After 28 years, cartoonist Jim Davis felt it was time that his feline creation Garfield left his cozy cul-de-sac and gain life experience. In his second film adventure, "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties," the fat cat journeys to London where he discovers a blue-blooded doppelganger and his own untapped potential for being nice.
"Why not do something different with him?" says Davis about placing Garfield in a "Prince and the Pauper"-type of situation. "It pulls things out of his personality."
In the film, Garfield gets mistaken for Prince, an upper class heir to a sprawling castle in England. While the cat gets used to living in the lap of luxury, he conspires with the estate's other animals to overthrow the evil Lord Dargis (Billy Connolly), who wants to turn the castle into a profitable resort.
Garfield's owner Jon Arbuckle (Breckin Meyer) and his girlfriend, veterinarian Liz Wilson (Jennifer Love Hewitt), also show a change in their relationship. In the comic strip, the two characters were never more than good friends, but in the film, Jon follows Liz to an animal conference in England to pop the question.
The sequel allowed Hewitt to reunite with Meyer, with whom she co-starred in "Can't Hardly Wait" and the first "Garfield" film.
"When they called about doing the second one, I was like 'It's Breckin and I, right? He's definitely there?'" says the actress, who had to juggle shooting her hit show "Ghost Whisperer" during the week and the film on Sundays. "He was the biggest reason that I wanted to come back and do another one. He's a really good guy and we have a lot of fun and it doesn't feel like work when we're together."
While Meyer admits he looked forward to Sundays with his pal Love, he also acknowledges that acting opposite a nonexistent cat was easier this time around for two reasons. First he was able to carry around a black bean bag that was the CG-Garfield's stand-in, making it easier to simulate the cat's weight. Also, because of advances in the production's imaging techniques, Meyer was encouraged to let his character actually interact physically with his pet.
"With the first [film], we were a lot more hesitant to do things because it was like, 'Well, that's $20,000 every time you touch him,'" he explains. "With this one, Chris Bailey, the effects guy, told me ahead of time, 'We've kind of streamlined it. We really know what we're doing now, so the more interaction you have with Garfield, the better. So, if you're sitting there talking to him, it's actually better if you tickle under his chin or if you goof off with his ears because it make it more believable for the audience.'"
The live animals made Meyer's life easier too, especially in the case of brother and sister dachshund mixes Chloe and Tyler who played Garfield's sidekick Odie.
"It's freakish how well-trained some of these animals are. Chloe is so adorable; sweetest little dog only wants to be petted," says Meyer. "Tyler could not care less about you. Tyler wants to do his job. When we start goofing off on set, Tyler gets moody. He just wants to act. He's like the De Niro dog."
It's apparent that Garfield isn't the only wisecracking one on the film. Throughout the joint interview, Meyer makes frivolous remarks about how he once Blackberried Tyler (the dog) after recognizing his picture in a magazine and pokes fun at Hewitt frequently just as an annoying sibling would. When a journalists asks where Hewitt gets her recipes for her latest cooking hobby, Meyer jumps in and references her hit supernatural-themed TV drama.
"From ghosts," he says, switching to a ghostly, hollow voice. "'Half a cup of parsley, trust me -- no, a tablespoon.'"
"He's just been mean to me all day," Hewitt tattles with good-natured exasperation.
"I have not been," he retorts. "I have nothin' but love for Love."
"Garfield" feels the love when it opens nationwide on Friday, June 16.