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In British dramedy The Durrells (2016-current, Season 1 is on Showmax), based on naturalist Gerald Durrell’s charming autobiography My Family and Other Animals (1956), an eccentric English family leaves gloomy, drizzly Britain for the sun-dappled (and cheap!) island of Corfu in the mid-1930s. From the moment they land, each family member goes galloping off in a different direction at a madcap pace. And in the youngest son Gerry’s (Milo Parker) case, the galloping might be literal as he reaches out to befriend a wide range of the local wildlife and farm life. For the series producers, that meant having a mini-menagerie on set – which is always a lot more fun for viewers than it is behind the scenes! Watch now »
It takes a zoo
Young Gerry soon gathers a dog named Roger, a seagull named Alecko, pelicans, goldfish, donkeys, bats, spiders, snakes, owls, tortoises and scorpions. Director Steve Barron reveals that getting the animals on set required a lot of thinking about where they’d have to come from and who would care for them – especially the creepy crawlies, local species or wild animals like an octopus. “Each time we came across an animal performance in a piece of storytelling through the animals, we would have to find a way through it. We had a great vet over in Corfu who helped us locate different species and we tried to keep it as authentic as we could in terms of where they could have been seen back in the ’30s.” But some animal stars made the trip to the set with the actors, all the way from the UK. Watch now »
Pelicans and pelicant’s
Animal handler Anthony Bloom of Birds for Film (who also trained Steven Seagull, the bird that plays Alecko) brought in two pelicans – Peli 1 and Peli 2 – and he admits, “They refused to eat anything except expensive red mullet. At home in the UK, we feed them herring, capelin, whiting and sprats but in Corfu they went on hunger strike unless it was red mullet. As they were stars, I had to pamper them so they would co-operate.” That co-operation was limited though. One of the Pelis bit Milo on the arm, while the other gave one unlucky crewmember a bloody lip while they were trying to take a “Peli-And-Me” selfie. “I’ve learnt that the secret is to respect the animals, then they respect you,” says Milo. Watch now »
One of the show’s biggest animal stars is Roger the Dog (real name Mossup, a female Lurcher), who was rescued from a puppy farm and trained by Liz Thornton of A1 Animals – and Mossup is just one of 57 dogs and 20 cats that Liz and her partner Alan handle. The pooch was already a pro, having played one of King Henry VIII’s dogs in The Tudors (2007-2010). Liz admits that Mossup isn’t star struck and would cosy up to just about anyone for a treat. “I have to be honest, she’s very food driven. She loves her food, which makes her fantastic to work with different actors on set. But if there’s no food involved, she really is quite stuck up,” says Liz. Acting with Mossup also meant accommodating her schedule. “We try to schedule Mossup’s action, if you like, in the morning and then in the evening when it’s that little bit cooler,” explains Liz. But Mossup soon came to adore Milo and greeted him with big, slobbery dog kisses when they reunited to film Season 2! Watch now »
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Additional sources: Dailymail.co.uk, PBS.org, TheStage.co.uk, WhatsonTV.co.uk
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