Dog star Channing Tatum had one rule for his directorial debut: 'Don't kill the dog'
Rest easy, dog lovers: The canine at the center of the movie Dog does not die.
In fact, when co-director and star Channing Tatum set out to make the film with longtime friend and Magic Mike collaborator Reid Carolin, they ruled out doggy deaths from the jump. "We love dogs over here," Tatum tells EW. "It's one of those things, no one really wants one of those movies. I think that's one of those deadly sins... kill the one thing that everyone loves in a movie. Just don't kill the dog — you can kill almost anyone else."
The buddy comedy follows the wild adventure of Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum), who is tasked with taking the legendarily difficult pooch Lulu on a road trip so she can attend the funeral of her handler (and fellow soldier). Lulu — played in the film by three Belgian Malinois dogs named Lana, Britta, and Zuza — shares a name with and is loosely inspired by the relationship between Tatum and his late, beloved pitbull-Catahoula mix who passed away in 2018.
"[It's] the themes and the feeling — it's more the bond and the relationship that Lulu and I had. I had her from the time that she was six weeks old. She was like my child, my shadow — she was everything. And this is a very, very, very different story," Tatum explains. Although the plot doesn't mirror his real-life experience, and Lulu's onscreen persona is different from his own dog's, there's one scene in particular that sweetly reminded the star of his furry best friend.
The moment involves Briggs and Lulu taking a pit stop on the side of the road. After relieving themselves, Lulu runs off. When she returns, she has bird feathers in her mouth. "My Lulu was a hunting dog and I don't hunt, so she never got to really exercise that part of her DNA like she was probably born to do. So anything that wasn't a dog or like five times bigger than her, she'd want to take it down [like in the film]," he says.
Naturally, when your costar is a living, breathing animal, things are bound to go awry — like the time Tatum's character was supposed to wrestle a toy away from the dog, and part of the toy fell out mid-take and hit him so hard that he ended up with seven stitches in his face. Even still, Tatum jokes that any real errors came from him and not the pups. "I don't think a dog can really mess up a take, personally. Because a dog is just being purely a dog, so it can't physically mess up the take. We are asking it to be a dog, that's about it. And we're trying to craft the world around the thing so it can just honestly be itself." He adds, "So I'm sure I messed up almost everything."
Between co-directing with Carolin, starring, and working with the canines in just about every scene in the film, Tatum did not make his first time as a helmer easy or straightforward — which is probably why he feels he doesn't really deserve credit for it. "Just to be really frank about it, I don't really feel like I directed it," he admits with a laugh. "I really think that like I directed the dog and Reid directed me. I don't know if I've directed my first movie really."
His modesty aside, the film presented all kinds of logistical challenges for the first-time directors, from time and money constraints to the aforementioned problems with wrangling dogs for an entire movie. "We thought we were making a really good decision," Tatum says of the film. "We were just like, 'Oh, it will be a really small little movie, really contained — me, a dog, in a car, on a road trip — small, little, attainable movie.' And then cut to it's one of the hardest possible movies to go and try to make."
He continues, "It started off with a really clear intention that we loved this idea of surrender and we tried to capture it in this very small story." And, at the end of the day, the star says he doesn't know if it was a "smart decision," but ultimately, "I'm proud of the movie that we made."
In addition to Tatum, Dog — which is now in theaters — also stars Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q'orianka Kilcher, Ethan Suplee, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Nicole LaLiberté, Luke Forbes, and Ronnie Gene Blevins. Carolin wrote the screenplay with a story by him and Brett Rodriguez.
For more with Tatum, check out the full video above.