Luc Besson faced the media in Venice ahead of the world premiere of his latest feature Dogman, taking the stage together with the film’s stars Caleb Landry Jones and Jojo T. Gibbs.
His new film, which sold widely internationally ahead of its Venice debut, is being closely watched by Besson fans as a possible return to form for the French director of Lucy and The Fifth Element. Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) stars as the eponymous Dogman, who was severely abused as a child but survived thanks to his preternatural affinity to canines.
When he is taken in by police after a violent incident, Jones’ character gets a psychiatric assessment from prison psychiatrist Evelyn (Past Lives actress Jojo T. Gibbs) and tells her his life story. The film is set in New Jersey but was primarily shot in a studio in France. Part melodrama, part action movie, Dogman will have its world premiere in competition in Venice on Thursday night.
Besson said his “first fear” in casting the movie was that he wouldn’t be able to “find an actor crazy enough to do it. I saw a small picture of Caleb and on IMDb and realized I’d seen him about 10 times [in movies] but he’s such a chameleon. He’s hilarious in American Made. We had tea two or three times. And then I said, ‘You like animals?’”
Whatever the final critical assessment of the film will be, Besson’s coordination of dozens of four-legged co-stars was impressive. The director said casting the dogs was a long process.
“It took time to get 65-70 dogs, three to four months,” he said. “Among them were three American stars who come with their own trainers, and their own trailers. And the rest are a group. There are some things that you teach them, but after a while, you just have to follow them. What was complicated was that the star dogs didn’t talk to the others. We had one French star — the Doberman — and he was never with the others. It was just one day of shooting for him.”
Having so many animals on set presented some unique challenges.
“One thing I didn’t expect: There are 25 trainers and they have two dogs each,” said Besson. “So when I say action there are 25 people screaming at the same time. And meanwhile Caleb is reading Shakespeare…”
Jones said his favorite moment from shooting the film was “turning around and seeing 30 dogs staring at me.”
Jones answered questions on the film in a Scottish accent, apparently part of his preparation for an upcoming movie.