Marley and Me’s director provides a window into the world of making a movie with superstars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. David Frankel not only helmed Marley and Me, but also the audience favorite Devil Wears Prada.
Marley and Me arrives on DVD and Blu-ray March 31. Serving as the triumphant cinematic return of Owen Wilson after his personal troubles, Marley and Me is so much more than a Jennifer Aniston dog’s tale.
Based on John Grogan’s autobiographical 2005 smash of the same name, Frenkel’s film explores the gamut of issues for anyone forging through life’s maze. Add in the unconditional lifelong love of a dog and those same obstacles are softened by the love of a four-legged fellow. In this case, his name is Marley and he was Grogan’s dog. Wilson plays John and Aniston portrays Jennifer Grogan.
Frankel only had a few minutes to chat. The demands of fatherhood are calling, but his insight into The Devil Wears Prada as well as working with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson are priceless moments.
Frankel begins brotherly
SheKnows: I have truly enjoyed your work since the unforgettable Band of Brothers.
David Frankel: Oh, thank you.
SheKnows: That, of course, is based on Robert McNamara’s book, but then you have Devil Wears Prada which is also based on a book and Marley and Me, which is a straight memoir. Is it different tackling those different types of source materials?
David Frankel: You have to be equally respectful of the intention and the real people involved. It’s a little different mechanically, but the actual the approach to getting the script right I think is kind of similar. The most important thing for me with Band of Brothers was always I want to feel what these guys are feeling. It’s the same approach in Marley and Me. I say, ‘what are these people feeling?’ How can I let the audience share that emotion?
Meet Marley & Me
SheKnows: Were there any kind of challenges working with an animal per se?
David Frankel: There’s always surprises! In this case the surprises were always welcomed. We were lucky enough to have fantastic dog team. The trainers had worked with this dog Clyde – who plays Marley most of the movie – for a couple of years before shooting. They had trained him to be untrained. The dogs were amazing. The dogs hit their marks on the first takes. We actually established a rule early on because Clyde especially was so good the firs time he did anything. We always had to be rolling on the rehearsal. We wouldn’t rehearse. The actors would prepare and then we would bring in the dog. The spontaneity of Clyde really was what was essential in establishing Marley’s character.
SheKnows: Is there anything you can do as a director to prepare your actors for that spontaneity?
Jen & Owen: ‘dog people’
David Frankel: Fortunately, Owen and Jen are dog people. They brought their own dogs to the set and the dogs lived in their trailer. They’re completely used to dogs doing wacky things – just being a reckless force. There were times, they had to put baby food on their cheek or hold treats. They had phenomenal patience with the puppies especially. Much more patience was required of the young humans. Working with the young humans was much more challenging than working with the dogs.
SheKnows: For you, working with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, the chemistry those two have was just incredible.
David Frankel: Thank you, yeah…
SheKnows: Was it such a joy you would welcome those two on a film once again?
David Frankel: Oh, yeah. I would work with them anytime. From the first moment we all got in a room together you could see a spark between them. They are so comfortable. They like each other. Jen and Owen know where each other’s coming from. They’ve had so many experiences that are similar – not shared – but similar. They also speak the same comic language. They both understand the rhythms of both drama and comedy and not how to not fight the comedy — how to improvise and to play and to keep running to find funny stuff. There were very, very, very relaxed. There was no stress ever.
The Devil Wears Prada lessons
SheKnows: I would think there is an art to creating a movie that is both funny and has dramatic moments. Whether it’s Devil Wears Prada or what you did with Marley and Me, is there a secret to that evenhandedness that allows us to laugh in the same movie that we cry?
David Frankel: If there is a secret, someone better tell me. I think I approach each scene in the movie trying to be as real as possible. Trying to be the audience and feel what I hope the audience would feel. I think, you’re right, Prada does take a surprisingly dramatic turn in the last third, as does Marley, I think if anything it was the experience of having made Prada that surprised me. I didn’t realize that until we got into the cutting room and realizing ‘there aren’t really laughs here for the last 20 minutes’ (laughs). That was surprising. I knew it was compelling, it I just didn’t realize the film had taken a little bit of a turn. Going into Marley and Me, I had more confidence that a film could do that. The book did that too, I think in this case, we were being faithful to a surprisingly complex book. It appears to be a dog book. But, in reality it actually lures you in, it seduces you and then it really drills deep into you.