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Steven Weber & Border Collie Zeke Star in Hallmark Channel's "Duke"
The news has been full of stories about war veterans returning home to their loyal dog companions. The images will warm even the coldest of hearts. Hallmark Channel’s latest original film “Duke” explores this bond as well as the important role dogs and animals can play in the lives of our returning vets.
Airing April 28th, “Duke” stars Steven Weber (“Wings”) who plays Terry, an injured, Iraq War veteran suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). No longer wishing to burden his family and unable to deal with the pain and emotional turmoil, Terry leaves with the family dog Duke to live the next years of his life off the grid essentially homeless and shattered. Based on a true story it is Terry’s bond with Duke that ultimately saves him and reconnects him with the family he left behind.
Weber’s preparation for the dramatic role required a little research on his part. First was the task of understanding the psyche of servicemen and women returning from combat. Where did he head for his research, the Internet, which offered him a wealth of knowledge and information.
“I found a lot of stories about similarly traumatized and disposed war veterans who have had their lives personally destroyed by their time in war and the subsequent Post Traumatic Stress."
It was also necessary for Weber to explore the bonds of humans and animal. To do this he watched the many viral videos of dogs being reunited with their owners returning from war. Real life organizations like Pets For Vets that specifically helps place animals with veterans in need gave him a deeper appreciation and understanding of how important animals can be in the healing process, an understanding he carried into the role.
“The idea that a dog is so important in these peoples recovery is a point made very strongly and clearly in “Duke”.
It would take a special dog to play opposite Weber in this film which demanded a great deal of it's canine star. A talented Border Collie named Zeke was cast to play the title character Duke. Weber was quick to praise the canine star of the film.
“He was very on it, very aware very attentive and loyal. He was great to work with."
Even with Zeke’s talent, creating an honest and real bond between Weber and Zeke on camera wasn't easy especially with a tight shooting schedule. Jokingly Weber said he took Zeke out for dinner and dancing but in reality the trainers had to quickly give Weber skills to become the source of reward Zeke looked too. Weber also said the trainers on set were vital to Zeke’s performance, who were always just off screen prompting Zeke to do amazing things for the camera.
Zeke delights with tricks but Weber feels the real movie magic happens when Zeke’s natural dog instincts take over. It is the moments you can’t plan for that show not only Zeke’s talent but also are the true heart of the film that create those tear inducing moments that melt your heart.
“In one scene my character is very traumatized and is going through a terrible flashback and is shaking and crying and Zeke, without any prompting, came over to me and began nuzzling me, caring for me, and worrying for me. It was so amazing and the cameras were running and producers were jumping up and down.”
Weber’s work on the project brought home to him that dogs are not accessories or toys and shouldn’t be treated as such. It is for this very reason that Weber is currently not a dog owner.
“It’s unfair to just get a dog, you have to be there for this animal and because I’m always traveling and my wife works and my boys are in school how fair would that be? The circumstances have to be right before we do.“ - Weber did hint that adding a dog to the family might be in the cards in the future.
“Duke” ultimately reminds us of the power of unconditional love. Be sure to check your local listings for channels and times and tune in to “Duke”.
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Celebrity Dog News
According to E! Online, actor Mickey Rourke has expanded his canine clan and adopted a new dog he has named Foxy! Rourke made the official announcement of Foxy's adoption at a press conference for his latest film "Dead in Tombstone". It turns out Rourke found Foxy while on set in Romania. Rourke is a a long time dog lover and even included them in his acceptance speech at the 2009 Golden Globe Awards when he won for Best Actor in "The Wrestler". Rourke has had several dogs over the years and often spoke of his love and devotion to them, even crediting his Chihuahua Loki, who passed in 2009, for helping him with his depression.