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TELEVISION 'Downward Dog' stars talk Chicago, canine co-star
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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There's a new comedy series called Downward Dog barking its way onto ABC.

"Dog" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, making it the first network comedy to do so. It is based on a web series following the life of Nan played by Allison Tolman and her dog Martin, played by a rescue from PAWS Chicago named Ned.

Andersonville native Lucas Neff is also on the show as Jason. He brings comedy experience after starring on Fox's Raising Hope. In Chicago he worked for the Jackalope Theatre Company and was recently commissioned to write a new play for them. His movies roles range from a sexually fluid super villain to a bisexual art teacher in films such as Slash, I Love You Both, and Fear, Inc.

Tolman appeared regularly on FX's Fargo earning a Critics Choice Award and attended Second City's Conservatory Training Program.

Ned is still perfecting his craft, and flew out of town like the rockstar he is just before this recent interview with the stars of the show.

Windy City Times: So you are from Andersonville, Lucas?

Lucas Neff: Yes.

Allison Tolman: The dog is from Andersonville, too. Is everyone from Andersonville?

LN: It is the Andersonville connect! I grew up right off Catalpa and Ashland. I am a local townie. I was probably irritating you at 7-Eleven somewhere…

I went to school downtown on the near South Side.

WCT: You have a background in Chicago as well, Alison?

AT: I am originally from Texas, but moved to Chicago in 2009 to study at Second City. I loved Chicago and miss it all the time.

WCT: How were you cast on Raising Hope, Lucas?

LN: I was doing theater in Chicago. I went to a cattle call. I was 30th in line to read for that part. I bicycled over there from the North Side and was all sweaty. They had me make a tape with a few notes. They flew me out afterward and it changed my life.

AT: That is kind of, like, my Fargo experience. I sent a tape in and they flew me to a screen test. I booked from that.

WCT: Give me one quick Cloris Leachman story, Lucas.

LN: Her hands are like tarantulas. If you are not watching her, you will feel something crawling down your pants.

WCT: Oh, my. So she's handsy?

LN: She is super-handsy.

AT: Not a lot of boundaries.

LN: There is nothing under that bathrobe, I will tell you!

The most fun was when she would realize she didn't have her teeth. She has teeth but lost one tooth. She would just be talking and it wouldn't be there. She would look like she just got out of a fight.

She was 90 years old and still nailing comedic bits. She is so funny. She is a legend. I will let her hands go anywhere!

WCT: Does the dog steal the current show? They say not to work with kids and dogs.

AT: W.C. Fields said that. [The dog] steals the show within the show, but also whenever we were all together in public.

LN: Have you been to a party with dogs before?

AT: Dogs are far more compelling.

WCT: Is he treated better than you on set?

LN: Absolutely. He gets fed anytime he does anything. We are denied food. We don't get to eat for seven hours!

WCT: What is Downward Dog about?

AT: It is show about the transformative power of pet ownership—how our relationships with animals can bring our humanity into focus. It is about a woman named Nan, her boyfriend, her professional life, that is all seen through the lens of her dog. He loves her unconditionally despite all of her many faults.

Oh, and she's very beautiful. [Laughs] It's a major part of the show!

LN: It is about when your ego meets reality, but in this case the ego is a dog. This sweet but megalomaniac of a dog is constantly having to confront the owners limitations. They discover meaning in life through connection.

AT: Egos are checked week after week.

LN: I think all of us can relate to that. It has taken the world a while to recognize my genius. I have had to be incredibly patient, so I can relate to the dog intensely.

WCT: There have not been a lot of talking dogs on television. Was Family Guy the last one?

AT: There was Wilfred, with a man in a dog suit. There is nothing quite like this.

LN: They vary from show to show. This is a very different kind of talking dog show. It is not a live-action Scooby-Doo. It is a thoughtful examination to what it is to be right now. It is not all about pooping and humping legs.

AT: There is a little bit of that…

LN: But that is mainly us!

WCT: Speak on your characters a bit.

AT: My character, Nan, is at a familiar crossroads like many women. She is trying to figure out the next step personally and professionally.

LN: Jason is a guy that is super in love with Nan and the dog, Martin. He is waiting for someone else to start his life. He is sort of existing in a very pleasant way, with a lot of weed.

WCT: Where does the arc of the show go?

AT: It is filmed with eight episodes total for the first season. It is short so we can have a complete arc that feels realistic. It is a small story, but we can tell the complete story.

LN: It is a show that starts at the end of one chapter and is right before the new one. All the characters are wondering what the next chapter will be.

WCT: How diverse is the show?

AT: Well, there's a dog.

LN: One of our characters is British. There are more female with speaking roles on the show. It is a progressively minded show. It tries to represent nice things about people who are different.

WCT: Is the dog gay?

LN: No, the dog is not gay, but if you watch my movie I Love You Both you get to see me play a bisexual guy. In the movie Slash, I play a gay Darth Vader.

WCT: Allison, you were in Sordid Lives: The Series. So lots of LGBT experience there.

AT: Yes. I know there were LGBTQ people in the writers' room of Downward Dog also. The original pitch for Nan was that she was not gay, not straight, not fat and not skinny. She was described a woman living her life.

My character was zeroed in to explore this relationship Jason, but the sentiment behind it is what the creators, Samm Hodges and Michael Killen, still believe in.

LN: I think there could be a storyline on down the road where Nan's sexuality opens up. I think Jason would probably kiss anybody!

WCT: Is being on a single-camera series tricky?

AT: It is like shooting a movie with a dog so there are a lot of moving pieces. I wouldn't have it any other way. It is perfect for the tone and style of our show.

WCT: What else are you working on?

AT: I have a movie coming out at the end of June called The House, with Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. There is also a film called La Barracuda. It is doing the circuit and will be in Chicago soon. There is another one called Why We're Killing Gunther that should come out in the fall.

LN: I have a film in June called I Love You Both where I play a bisexual art teacher. It is a lovely movie.

I am on the Big Hero 6 TV show in the fall. I play a very evil, but youthful robot.

I hope to have a play going up in Chicago this year.

WCT: Great. We can hang out in Andersonville when you get back!

Downward Dog wags its "tale" every Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT on ABC.

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