Everyone’s favorite big red dog is coming back to the big screen in a big way. Clifford the Big Red Dog (2020) directed by Walt Becker stars Rosie Perez, John Cleese, Jack Whitehall, and Kenan Thompson. The movie, much like the animated series, follows the story of a young girl named Emily and her misadventures with her beloved enormous sized puppy, Clifford. The Knockturnal was able to visit the set of Clifford the Big Red Dog on its last day of filming for a behind the scenes look at all the action.
While on set, we were able to talk to two of the stars, Jack Whitehall and Kenan Thompson about the project. Here’s what they had to say:
The Knockturnal: So could you talk to us a bit about your role in the film?
Jack Whitehall: Yeah I play Uncle Casey who’s babysitting Emily for the weekend and accidentally allows her to get a dog, and that’s what is the catalyst for the film.
The Knockturnal: And what drew you to this role?
Jack Whitehall: I think I love these kinds of films. These are the kinds of movies I remember watching as a child when I was growing up. They really stick with you and resonate, so the chance to be part of one of them is very exciting for me.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with your director?
Jack Whitehall: Yeah, Walt’s great. He’s a really fun person to work with onset. He’s got really great creative instincts, and he’s very good at letting me do what I do and giving me the space to improvise and stuff like that. I really enjoyed it.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with the kids on set?
Jack Whitehall: They’re great. They’ve got so much energy, and they always bring the scenes to life. They’re very, very professional for actors of their age.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with that big puppet and having to pretend that this giant dog is in the room when he’s actually not?
Jack Whitehall: Yeah, it’s weird at the beginning. It’s so bizarre and feels so odd, but when you do it a couple of times, it’s amazing how quickly it becomes the norm and how used to it you get. I’m so grateful that we have such talented puppeteers because it does genuinely feel like you’re working with a dog in the room which really, really helps.
The Knockturnal: What’s the most surprising thing for you that’s happened so far?
Jack Whitehall: I think the most surprising and exciting thing that’s happened for me is working with John Cleese, who is like one of my heroes. The chance to get to work with him is something I never thought I would get and doing scenes with him was just such a ball.
The Knockturnal: What do you think families will like about this film?
Jack Whitehall: I think they’ll love that it’s funny, but it’s also got real heart and a lovely message at the end. So it works on a couple of different levels, and it’s definitely I think—there’s stuff for the parents, and there’s stuff for the kids.
The Knockturnal: Can you talk a bit about your role in the film?
Kenan Thompson: I’m playing the veterinarian that they go to… bring Clifford to because they’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with him and why is he so big and all of a sudden red. I don’t know if he starts out a different color, but we definitely question the fact that he’s big and red.
The Knockturnal: What has your experience been like on set?
Kenan Thompson: It’s been great. An old friend of mine is producing this movie, so it’s like old times. I’m very comfortable shooting, and we’re in New York, so it’s like home. It’s like my backyard.
The Knockturnal: How do you balance all of your projects? You’ve got Bring the Funny, you’ve got your new TV show, you’ve got SNL, you’ve got this: How do you balance all of that together?
Kenan Thompson: I don’t have to do much. I work with awesome professional people on each job, and as long as my wife isn’t upset, I’m good.
The Knockturnal: Happy wife, happy life. (laughter)
Kenan Thompson: Exactly
The Knockturnal: What do you think families will like the most about this film?
Kenan Thompson: I think it’s a beloved series come to life so anytime that happens it’s always exciting. I know we’ll get everybody out there on the name itself and then it’s on us I guess to deliver an awesome viewing experience, and hopefully, they get that across. I’m having fun with my scenes, so hopefully, it’ll be two hours of that or an hour and twenty minutes or whatever the audience can stand.
The Knockturnal: What has it been like working with your director?
Kenan Thompson: He’s great. He’s been cranking off– offering ad-libs, good ad-libbed lines and ideas, and choices and stuff like that. We’re moving through the morning and not really dragging out the day it doesn’t seem like. You know it’s kind of exactly what they want and what they want me to do so which helps me because I’m a little robotic at times and it’s just like, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll give it to you.” Does that make sense to you?
The Knockturnal: Yeah.
Kenan Thompson: It’s been a lot of that and not a lot of pressure. Everything is pretty clear, especially with the puppet, and they’ve kind of answered all my questions. I know like how I was going to deal with size or trying to act like I’m touching him [Clifford]. It kind of just took all the guessing out of it, which is good for me.
The Knockturnal: Is it harder to act within an inanimate object rather than to act with other people?
Kenan Thompson: Not really. I mean it’s all kind of make-believe in its own way you know what I’m saying? So whether there’s a person standing there or not it’s all basically in my imagination– what my experience is like in this moment because it’s not a real character you know what I’m saying? It’s not a real dog. I mean they’re real people, but they’re not being called by their real names are so you kind of just have to step outside of that anyway.
The Knockturnal: What for you is the biggest difference between working in film and working in TV?
Kenan Thompson: Film is I would say probably a lot more slower and tedious just because I do the same scene over and over again in six different directions, maybe even seven or eight or something like that. But it also gives you a chance to come up with like better lines each time you can take your time. When it’s live, it’s… it’s live, and we do it the one time, and that’s it. You don’t get it back you know what I’m saying? Those are the main two differences.
The Knockturnal: Do you prefer doing things live or do you prefer like this where you get chances to do things over and over again?
Kenan Thompson: It depends. It’s nice to put the time into a production and have like an awesome outcome. It looks nice and rich, and it’s lit very well, the camera work is awesome. On the other side, it’s like sometimes it’s good to just get in front of a live audience and have a highly energetic, you know, anything goes type of thing too. They’re kind of very different so I just like both aspects of them. Films make it feel very grand: big giant studios, big giant trailers, or whatever lots of people around. With SNL we’re kind of like a tight-knit group, and we go out and like get very guerilla with it. We’ll shoot in subways, shoot in the park just walking down the street…and you see people notice. People ask for a permit– we just take off running so yeah I like them both…
Clifford the Big Red Dog comes to theatres November 2020.