Playing a homeless veteran who is fraught with post-traumatic stress syndrome is not what Steven Weber would ever have expected of a Hallmark Movie Channel acting assignment. However, that’s just the role the “Brothers & Sisters” and “Wings” star wound up with in his April 28 drama “Duke.”
“It’s not the standard Hallmark fare. It was a deeper, darker Hallmark – but still appeals, I think, to their core audience,” Weber says. Taken from real life, “Duke” is the story of the troubled veteran and his faithful companion of 10 years, a Border Collie named Duke – and the unexpected chain of events set in motion when the dog falls ill.
“I’d been playing mostly bad guys in suits in recent years, so it was a chance to go deeper,” notes the actor. “It was a great role full of amazing opportunities, selfishly speaking, to chew the scenery a little bit, and share scenes with an amazing dog.”
Unfazed by the old axiom that actors should avoid scenes with kids or dogs, Weber found himself working with two canines in the title role. “Zeek was the dog that played Duke 90 per cent of the time. He performed beautifully, a true professional,” Weber reports. “His trainers were invariably running off-screen and prompting him. It was interesting. Of course, he is a dog, and you have to be very patient; he didn’t hit the target all the time. But thankfully there were a few instances when the camera was running and caught some genuine connection between him and I, which was really nice.”
Weber considers himself “a dog lover, but indirectly. I have two children, nine and 11, who are beginning to bug my wife and me for a dog. But the lifestyle – our work has had us going all over the country, and it wouldn’t be fair to leave a dog.” Right now, the boys are apparently making do with “the frog we bought at the Sharper Image that stays under water for two years” – which sounds like a real dud as a pet, if you ask us. “No, it’s not,” Weber insists, dead-pan. “They feed him and he has a nice view and it’s a lovely deal.”
But he admits his sons are gaining ground in their dog lobbying. The fact they heard all about “Duke” and Zeek during production — but couldn’t join Weber on location because of school — “is something they’re really using against me.”