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  • Feature: Hotel For Dogs

    Thu, 15 Jan 2009 11:33:39

    Feature: Hotel For Dogs - <i>Nancy Drew</i> star Emma Roberts is a do-gooder for canine-kind

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    Emma Roberts describes working with a kennel's worth of canine co-stars in the family film Hotel for Dogs as fun, but occasionally overwhelming. Roberts and Jake T. Austin star as sibling foster kids trying to save a city's worth of strays, hiding dozens of dogs in an abandoned hotel.

    For one particularly hard-to-shoot scene, "rehearsing alone took almost two hours, because we were trying to get every single movement down perfectly," Roberts recalls. "With actors, you can throw them in there and be like, 'Do what you feel.' With the dog there, it throws a whole wrench in it, because the dog needs to know [exactly] what it's doing."

    "It's really very much about preparation," says first-time feature director Thor Freudenthal, who wanted to avoid using digital effects or image manipulation whenever possible. "Everything you see the dogs do, they worked on for two months before they went in front of the camera." He also had a "more is more" theory of "when in doubt, include the dog," even in scenes that originally were not written to include any of them.

    "Everything you see the dogs do, they worked on for two months before they went in front of the camera," says director Thor Freudenthal.

    Many of the dogs appearing in the movie are rescues obtained from shelters and trained to be performers. "It was great to sort of see the theme of the movie being realized by the movie," Freudenthal says.

    Roberts notes that Hotel for Dogs gave her the chance to work with three actors she really admires: Don Cheadle, Kevin Dillon, and Lisa Kudrow. Cheadle appears as a stern-but-understanding social worker, while Dillon and Kudrow play the kids' nasty-but-funny foster parents.

    "Don Cheadle, he's the man, he's amazing," Roberts says. "He gave the movie a very 'real' feeling." Both she and Austin are fans of Dillon's T.V. series Entourage, and agree that it was hard not to laugh during their scenes with him. And Roberts says, "I love Lisa Kudrow. On Friends, she was always my favorite."

    Kudrow has similar regard for Roberts. "She was why I wanted to do the movie," Kudrow says. "I saw Nancy Drew and thought she was fantastic." Kudrow describes an awkward on-set moment that occurred when the director wanted her to lick a spoon that a dog had licked. "He started making a good point: 'Well, their mouths are sterile, you know. People like to have dogs clean their wounds sometimes.' But I'm like, 'Wait, am I forgetting something? Don't lick something a dog has licked, right?'"

    As for whether a dog's mouth is really as clean as some people believe, Kudrow offers her own hilarious take on the subject. "How could it be true?" she asks. "They lick their feces. I mean, don't you want to avoid feces in your mouth? I think you do!" (In the end, movie magic was used to make it look as if she and the dog shared the utensil.)

    The mechanically-inclined character played by Austin, star of T.V.'s Wizards of Waverly Place, devises several inventions to keep dogs entertained in the movie's hotel. Austin says his favorite was a simulator that lets them pretend they are sticking their head out the window of a moving car. "I thought that was the most creative and one of the most honest inventions," he says. "Whenever a dog's in a car, that's the first thing they do."

    "My favorite was the shoe vending machine," Roberts says. "Every time I see it, I just laugh."

    Although Roberts' singing on her 2004-2007 Nickelodeon T.V. series Unfabulous resulted in an album, she doesn't have any more professional music plans. "I know a lot of people do the acting and singing thing, but I want to be taken seriously as an actress," she says. "I don't want to be an actress-slash-singer."

    She already has three more movies awaiting release. As for doing another T.V. series, Roberts says, "At the moment I'm not actively pursuing that, but I would never say never."

    Currently a high school senior, Roberts hopes to study literature and photography at NYU or Sarah Lawrence College. She realizes that turning 18 in February means she can move into more mature roles. "It's just inevitable that I'm going to want to do older things," she says. "But nothing too crazy."

    Asked if there's a superhero she would like to play, her answer shows how she has a foot on both sides of the grown-up dividing line.

    "Wonder Woman," she quickly answers. "She has the best outfit." But a moment later, she changes her mind. "No, I want to be a Powerpuff Girl. I want to be Buttercup. I think I would be Buttercup. Yeah. Wait, no. I don't want to be the short dark-haired one. I don't like that one. Oh, no, I want to be Blossom, sorry, the redhead. I like Blossom. Blossom or Bubbles. Those are my favorites."

    —James Dawson

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    Tags: Thor Freudenthal, Emma Roberts, Lisa Kudrow, Don Cheadle, Jake T. Austin, Hotel for Dogs

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