“I love Koko but his professional attitude was ‘I did it once. If you didn’t get it on camera that’s your problem’. ”
EVEN BEFORE he tells us about his love of throwing tennis balls for a special furry someone, Josh Lucas gives himself away as a dog person. “I have an incredible relationship with my dog,” gushes the boyish 40-year-old. “I got him in a rescue centre in Harlem a long time ago and he’s been my best, best friend for many years.” Already a confirmed canine fancier, Lucas couldn’t believe his luck when the screenplay for Red Dog came his way. The famous kelpie-cattle dog cross is not a household name on this side of the planet but he’s well known Down Under as the real life hobo pup who journeyed across the forbidding western Pilbara region during the 1970s.
There is a statue in his memory in Dampier, one of his favourite watering holes, and favourite Red Dog anecdotes have been collected by various authors including Nancy Gillespie and Louis de Bernières.
Lucas, proud Husky companion and the star of Stealth, The Lincoln Lawyer and incoming TV blockbuster The Firm, did not require much persuading to sign on for Red Dog, the biographical motion picture.
“Sometimes you have to go out and talk about a movie and it’s not at all fun because you don’t love the finished film,” admits the actor. “It’s just part of your job. But I got 20 pages into Red Dog and thought it was the most fantastic script I’d ever read. I’m thrilled with the finished film.” The shoot was, he says, a boy’s own story in its own right.
“I’ve been lucky enough to work in Australia three times. And I’ve travelled around pretty much the entire country. But where Red Dog was shot is basically inhospitable. There’s no reason for people to be there because there’s no water. There are really sad moments out there. You see kangaroos off in the distance dying from thirst. The land is just ore, like walking on metal. It’s red and hard and forbidding. It’s beautiful but it’s one of the most intense environments in the world. Even the miners who work there come for two weeks then go back to Perth about 2,000 miles south.”
Unsurprisingly, given the terrain, the miners, some surviving Red Dog acquaintances, were drafted in as extras. “You’d constantly meet these miners who had amazing stories about Red Dog. They’d show you photos of Red Dog living in one of their little miners’ tents passed out with a cigarette in his mouth. They were usually complaining that Koko, our dog, wasn’t as cool as real Red Dog.”
Lucas, of course, is no stranger to roughing it. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas to doctor Don and midwife Michele, the young Joshua Lucas Easy Dent Maurer moved early and often. By 13 he had lived in 30 different towns with his nuclear activist parents.
“We moved every six months because my parents were very active against nuclear power and nuclear proliferation,” recalls Lucas. “They put themselves forward and they moved from city to city organising protests. It was an unusual way to grow up but I’m so proud of what they did.
“When they had me there was a lot of talk about the Doomsday Clock and they felt someone had to assume responsibility for their kids’ future. My father actually chained himself to railroad track at one time to try to stop a military train carrying plutonium. It was beautiful activism.”
They might have been hippies but his parents were still concerned when the teenager announced his intention to give Hollywood a whirl right out of high school. Early Lucas TV appearances in Life Goes On and Jake and the Fatman did little to bring them around.
“For many years they were very skeptical,” says the actor. “My father sat me down at 16 to talk me out of it. It wasn’t that he thought what I was doing was a joke by any means. It was totally the opposite.
“They loved cinema. They were worried I wasn’t going to take it seriously enough to make a career out of it. He gave me this speech that I always remember: ‘If you’re going to do this then you need to approach it the way I approach being a doctor’.”
Lucas landed his first prominent movie role on the 1993 cannibal survival drama, Alive. He’s scored plenty of mainstream brownies since – in Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon, in Ang Lee’s Hulk, in Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon – but has pointedly plumped for quality, character driven cinema when given the choice. It has to be this way, he says: “Projects not done for love or personal interest never work out for me.
“The longer I do this the more I think I have to have some kind of personal connection with the material. I wanted to do Lindbergh in J. Edgar because my grandmother was one of the first female pilots in America with