For many directors, electronic press kits are little more than space-filling extras on Blu-ray discs — but many directors are not Wes Anderson. For his latest movie, Isle of Dogs — a stop-motion animated film starring the voices of Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Ed Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, and Tilda Swinton as canines in a futuristic version of Japan where all dogs have been banished to a trash-covered island — the exacting auteur produced this delightful five-minute short in which the actors chat about their roles and the meaning of doghood, which Vulture is sharing with you exclusively today.
“When it comes time to do an EPK for a movie like this, you don’t have a bunch of people sitting around on the set in costume that you can pull aside for interviews while they’re waiting for the next shot,” Anderson tells us. “So each of the actors did an interview and answered questions on their own — some recorded themselves on their iPhones — and we spent the next several months figuring out how to make those into the cast interviews.”
Of course some actors were harder to wrangle than others. For Bill Murray, who plays Boss, a jersey-wearing mutt in the movie, and who discusses the importance of sports mascots in this short, “our friend [producer] Molly Cooper, who’s worked with us for years, recorded him in his car,” says Anderson. “With Bill, it’s good to be ready at all times, and when the time came and he said, ‘Let’s do it,’ they happened to be on the move. But I think we found a reasonably convincing way to make that work. And Bill’s definition of what a mascot is, to me that’s my definition from now on. Sometimes Bill will say something that you didn’t even understand, because it might be expressed in a metaphorical way, but an hour later, you get it. He speaks like somebody who knows the life of a mascot.”
The look of each dog in Isle of Dogs was based on the actor portraying her or him, says Anderson. “We recorded all their voices [for the movie] before we really had the characters. The most we had were some sketches I made, or some images of dogs we’d picked as models, but the way the dogs were designed was through sculpting them. They began as clay sculptures, and with those sculptures, we were shaping them to have the personality of the performances we had from each actor.”
For example, Chief, a pack leader voiced by Cranston, needed to have a certain gravitas: “Bryan has a very powerful, forceful voice, and he played this dog with a kind of intensity, so we spent a very long time working on the puppet before we could say, this puppet is good enough to deliver this performance,” says Anderson.
And Duke, the dog played by Goldblum, needed a snout expressive enough to match the syncopation of the actor’s inflections: “Music is always a part of Jeff’s process. Sometimes I see him reading a piece of sheet music like it’s a mystery novel,” says Anderson. “I would bet Jeff has a genius-level IQ, and we had to get a dog that seemed to be following his train of thought. I have no idea how you do that exactly, but you know when it’s not there yet.”
“The dogs’ faces have very complex skeletons underneath the fur,” says Anderson. “They’re made by a guy named Andy Gent, who’s the master of puppet-making for us. He worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox, too. There are only a handful of animators in the world on his level. They work with the actors’ voices, and they bring something out of the puppet with their hands and their eyes and their brain that comes from a completely different place than reality. It’s very mysterious. Even though I’ve worked with some of these animators for years, what they do is still like a magic trick that I don’t understand.”
Isle of Dogs is in theaters on March 23.