “I love dogs”? Let’s find out.
I’m a huge dog fanatic. I mean any dog – maybe even a chinese crested hairless, I dunno? I love being a dog; I identify with dogs. When I was little, I’m embarrassed to say it, but I felt like I had a telepathic relationship with a dog that I knew! I don't think the dog was really getting my signal but I thought that it was. And then I wrote a series of children's books, inspired by my life, about a boy and his dog with which he had a telepathic connection. This is about 20 years ago, I wrote six books called McGrowl the McGrowster. It was really fun! I care deeply about dogs and animals. I wish I had been more discerning but anything that Wes is doing appeals to me (laughs). He's never disappointed me. But absolutely I love being connected to animals, and I love dogs especially. That was certainly part of the pleasure of it was to be a dog.
For this one we (recorded) in this cool place none of us had never been to, in New York. It did feel like we were hound dogs or something like (that), it was like a cabin or a big dog house. It was funny to all try to act like dogs, we’d like watch each other and be like, ‘how do you do a dog?’, or be like, ‘oh yeah my dog did this or that, or this reminds me of something else my dog did’ – so everyone was trying to you know, keep outright raising the level of dog (laughs)...I think I kinda remember people taking things in their teeth! No one brought their own dog toys or bones or anything like that, people may have tried to lick themselves or something but I'm not sure. There's a suspect but I don't think that that person is here. More people came in as time went on – Scarlett came in later, she wasn't in the original doghouse. We didn't read the script, we just read pages that we got, there was no script. I went to dog school for a while. I went on the dog diet: a dry food bag, then a can every couple days.
“I’m a huge dog fanatic. I mean any dog – maybe a chinese crested hairless even, I dunno?” – Bob Balaban
I love dogs, and I love a movie like this that devotes itself to the love of dog. My sister is going to go crazy, she’s a dog fanatic and when she sees this...she can't see any movie where something bad happens to a dog, it just tears her up.
We had a dog when I was a kid. It was a standard poodle, a medium sized poodle. His name was Ginger but he was brown: a chocolate brown poodle. I hope this isn't telling tales, but my dear parents were partly responsible for this: after a couple of years with us he nipped a kid on a bicycle or he scared a kid or something. That night, when we came home, my mom said that the chief of police had to take the dog away. But don't worry, she said, the dog is going to be upstate in Pennsylvania or Pittsburgh at a farm, which is now the code phrase for...y’know, what parents say. They always maintained he went to the farm, but I don't think he went to that farm. So I’ve lived with dogs, but recently my wife and I, 4 or 5 years ago, said 'oh do we want to have a baby or get a dog first', and we got this little puppy. It turned out to be a good kind of training ground for us to do together! We were like 'do we wanna rescue', because my sister is devoted to rescue, and when I didn’t rescue a dog she was unhappy about that, but we decided we wanted my dog when I was a kid, a standard poodle. We saw this family that bred them, redheads, so we got this redheaded standard poodle and we named it Woody and we picked it out when it was a baby from the litter etc. etc., and anyway he’s with us now, and he’s just adorable and I love him to pieces.
I like dogs in that they’re social creatures, that they want to be part of a group. Part of all of Wes’s movies are about groups like that, and doing his movies are a little the same, you’re part of this pack, part of a group. I remember in Life Aquatic there’s that three legged dog and I hit him and I say ‘Spot be quiet!’ I remember the day we shot that, we got a kick out of shooting that, I don't think we hurt the dog at all.
Right now, I don't have a dog. No. But (dogs) have been important to me all the way through… From Gabby to Lady to Sugar... and seemingly mostly girls, I don't know why that happened. But anyway I love dogs. It’s not that I don't like cats, I’m just much more a dog fan than I’m a cat fan because cats are more independent. I can respect it, and look at that cat going, ‘huh I’m going over here’. But a dog is just like ‘I want love and I want companionship and I'll be faithful to you, and lets play’, and those are lovely characteristics in anything.
I was very happy that (Wes) wanted me to play Chief, who is a very disturbed alpha dog. Kind of broken down. I think that’s how he sees me, and that’s kind of how I see myself, as a mutt, as a kind of a vagabond kind of guy.
I’ve had dogs my whole life, but I really feel like I’ve met the greatest now. I mean I’ve had 8 dogs over the course of my life, 50 years, it's a long time for 8 dogs. But Woody is a remarkable dog, he’s really amazing, he’s probably the most loving of the whole group. I instagrammed a picture of myself with my puppet, partially to promote the film but partially I wanted my friends and family to see my puppet, and I said meet Spots Kobayashi, and my assistant immediately sent me a picture of woody going *pulls face* (everyone laughs). So I posted that (picture) and ‘Spots who?’