In Mike White's directorial debut, Year of the Dog, Molly Shannon plays Peggy – a cube-stuck, quiet woman whose main source of joy is her beagle, Pencil ... who dies. White's best known for broad screenplays (he wrote School of Rock, and co-wrote Nacho Libre), but his scripts The Good Girl and Chuck and Buck have a smaller-wrought, more intimate feel to them. In many ways, Year of the Dog is a bridge between the two seemingly separate threads in his work. White, in person, is unassuming and mild; talking about his work, though, the level of thought he puts into his scripts becomes slowly and firmly apparent. Cinematical spoke with White in San Francisco. The technically-minded can download the entire interview here.
Cinematical: Year of the Dog came out of a pretty personal place for you -- The inciting incident being a stray cat had been living in your backyard literally dying in your arms. How long a relationship did you have with this cat?
Mike White: A couple years -- I had sort of inherited it when I moved into this house that I had bought. And I didn't have any animals up to that point -- I mean, when I was a little kid, I did -- I didn't even really realize how attached I had become to this cat. Over the years it sort of became my pet; it had come in, slept with me -- I was really just super-stressed, and kind of over-worked, and under-slept, and this cat's death just totally spun me out in a way that I totally did not expect. I just had a really emotional reaction to it, and it just gave me the idea – later, after the dust had settled – I just thought, "Well, that's an interesting idea for a movie premise – somebody who has a relationship with a pet, and the loss of that changes their life in away."
Cinematical: And you're not a psychologist, but obviously, you've thought about this to a certain degree – do you think that people put a lot of emotion into their relationship with their pets, because culturally, we're not supposed to it with work?
MW: Right. I think a lot of people do ... In the movie, people put a lot of their eggs in different ... I mean, Peggy's boss is really into his job, the parents with the kid, her friend at work who's obsessed with her boyfriend. ... Whether it's animals, or -- with animals, because they are a source of affection and because the relationship is relatively uncomplicated – there's not a lot of the bargaining that goes on in human relationships, and the needs of animals are pretty simple: being fed, and ...
Cinematical: Pick up the poop. ...
MW: Right. I think the movie – while it does sort of take her animal passion or animal love seriously, it also does gets into her projection on to the animals in her life and how some of it is a little absurd and kind of misguided at some points, too.