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Arts + CultureMovies'Dogman' thriller's stars dish on canine pasts—and strength of...

‘Dogman’ thriller’s stars dish on canine pasts—and strength of human connection

Luc Besson's latest features dozens of live pups, but Caleb Landry Jones and Jojo T. Gibbs were drawn to working with each other.

“Must love dogs” may be mandatory to work at the local pound. But a fondness for “man’s best friends” wasn’t required to join the cast of Luc Besson’s latest flick, DogMan.

In the psychological thriller, Caleb Landry Jones plays Douglas Munrow, a trauma survivor and dog father to a fierce pooch pack. But he told 48 Hills that, in reality, he’s just not that into them. 

“I don’t know,” says Jones. “I had a dog that jumped from a truck once. I don’t have too many good dog memories—just a lot of guilt.”

Unlike his character, who shelters dozens of canines at an abandoned warehouse he commandeers after the city shuts down his pound, Jones says that when he was growing up in Texas he couldn’t keep even one in the house.

“That was a no-no,” remembers Jones. “That meant fur everywhere and smelling up the carpet.”

Jojo T. Gibbs, who plays Munrow’s court-appointed psychiatrist, Evelyn—sent to evaluate him after his incarceration following a string of brutal killings—adds that her family kept pups at a distance in her South Carolina home, too. 

If the dog’s domestication took place tens of thousands of years ago, the relationship between Southerners and their pets is only now evolving, says the actor.

“People in the South just got attached to animals,” says Gibbs. “Like we just started letting animals in the house.”

The actor recalls her two hapless attempts at dog rearing. The first involved a Chow Chow mix, caged at her grandmother’s house. The one time she tried to walk her, the pooch saw some of her fellow canines in the nearby woods and took off, dragging the then 10-year-old girl 20 feet through the garden before disappearing.  

“My grandmother told me she’s probably going to die, and I felt terrible,” she recalls. “Then she comes back smiling after being a thot in the woods for a couple of hours. I never let her out of the cage after that.” 

Her second experience was even worse because the canine didn’t like children and tried to bite her. He then became her grandfather’s pet—until getting hit and killed by a car. 

I used to do a joke on stage about not being a pet person,” the comedian-turned-actor adds. “Then, COVID happened, and I got a pet and found love in a hopeless place. But now, my dog looks at me like a joke every day because she doesn’t listen to a damn thing.”

Jojo T. Gibbs and Caleb Landry Jones in ‘Dogman.’ Photo by Shanna Besson

Actor-comedian W.C. Fields once famously admonished his fellow entertainers to “Never work with animals or children.” With Dogman, however, there was no way around it, with one toddler and up to 125 canines on set at any given time. 

“The fact that Luc wanted to work with real dogs, which I knew was going to be difficult, meant that he was either mad or it was going to be an experience unlike any other,” says Jones.

What drew the actors to the project were their human costars. For her part, Gibbs was excited to work with Jones and Besson and play a character opposite of anyone that the “Twenties,” Fresh, and Past Lives star had taken on before. 

Jones, who’s made a career of playing unconventional roles, says he was intrigued with Munrow—a tragic figure whose father and brother severely abused him before caging him in a yard kennel—and his journey.  

“The choices that Douglas makes, despite what has happened to him,” explains Jones. “It all comes down to choice, and we all have one. Sometimes, there is a choice of how we take that and move forward.”

Pooch party in ‘Dogman’

Both say they were thrilled about their decision to move forward with this project after seeing how skillfully Besson works. Jones marveled at the director’s ability to take a camera beneath a desk to quickly get a shot that would have taken “forever” to capture on other sets.

Unlike other productions where people talk about problems while losing light or a dog for the day, Jones says Besson’s sound stage was built on problem-solving.

“It’s an incredible thing just to watch and much more to be a part of,” says Jones.

Gibbs says Besson ran his crew like a navy ship where everybody was always in sync and hitting their marks. But their dedication, according to the actor, wasn’t born out of fear—but rather respect for the auteur’s brilliance and passion for his vision. 

Besson exuded generosity in his spare time by meeting with Jones and Gibbs to discuss their characters’ motivations and build chemistry between the actors, who had never met before shooting the film.

But unlike the caged canines in the movie, the actors felt absolute freedom—to let their visions for their characters roam far and wide.

“Everything was securely positioned, so it felt like there was room to stretch,” says Jones, rumored to be playing the title character in Besson’s next feature, Dracula – A Love Tale. “In some movies, you find your performance constricted. But Luc does everything he can to give us that space to thrive.”

Dogman opens Fri/29 at AMC Kabuki 8.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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