Never work with children or animals, goes the saying. That may well be true but only because both tend to upstage adult actors. Such is the case in the new ABC show "Downward Dog," which features a melancholy-faced coonhound mix Martin (who in real life goes by Ned). Pet lovers have gone mad for the show, often posting photos of themselves on social media watching "Downward Dog," with, yes, their canines.
"Downward Dog" stars Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress Allison Tolman (of TV's "Fargo") and follows the daily life of Nan — a 30-something single woman balancing work and personal life — through the eyes and voice of her lonely and somewhat depressive-sounding dog, Martin (voiced by Samm Hodges).
So what makes Martin a good dog for Nan and the show unique besides the talking, narrating dog? "The interesting thing about our show is that as the audience, we know so much more about what's going on than Nan does, as a character," Tolman said in a recent episode of "Salon Talks," where she appeared with her canine co-star. "He's always there when she needs him; he has that power that animals have to kind of read her mind and give her kisses when she's feeling down."
Added Tolman: "But obviously because she can't hear what he's saying to the audience and she can't hear what he's thinking . . . the fun thing about the show is that as an audience we get to really delve a lot deeper into what makes them right for each other."
The two characters share a dependent relationship that isn't always a happy one, much like any other type of real-life pairing. "He really regards the relationship as a relationship that needs to be maintained and worked on and they need to be in therapy," Tolman explained. "He obviously [explores] the emotional health of their bond more than she does."
Ned is a rescue dog who resided at the no-kill shelter Paws Chicago for about a year until being found by the show's creators. "He had been trained for six weeks when we started shooting the show, so he's still relatively new to the world of stardom," Tolman said.
For her part, Tolman didn't bone up on heaps of dog training skills before performing beside Ned; the two dog trainers on set do a lot of the "trickery" to ensure that Ned moves where needed. "My main job with Ned was just to bond with him and get him to sort of trust me and like me." In short, Tolman had to "act like I was his owner, which was kind of a crash course in bonding."
Shooting scenes at Nan's home could feel lonely at times, Tolman recalled: She was acting opposite a dog, not a human, after all." But that passed." She settled into a rhythm. "As I got to know his trainers more and more and kind of regard them as my co-stars in these scenes, that was really helpful," she said.
"It's a little bit more technical" to act alongside a dog as opposed to performing with a human, Tolman observed: "You have to do a lot more set-up before you're prepared to roll with an animal because you have to get everything right."
See more of Tolman and Ned in this excerpt from a "Salon Talks" episode.