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Jennifer Aniston + Owen Wilson x dog = awwwww. As two of Hollywood's hottest actors on their own, Aniston and Wilson could take any romantic comedy to the box office. Add in an adorable canine and no audience could resist their charms.

Marley & MeIn Marley & Me, the actors portray John and Jennifer Grogan, in the story based on John's book about their life with the title dog. As newlyweds, the Grogans adopt Marley as a puppy. We get to watch as Marley's life reveals the Grogans' whole family experience, through trials and tribulations, to making a happy home with their three children.

Of course, Marley is the star of the movie. As dog owners already, the human actors could relate to the various different Labrador Retrievers portraying Marley over the course of the film.

"I think it helped only because I wasn't afraid of dogs," Aniston said. "Honestly, he was so easy to work with. I would say the younger Marleys were a little bit more challenging for the trainers, to hit their mark. We had a ball though. We never had a hard time. The scene where we were taking him to get neutered, that was definitely a challenging scene because you also have the fantastic trainer Mahtilde in the back seat of the car. It was just a lot of action for the dog."

Perhaps Aniston was being modest. Her co-star touted Aniston's commitment to the physicality of the role. "You did do a lot of training," Wilson told Aniston. "That one scene where we had to do the running, you were kind of bandaged up, kind of getting helped back to the start mark. Every time they said action, it was off like you see in Bolt."

Marley lives for 15 years, so the actors portray the Grogans through a decade and a half of age. "Physically I had to show the passage of time," Aniston said. "There were wigs and certain extensions of hair, additions to a bang piece for a more youthful look, but that's basically it."
Jennifer Aniston, Marley & Me

Over the course of the Grogan marriage, the film shows how they get through tough times. Marley observes while John comforts Jenny through a miscarriage. By the time they have children, Marley's antics add more stress, but the Grogans show that family can deal with crises and support each other.

"The reason I wanted to be in this movie was exactly that," Aniston said. "It wasn't the sort of girl trying to get the guy or the guy trying to get the girl or the chase and then you end the movie where they ride off into the sunset. This is sort of the sequel to that, where you get to see the ins and outs of a relationship and see them over 15 years. You have this sort of human thread that takes you through, and have it be funny, just because life is funny. I just loved it. I responded to the material."

Aside from chemistry with Marley, the actors had to have chemistry with each other to portray the Grogan's loving relationship. Having experienced many on screen pairings in their respective careers, the stars offered a simple take on their chemistry.

"We didn't really know each other before the movie began," Wilson said. "We just met in passing and I think it was more like in rehearsal, just early on, feeling like were on the same page with the way we felt things should go. The thing about chemistry, it's sort of, you get along with a person and then if the movie does well, then you have great chemistry."

In this difficult time of economic crisis, wars both practical and theoretical, and divisive politics, Marley's story reminds audiences of the simple truths of human life.

Marley & Me"It's a true story, it's a simple story and I think people go to movies and they escape with these big crazy plotlines," Aniston said. "Here is a movie where people are actually going like 'that's me' or 'I did that,' 'I walked through that' or 'my dog…' Even if you don't have a dog or you've been in a relationship and it doesn't even have to be a married relationship, just partnered life, [you relate to] the simplicity of it."

The dog also serves as a reminder that things are happening in the now. Don't get too caught up in plans, because Marley could be eating jewelry or tearing up the floor. "I think that's the great thing about having a dog, it kind of forces you to be in the present," Wilson said. "That's definitely where they're spending their time."

The real life Grogans were available for consultation. They visited the set to check in on Wilson and Aniston's performances.
Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Marley & Me
"They came and visited early on and it was kind of strange, but it was like, a little bit nerve-wrecking," Wilson said. "Like 'I wonder what he's thinking about me playing him' but they came a few times. John, just talking with him, he was just easy to get along with. But I think it was on the page, stuff kind of made sense."

Between Grogan's own memoir and the screenwriter's adaptation, the actors had plenty of research prepared for them already. They needed only play the parts to live up to the Grogan's expectations. "That was the material," Aniston said. "It was on the page. It was something that was extremely important to us because this book has such an audience and such a fan base, and there are two people that are actually here on the planet and you want to honor their story."

The book was published in 2005, but the movie will introduce Marley to millions of new fans. Just take a look at his picture on the poster and try to resist buying a ticket to the theater.

Owen Wilson, Marley & MeAlready Marley has traveled around the world. "It's strange because it does seem that's it’s not just America," Wilson said. "We were talking to John Grogan and in Argentina they love the book. I guess there's something in the story that has a sort of universal appeal that people are able to connect with."

John Grogan was a newspaper columnist in West Palm Beach, Florida where he began writing about Marley. He ultimately moved to Philadelphia to report for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Wilson got a kick out of playing journalist for a little while, arguing with his editor (Alan Arkin). He did envy Grogan's colleague who got to do investigative reports though.

"It seemed like it would be more fun to be a journalist than to be an editor," Wilson said. "To be out there doing stories. It seemed like of the stories, [the investigative] stories were more interesting. You were out doing more Woodward/Bernstein type stuff. It's like being in an action movie."

Since the film portrays the entire life of a dog, it has an emotional ending that should melt even the coldestOwen Wilson, Marley & Me hearts. Even cat people should relate to Marley as a character after they've spent 90 minutes with him. Even Aniston choked up on the set.

"Those were really hard [scenes]," she said. "That was the last two weeks for me of shooting, so it was kind of fortunate that that came at the end, because you don't always get to shoot in order at all. So those were the days where I couldn't read the side in the morning in the trailer because I was just bubbling over with emotion and I was just sort of hoping that I would be able to look at the lines while I was on set and remember them."

Even Wilson wasn't too macho to admit the film touched him. "Yeah, I knew those scenes were coming up and I was kind of nervous, like 'Gosh, I hope I feel something' so they don't have to get out those fake tears that they do," Wilson said. "The glycerin was on stand by but I didn't really need it because as soon as Copper, the dog who played the old man Marley, as soon as you see this dog it was hard not to start getting kind of emotional. That was what was nice about the movie, that the situations didn't ever feel contrived. Everything seemed kind of relatable, so it wasn't difficult to understand this makes sense, what he's feeling."

PeMarley & Merhaps the film's advertising is deceptive to focus on the cute dog moments. They are there, but there are also the heavy life moments. Just be ready for the emotional journey, especially if you're bringing the kids.

"I would think it’s okay to say there are real life issues," Wilson said. "We're telling the story that the book told and you hope that people appreciate that and that story. I guess that's just something for parents to decide. It's also, I think, right that sometimes maybe as an adult you kind of underestimate or forget kids' ability to deal with stuff or how much they do soak up."

And hey, Old Yeller was a tear jerker too. That's not bad company to be in. "When you think of dog movies, that genre, Old Yeller is sort of the benchmark," Wilson continued. "You hope that you can raise your game up so it's as good as that,” Or, even better!

Marley & Me opens Christmas Day.
www.Dishmag.com / Issue 90 - September 2018
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