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UNDERDOG

Underdog's Stellar Canine Cast
The real key to transforming UNDERDOG into a live-action adventure would lay in the hands – or rather, the paws – of the film's canine actors, who become the true heroes of the story. To take on the task of scouring pounds, kennels, rescue societies, breeders and dog parks for photogenic pooches, the filmmakers recruited Boone Narr, whose work with animals is legendary, taking him from dozens of smaller productions all the way to the epic PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN. Narr was thrilled to hear about the production. "I just couldn't resist the idea of helping to create a dog hero,” he confesses. 

Narr's first big test would be finding the main dog to play Underdog. His mission was to find a dog that not only bore a physical resemblance to the original long-eared, flesh-colored cartoon character, but had all his qualities. The story of how Leo the Lemon Beagle was ultimately cast rivals discoveries such as Lana Turner at Schwab's Drug Store. 

At first, Narr wasn't even sure what breed best suited Underdog. Narr recalls, "I initially looked at about twenty different breeds. We wanted our dog to look right away like an ‘underdog,' so we felt he had to be a smaller dog who might not be able to defend himself, kind of like a canine Clark Kent. Prompted by the cartoon character, which kind of looks like a Beagle, I contacted Beagle Buddies, a Beagle rescue in Orange County, CA. And that's when I saw a photo of Leo.” 

The picture exuded charm, comedy and intelligence. Or so Narr thought. "It was a bit like a bad blind date – because when the dog showed up at my door he looked nothing like the photo! He was overweight and as round as he was long, and he was completely out of-control,” laughs Narr. "But, to his credit, he had a great little personality and we decided to see if we could whip him into shape.”

Leo now had his big chance to prove he had the right stuff and went to a "boot camp” where, like Underdog, he started out a little worse-for-the-wear and transformed himself into hero material. "Leo turned out to be an amazing little guy,” Narr muses. "He's cantankerous and independent, with an attitude, but when the camera is rolling his personality just shines.” 

While Leo was the main canine actor playing Shoeshine/Underdog, there were actually four Beagles who helped to play the part. "Leo's got the mug but he also needed some stunt doubles that do a lot of the running, jumping, and those kinds of things,” Narr continues. "They came from across the country; one from Alaska, one from Texas and one from North Carolina, each similar in looks to Leo.” 

Narr went through a similar process in looking for Polly, but now compatibility entered the mix. The two dogs needed to have that ineffable "animal chemistry.” "We put a lot of different dogs beside Leo to find out who would make the most beautiful couple,” the animal trainer explains. "We definitely didn't want to go the Poodle route – and we wanted a breed you haven't seen a lot in movies. Ultimately, we came up with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, which has a very soft, pretty look.”

Ultimately, Narr choose Ginger, a Spaniel who hails from San Diego and boasts not only a silky cinnamon coat but an unusually outgoing personality that matched the character. "Ginger just had those great looks – and she and Leo looked gorgeous together,” Narr recalls. "The Cavalier King Charles is often a shy breed, but Ginger came running up to us and we knew she was the one.”

Sealing the deal was the fact that Ginger and Leo had their tails wagging for one another right from the get-go. "They had real on-screen chemistry,” notes Todd Arnow. "They have a scene where they were supposed to put their paws on one another and not only did they do that but Ginger put her paw right on Leo's shoulder. They really liked each and performed so well together.” 

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