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Some actors just have it. They’re just born for it, and everything they do in front of the camera feels effortlessly real. Tom Hanks, the lead of the new Apple TV+ movie Finch, is a pretty good actor, I guess. But Seamus, his canine co-star, is a real pro.
In Finch, which is now on Apple TV+ and in theaters, Hanks plays the title character, who just may be the last person alive on a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s been ravaged by a solar flare. For the past five years, his dog, Goodyear (Seamus), has been his only companion and the reason he keeps on going. When Finch worries he’s getting sick, he uses his genius to build a robot (Caleb Landry Jones) to take care of Goodyear should the worst happen. Finch, the robot named Jeff, and Goodyear are essentially the only characters in the movie. Luckily, Seamus has the star power to carry it.
In March of 2019, SYFY WIRE visited the set of Finch. In addition to getting time to speak with Hanks and director Miguel Sapochnik, we also spoke with dog trainers/handlers Mark Forbes and Ray Beal, and got a chance to see Seamus, who was indeed a good boy.
Forbes and Beal explained that Seamus, a scruffy mutt, had been found outside a homeless encampment in Northern California. A local rescue group that the pair knew contacted them saying Seamus just might have potential as a canine actor. Seamus, who vets estimated to be about a year old when he was found, almost had his big break in another movie, as he was being considered to play Tramp in the live-action Lady and the Tramp that premiered on Disney+ in late 2019.
However, the gig ultimately went to another dog. Soon after, Seamus got very sick. He stopped eating, and was, as Forbes recalls, “just wasting away.” After losing about 13 pounds in four weeks, a vet felt there was no option but to perform exploratory surgery to see what the issue was. The issue? Seamus must have eaten something sharp during his time as a stray, and it had cut up his intestines so much that the mass of scar tissue was blocking the blood flow to his stomach.
It took two surgeries and a couple of months of recovery, but soon Seamus was back to his normal dog self — and it turns out a “normal dog” was exactly what the filmmakers behind Finch were looking for. Forbes brought a variety of dogs before Hanks and the producers. None quite fit the bill. Then, he suggested Seamus, who had recovered by that point. Seamus didn’t have any real training yet, but when he met his potential co-star, the two had a chemistry that you just can’t fake.
“Before we knew it, Tom and him were rolling around on the floor,” Forbes says.
Hanks has experience working with dogs, having starred in 1989’s man’s best buddy-comedy Turner & Hooch. Seamus, he says, is a different sort of dog actor than the two dogs who played Hooch. (“One was huge and one was smart,” he recalls.)
Hanks describes his relationship with the real-life Hooch (one dog’s real name was Beasley) as being fairly artificial. The dog would just be staring over his shoulder at his trainer and doing very specific things.
“Saturdays were just dog-centric, because that was when we would dedicate getting regular dog behavior out of Beasley,” Hanks explains, detailing the Turner & Hooch filming schedule. “And that took just oceans of time because we shoot for ten hours, and if we got three-and-a-half minutes of the dog being a dog, we're home free."
“But Shamus is not just a dog,” Hanks continues. “You can tell that he's just a different kind of trained being. We say to Mark, ‘You've done a magnificent job training this dog to sit there on a mat looking like he's tired.’”
He means it as a compliment. Hanks went on at length about how authenticity was important to making Finch work as a movie, so a dog that behaves like a normal dog is going to come across better than an overly trained one.
Sapochnik, who has dealt with horses and dragons from his time directing blockbuster episodes of Game of Thrones (the latter of which are admittedly CGI), hadn’t worked this closely with an animal actor before, but he echoes Hanks’ praise of Seamus.
“I think I've been very lucky with Seamus, cause he doesn't need much direction, which is to say he does what he wants whenever he wants to do it. And you just make sure we film,” Sapochnik says. “He's got these big bushy eyebrows, so he's got a lot of character.”
Sapochnik says Seamus has a great relationship with Forbes and is, in fact, very well trained, but when that training is geared towards getting an organic dog performance, sometimes Seamus will make interesting — if hard to replicate — acting choices.
“There was one evening where we were doing a scene — a big, heavy, intense father-son conversation — and Shamus, clearly from the very first take, was like, ‘I'm not going to do what you want me to do.’ And he starts walking around stretching. He sits down and gets a big stick and starts crunching and stuff,” Sapochnik says. “In those times, I would think to myself, 'If we can recreate that, every take I would use it.’”
With glowing endorsements from Hanks and Saopchnik, you’d think filmmakers would be begging to get Seamus in their next project. But, it remains to be seen if Seamus’ debut role will be his last. It’s not uncommon for dogs to only perform in one movie or show, especially if it’s a major role like Goodyear. On top of that, Forbes says canine actors frequently realize that they’re not actually made for Hollywood and would rather sleep by the fire all day. Not Seamus, though.
“He actually likes to work. He likes to set and get all the intention. And so dogs like this, even when we retire them, they're the first ones out to the truck every morning wanting to go to work,” Forbes says. “Once, once this movie comes out, we'll probably send his picture out again.”
Finch is now in theaters and on Apple TV+.