A Shaggy Dog Tale in Norwegian Mindbender Good Boy

Writer/director Viljar Bøe explains life inside a dog costume

Let's be frank, there's something weird about the dog at the center of new Norwegian horror-romance-satire hybrid Good Boy (Photo by Saban Films)

A man, a woman, a dog. That's basically the setup for Marley & Me, one of the great charming romantic tearjerkers of all time. It's also the casting call for Good Boy, the new film by writer/director Viljar Bøe. But the movie (available on demand Sept. 8) definitely not your traditional rom-com.

For starters, Frank isn't really a dog. Sure, he barks and eats kibble and loves belly rubs, but Frank is a man in a dog suit. "For many years, I had this image of a person in a dog costume, but I never really had a story with it," said Bøe. When he started writing, he saw it as "a more bizarre kind of romantic comedy, a parody, you can say, [but] it naturally became something a little more sinister – a mishmash between genres."

That's how Sigrid (Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen) finds herself involved with millionaire heir Christian (Gard Løkke) and his canine-esque companion, Frank, trying to navigate the complexities of their bizarre relationship. The shift in tone came as a surprise to both actors, not least to Fredriksen, "because when I auditioned I thought it was a romantic comedy because I tried out with one of the first scenes. Wheh I got to the second round I got to read the whole script – I had to flip my mind around the whole thing."

"When I auditioned I thought it was a romantic comedy." Like her character, Sigrid, Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen (with co-star Gard Løkke) got a surprise about the nature of Good Boy. (Photo by Saban Films)

Austin Chronicle: There are all kinds of dog costumes out there, from furry to disturbingly realistic, so one of the first decisions must have been how much you wanted to show the man in the dog.

Viljar Bøe: I did want it to have this kind of uncanny valley effect. We didn't want to go for a specific kind of breed. We wanted Frank to be Frank, like a unique kind of dog so that you buy that it represents a dog but you're always reminded that it's a human. So we wanted to find a middle ground.

We did have a discussion whether it should have a mask or just make-up, but I think it was important to dehumanize Frank by having a mask so the audience and the characters couldn't read his emotions, if he was happy or sad. It was just a blank face that the audience are forced to project their own thoughts and feelings onto.

AC: And that means the performance is mostly physical, and you have to find someone that can spend the whole shooting day on all fours.

“[Christian is] making his own reality, his own environment, that he pulls Sigrid into.” - Viljar Bøe
VB: I've tried it, and it's very unpleasant. Actually, there are two different people that play the dog. There's one male actor who is Frank, but also the producer, Marie (Waade Grønning), who was also the costume designer for the film, she is actually in the dog costume for most of the time. She was the stand-in, so she did most of the "dog stuff." I didn't have the heart to make all the dog stuff for more than a week, so it was 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there.

It's very dehumanizing being in the costume, because after 20 minutes – you don't start getting treated like a dog, but you do start being treated differently. It's a very weird thing.

AC: It must be odd, performing opposite Frank as a dog and then having to remember there's a person inside between takes.

Gard Løkke: A lot of it is about creating a safe environment, and communication. It's like Viljar said, it's strange how fast the brain adapts to new truths, especially a dog. I feel like everybody has some kind of relationship with a dog, and the character I play, Christian, he really tries to see him as a dog, not a human. I think that was a good thing as an entrance for my character, seeing him as just a dog.

Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen: For me, it was quite weird, because I show what the audience can think about this. Seeing this creature for the first time, and knowing how to pet it and how to talk to it, I didn't need to act because it was such a weird situation. Is anyone there, or am I talking to myself. You don't know if you're going to get a reaction.

AC: And there's a key scene where you're roughhousing with Frank on the floor as if he's a dog. It's when it's clear that Sigrid has accepted the Christian/Frank dynamic.

KLØF: If you get lots of information about something, you get used to it fast as human beings. For Sigrid, part of accepting Frank is also accepting Christian, and she wants really hard to make it a quick acceptance. And it was really fun playing that scene as well.

AC: At the same time as the fun, weird elements, there's also a lot of class consciousness, about Christian being able to keep Frank because he's rich.

VB: It was important that the owner was rich. It wouldn't make sense and you wouldn't buy it if it was someone who worked 9 to 5. It needed to be somebody who could do whatever they wanted, make their own surroundings. And that's what Christian is doing: making his own reality, his own environment, that he pulls Sigrid into.

Good Boy is available on demand from Sept. 8.

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Saban Films, Good Boy, Viljar Bøe, Gard Løkke, Katrine Lovise Øpstad Fredriksen

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