The 2015 film “White God” is not your average dog movie. This is no “Homeward Bound” or “Old Yeller,” in which the central dog character is all warm and fuzzy. Instead, the lead canine turns vicious and becomes downright antagonistic toward humans.
Training a dog to “act” this way, within a span of four months and with 250 other Hungarian street dogs, is a tough job.
Los Angeles-based dog trainer Teresa Miller got the assignment from film director Kornél Mundruczó. He didn’t want just any Hollywood talent, though: “He wanted the naiveté of the dog, a new character who hadn't acted on screen and really to treat it more like a documentary,” she says. She thought she had lucked out when she found twins Bodie and Luke, 10-month-old Shar Pei/Lab mixes in a trailer park in Arizona. She needed two dogs, because like kids, dogs can get tired during long movie shoots.
She watched them play with other dogs and kids and was optimistic. But when she got them home to California, she says, “I put the leash on them and it was like a rodeo. I mean, bucking, bronc-ing, screaming, never been on a leash before.” So she tried putting them on the grass so they wouldn’t hurt themselves and “they jumped up! They didn't know what the hell the grass was! And that was a scary time for us because I didn't know what we'd gotten into.”
Teresa had just 16 weeks before these two dogs were supposed to fly to Budapest and star in a major motion picture. And so they went to work. Meanwhile, over in Budapest, Hungarian trainer Arpad Halasz was training 250 stray dogs to work as extras. Teresa was very impressed with his work.
“Of course it’s going through my mind how accepting are they going to be — here are these American trainers coming over to do their job. ... And they were amazing.”
The dogs did brilliantly, changing from slobbering softies to growling predators. Miller expects the dogs will land more gigs. One they've already completed: "for a rapper named Waka Flocka. And of course my dogs played abandoned dogs in a mobile home park, which is ironic.”
(Originally aired April 16, 2015)