My Pet World: Kingpin's love of dogs evident in his latest film

If there ever was a Hollywood kingpin — Lawrence Kasdan fills the bill.

He's participated in writing and directing so many great movies, including "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi," "The Bodyguard," "Body Heat," "Silverado" and "The Big Chill," to name a few.

Often, his writing and production partner has been his wife, Meg. You'd figure the studios would clamor for any script hot off their computer.

Kasdan laughs and says, "Not if the script isn't an extravaganza big picture."

His latest movie, "Darling Companion," which opens in L.A. and New York on April 20 (later in other markets) is a story about people of a certain age, co-starring Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins and Sam Shepherd.

Earning top billing, over all these stars, is a dog.

The movie begins with Keaton's character and Elizabeth Moss (who plays her daughter) discovering a lost dog at the side of the road in Colorado. Keaton winds up adopting the pet, who her husband (played by Kline) loses a year later. Family dynamics are turned upside down as everyone searches desperately for the dog.

Why such upheaval over a lost dog?

"I learned it's one of the most emotional things that can happen," Kasdan says,

He knows because about five years ago, he and Meg lost their dog, Mac.

"While attending a wedding, we left Mac with a friend," he says. "They were hiking when a mountain biker spooked the dog and he ran off. We thought he'd show up immediately. We searched and searched and put up posters and made announcements on local radio. We did everything."

Kasdan says that while he knew he loved Mac, he wasn't prepared to be as "devastated" as he was by the loss.

"We were worried something could happen to him in the mountains, but also it's that bond, that relationship you develop; you don't know how much it means until it's gone. After about 10 days, we were getting very discouraged when we were given renewed hope by a friend of Meg's who said, 'Mac's all right; you're going to find him.' Meg asked, 'How do you know?' The friend replied, 'I know things.'"

It turned out the friend was right. Three weeks later, Mac was discovered.

Or was it that the friend (either clairvoyant or crazy) motivated the family to keep on looking? In the movie, the same thing happens. The housekeeper (played by Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer) says she "knows things." She offers "sightings" of the lost dog in her head.

Does she really? Well, it's a topic for discussion, perhaps after seeing the movie. Was the housekeeper truly "seeing things," or a bit daffy, but still offering hope?

While the Kasdans adopted Mac from a shelter, Meg's sister saved her own dog, a Chocolate Labrador, from the side of the road in Detroit. Without any ID, there was no absolute way to find the owner. She dubbed the pet Freeway -- the same name used for the dog in "Darling Companion."

So much is based on real life in this film that you wonder what the Kasdans really had to write. Kasdan points out that several of his movies are based on real life.

"The Big Chill" featured an ensemble cast of characters describing their ups and downs in their 30s. The characters in "Grand Canyon" talked about life in their 40s. "Darling Companion" stars a group of people in their 60s, talking about everything from beginning a new career to what seems like a lifetime of being married. The difference is that big studios were behind the first two titles.

"Darling Companion" is Kasdan's first independent film. This meant no frills for the actors; in fact, they were pretty much paid scale. Kasdan never expected to get the seasoned stars he did.

Kasdan himself was probably the main attraction, although he maintains, "It was the story, and these actors also wanted to work with one another."

After the film wrapped, the crew presented Kasden a gift — a photo album with pictures of all their pets.

"You can't get any better than that," he says.

STEVE DALE, author of the syndicated "My Pet World" column, is widely known as the "Ann Landers of the pet world," offering animal lovers of all kinds the latest news and information on their furry, feathered and scaled companions.


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