18 Dogs Play Star Role in 'Marley & Me'
Jennifer Aniston holds one of the 18 dogs who starred with her and co-star Owen Wilson in "Marley & Me," which opens Christmas Day. (Pet Pulse Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.)
MIAMI -- An ageless maxim counsels actors never to appear with animals or infants because they invariably upstage the adults.
Hollywood stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson buck this traditional wisdom in "Marley & Me," a film in which they share most of the screen time with a yellow Labrador Retriever.
The adaptation of John Grogan's best-selling memoir opens on Christmas Day.
Wilson and Aniston play John and Jenny Grogan, whose life story is told through the misadventures of their obedience-challenged dog named for reggae singer Bob Marley.
Marley worms his way into the Grogans' hearts as he destroys pillows, cushions, home electronics and even flunks out of obedience school.
"An out of control animal that somehow teaches them and trains them for their children for tolerance," is how Aniston described Marley in a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. interview.
Director David Frankel said the movie's message is to remind people how fleeting life is "and the importance of embracing every moment."
Eighteen different dogs played Marley at various stages of his life in the film.
Their work on the set was supervised by the American Humane Association, which monitors the tens of thousands of animals used in TV and films each year.
AHA is the organization that awards the "no animal was harmed" credit at the end of movies in which animals appear.
A safety representative from AHA is always on the set to ensure the welfare of animals. He or she can even shut down production for the day if the animal has had enough.
"That doesn't necessarily make producers happy," said Karen Rosa, director of the AHA's Film & Television Unit. "But we're more concerned about what makes the animal happy."
Gina Johnson, the AHA's safety rep for "Marley & Me," said things ran smoothly during the two months of filming in Miami earlier this year.
It helped that "the character was just a dog and he was allowed to have a lot of fun on the set," she said.
Most dogs used in films came from shelters. Some were obtained through breeders, given the special training needed for particular tasks, or to ensure that dogs who played the same role looked uncannily alike.
Crew members who fall in love with the dogs on sets often adopt them once shooting has wrapped, Johnson said.
Aniston and Wilson are both dog-owners and had their dogs with them on location.
"They're so unbelievably unconditional and all they want is to strictly love you," Aniston said. If you don't have an animal, she added, "I highly suggest having it at one point in your life."
Though the old Hollywood adage advises actors not to share a stage or screen with dogs, Frankel won't share the warning with fellow directors.
"The dogs are the easiest actors to deal with on the set," he said. "They're always available. They're never in their trailer. They're never on the phone."
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5 years ago
Marley and Me was a cute movie. It clearly showed that breeders are only interested in the money. Destroying the house let children know that dogs can also cause trouble. Maybe Marley made parents more aware of possible problems before getting a dog for their family.
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