From director Gail Mancuso and based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, the heartwarming family film A Dog’s Journey (a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose) follows Ethan’s (Dennis Quaid) beloved dog Bailey on a new journey of love, friendship and devotion, this time to his granddaughter CJ (played by Emma Volk, Abby Ryder Fortson and Kathryn Prescott, at different ages in her life). As tension grows between CJ and her mother, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), it’s the human-canine bond that helps CJ through the roller coaster of joy and heartbreak that is life.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Betty Gilpin talked about how difficult it was for her not to get emotional over the story of A Dog’s Journey, the challenge of playing a character who does not have the same love of dogs that she does, working with the different actresses that play her daughter, the importance of showing audiences why Gloria is the way she is, and why the bond between a human and their dog is so special to her. She also talked about the journey she’s taken with the Netflix series GLOW and what fans can expect from Season 3, her fear of horror stories and how that affected her while doing the remake of The Grudge, and why she wanted to do the Blumhouse film The Hunt.
BETTY GILPIN: I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve been up in Vancouver filming something, and I’m terrified to see the movie. They sent me the promotional package stuff, and in the blooper reel, I had snot running down my face.
When you first read the script, were you able to get through it without needing a box of Kleenex?
GILPIN: You’re the first person that I’ve said this to, but there were chunks of the script that I didn’t read. I would just skip over things, when I would sense something was coming, and I would be like, “Let’s fast forward two pages.” It’s crazy that my character is so heartless because, when it comes to dogs, I’m the kind of person where, if I see a dog on the street, two blocks away, I’ll start crying. I will get down on my hands and knees in preparation for the dog to come close to me, so that we can have a moment.
When you’re working with dogs, is it hard to remember that you’re actually working and that you can’t just play with the dogs?
GILPIN: Well, playing Gloria, it felt like, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. All I wanted to do was snuggle with the dogs, between takes, and establish a relationship with them. But the, it felt like emotional terrorism, when they’d then call, “Action!,” and I’d scream at the dogs. I was like, “Maybe it’s best if we don’t get close because I’m just going to disappoint them.” It was so hard, especially when the puppies were on set. They said, “Please don’t interact with them because they’re still in training and they need to be focused,” but they would also need to get to know you still. They’d come be little electric noodles around your ankles, and you had to keep your eye level above them. It was torture. It was excruciating.
What do you think it says about Gloria that she has such an inability to connect with the dogs?
GILPIN: I think that Gloria has been through so much in her life and has done a pretty good job of repressing a lot of it and just powering through and not facing her demons. Something like a dog sees right through all of that and sees the purest, truest version of you, and that can be too vulnerable and terrifying to someone who doesn’t want to be seen, in that way. I think the same is true for babies. They see you in a way where sometimes people don’t want to be seen in such an unprotected way. One of the best parts of having a dog is that they just inherently know you, through and through. Oh, my god, I’m going to start crying. I love my dog so much.
With A Dog’s Journey, you get to play opposite a variety of actresses, all playing your daughter at different ages. What was it like to work with all of the actresses who were playing your daughter in the film?
GILPIN: It was pretty amazing. It definitely gave me perspective. I would say that it was humbling to have a young woman, who was five years younger than me, as my daughter, later in the film. And I had also done a scene with her character at two years old, days before. I held that little girl, named Emma [Volk], and had her snuggle up into my collarbone, and we’d have tickle fights, and I’d chase her around. And the, I’d be screaming at her 17-year-old self, days later, drunk. It was a pretty amazing acting exercise, and very disturbing. So often, when you do a project, you’re having to do all of that homework by yourself, in your hotel, the night before. You’re like, “Okay, what was this person like, as a kid? What happened to them?” With this movie, I got to act out all of that homework. That was a really interesting exercise.
Gloria does do some things that can be quite unlikeable, at times, but you do really get a sense that it comes from pain. It’s not like she necessarily set out to be this way.
GILPIN: Yeah, totally. I think she had big dreams for herself and thought that her life was going to be special. When Henry died and she realized that her life was going a way that she didn’t expect, she got really resentful and angry and started drinking. I think she kept thinking that her life was going to turn a corner, and turn into something miraculous, but it didn’t and she took it out on the things around her, which were, unfortunately, her child and the dogs around her.
It’s a very familiar moment that a lot of people have, when they realize that life has not necessarily turned out how they wanted or expected it to, and they react in different ways to that. Was it important to you to make sure that she did have some relatability and empathy from the audience, in that regard?
GILPIN: Yeah, it was really important for me, and just as important to Gail Mancuso, the director, that Gloria not come off as a Cruella de Vil, one-dimensional, evil character. Bruce Cameron writes full people, and you get the benefit of seeing these people over decades, so you get to track how they came to be the way they are. I often play characters where, when I read them, my first reaction is to judge them. And then, I realize, “Okay, no one is just one way.” A lot of people filter vulnerability and disappointment and fear into different things. Where my reaction might just be to be quiet or to retreat, Gloria’s is to lash out. I think that she wanted her life to be magical. She surrounds herself with the wrong kind of men and the wrong kind of booze, and probably the wrong kind of make-up and clothes, to try to get some of that magic. I wanted to be like, “Gloria, sit down on the floor with the puppies. The magic is right in front of you!”