'For me the most profound message in the film is how worthy of our love our dogs are. And I guess that’s something that, you know, maybe touches me in particular,' he says
Liev Schreiber on Isle of Dogs: 'As a dog lover I see the film as an homage'
Dog lovers are well catered for in theatres this weekend, with the release of Wes Anderson’s animated celebration of all things canine, the Silver Bear-winning Isle of Dogs.
Anderson is best known as the epitome of the modern-day auteur, and creator of quirky, visually stunning, live action arthouse pieces such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tenenbaums. Isle of Dogs is not his first adventure in stop-motion animation, however – his 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox was critically praised, and received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, and Isle of Dogs’ star Liev Schreiber says the director has not let his high standards slip just because he’s working in the animated sphere.
“I’ve seen it twice now, and the first time I think I was just overwhelmed, and in awe of the meticulous detail and the kind of exquisite production design,” the Spotlight star says. “The mise-en-scene – that to me is like Wes.”
Anderson does have something of a reputation for the visually impressive. His last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, picked up four Oscars, including Best Production Design, Best Costume and Best Make-Up and Hairstyling, and Schreiber clearly thinks Isle of Dogs could follow in its footsteps.
“The detail in the puppets alone is amazing,” he says. “And then those sets. And then on top of that, the obvious and beautiful references to [Akira] Kurosawa, Japanese cinema. And, you know, wood carvings and paintings, and Japanese landscapes.
“To incorporate that all is an incredible juggling act. I think part of why I love the film so much [is] it’s really remarkable. It’s really a feast.”
Anderson hasn’t let the standards of his casting drop either – Schreiber is joined on the voice cast by an impressive list of talent including Bryan Cranston, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Greta Gerwig and Edward Norton.
And Schreiber has a suggestion as to why so many A-listers may be keen to work with the director.
“What I love about Wes is it’s really not so much about funny voices as finding some level of truth in the voice,” the actor says. “And some sense of humanity of the person who’s reading it. So it wasn’t a lot of affectation or acting. And I think because he gets the voice first and builds the character after, it’s really interesting because you have these very sort of unique and specific human characteristics that he then attributes to animals.”
The film is set in a near-future, dystopian Japan where all dogs have been banished to Trash Island after a dangerous outbreak of canine flu. Schreiber’s character Spots is the pet that belongs to the film’s hero, Atari, a boy who sets out on a thrilling adventure to rescue his beloved canine companion after Spots is the first animal to be sent into exile.
As a dog owner, Schreiber admits that he found making the film an unexpectedly moving experience. “As a dog lover I see the film as an homage to dogs,” he says.
‘It’s strangely emotional. Like really emotional. The extent of a dog’s capacity for loyalty and compassion. And what they suffer for us, and the extent to which they would, are willing to, give their lives for us is just really moving to me.
“Especially now that I’ve been away from my dog for over a week and a half. I miss him very much.”
Schreiber seems emotional at the talk of his much-missed pooch, and, for him, the movie has a very distinct message for audiences.
“For me the most profound message in the film is how worthy of our love our dogs are. And I guess that’s something that, you know, maybe touches me in particular,” he tells us.
“I love all of the other elements of the film, but what happens between a dog and their master is an extraordinary thing. And I think Wes plays at it beautifully in this film.”
As a man who clearly has a very special relationship with his four-legged friend, who, he tells me, answers to the name Woody, I wonder if his favourite canine critic has had a chance to form an opinion of his portrayal of Spots yet? Sadly, he hasn’t, and it doesn’t sound as if he’ll be among the first in the queue when the film opens in cinemas this weekend.
“My sons have [seen it] but my dog hasn’t seen the film yet,” he says, laughing. “He did not – he’s not big into TV. There are some dogs who love TV. Woody couldn’t be less interested in TV.”
In fact, Schreiber concludes that beyond not being interested in TV, Woody may actually physically abhor the concept of watching movies, perhaps an unfortunate position when your owner is a respected Hollywood actor.
“I think it actually annoys him. He doesn’t understand why people just sit there staring at the blue light. It doesn’t make any sense to him when there are socks to be chewed, and other, you know, incredible things to do.”
Isle of Dogs is released in UAE cinemas this week