Perry Mattfeld and Levi the dog of The CW’s “In the Dark.”Kharen Hill/The CW
Pretzel the guide dog on The CW’s “In the Dark” is both a woman’s best friend and her partner in crimefighting.
In real life, Pretzel is played by Levi, a 7-year-old golden retriever. On the genre-bending “In the Dark,” she works with her blind, 20-something owner, Murphy (Perry Mattfeld), to help solve her friend’s murder. Murphy also works at a school for guide dogs called Breaking Blind.
“[Murphy] is a character I’ve never played before — not only the emotional aspect but the physical aspect as well,” says Mattfeld, 25 (“Shameless”), who is sighted in real life. “So I was attracted to that challenge in addition to how wonderful I think the story is. And it was a bonus: ‘Oh, you’re going to be around puppies and dogs all the time!’ I’m so in love with that dog.”
Premiering Thursday at 9 p.m., “In the Dark” was filmed in Toronto and enlisted Toronto-based dog trainer Violetta Hessing, owner of V’s Talented Animal Performers, to train Levi for her role as Pretzel.
Hessing says the biggest challenge in getting Levi to act like a real guide dog was calming her down.
“Levi has always been a 0-to-60 dog and has a lot of energy because she’s the happiest dog in the world,” Hessing says. “I had to really work on her being more of a sedate dog. Perry was great and had a relaxed aura whenever Levi was going to perform.
“Guide dogs are supposed to be calm and relaxed and take the environment in and not react to what’s going on around them.”
To help calm Levi down so that she could plausibly portray a guide dog, Hessing would put baby food (chicken) around Mattfeld’s neck in order to get Levi to lick the actress. It sounds gross, but Mattfeld says she didn’t mind getting up close and personal with her canine co-star.
“I loved that, unlike how most people would probably react,” she says. “[Levi] is so fascinating to watch. She can be such a puppy and wagging and playing, and then she can get very serious and very dramatic.”
Rich Sommer, Mattfeld and Levi in a scene from “In the Dark.”Ben Mark Holzberg/The CW
While Mattfeld isn’t blind, series co-star Calle Walton is, and the series employed a blindness consultant named Lori Bernson and several blind writers.
“I spent a lot of time with Lori,” Mattfeld says. “I spent a lot of time just in her home watching her night and morning routine, watching her cook, watching her send e-mails, work with her guide dog — just getting a sense of her physicality.”
Mattfeld says the biggest challenge of making the show was not playing with Levi between takes.
“She’s so cute and so lovable,” she says. “Everyone on our crew would have to walk by and not pet her [and] that was terrible. I’m the lucky one — I was allowed to interact with her as much as I wanted.
“But it was brutal for everyone else to walk by without their allotted time to be able to interact with the dog.”
And of course, since she’s a star, Levi got her own personal space off the set.
“She obviously had her own green room but we spent a lot of down time between takes hanging out together,” says Mattfeld.