At the premiere of the movie in Los Angeles on Thursday, the 42-year-old actor told reporters that working with the canine stars of the film was “amazing.”
“I mean, you know you’re showing up to work and you’re rolling around on the ground filming, you’re getting kissed by them,” he said. “You’re finding the instinctual cues you need in working with an animal.”
“They pick up on every little detail of emotion, things that you’re feeling,” the actor continued. “Like if I had a stressful moment, Parker the dog was picking up on it — stressful in terms of the character, so I would just kind of lean down, whisper in his ear, have a conversation just he and I, make sure he knew that, ‘We’re just making a movie bud, and this moment’s going to be over in a second but I love you, I care about you.’ “
“I love dogs,” Ventimiglia added. “I don’t have time for dogs, it’s been a while since I’ve had a dog but I love dogs.”
The star also admitted that he was tempted to take his favorite dog Parker, just 2 years old, home with him at the end of the shoot.
“He and I bonded pretty well,” the This Is Us actor shared. “I was wanting to bring him home with me but also he’s a professional working dog. You can’t just bring the professional working dog home because he had a mom and a dad and a home and all that.”
In the movie, the actor plays Denny Swift, an aspiring Formula One race car driver who happens upon a perfect puppy named Enzo. Denny and Enzo — voiced by Kevin Costner — quickly become best friends, helping each other down the curving road of life and teaching each other about what matters most.
Amanda Seyfried also stars as Denny’s love interest in the movie, which is based on the 2008 novel of the same name.
“Amanda is phenomenal,” Ventimiglia told PEOPLE at the film’s premiere. “What I saw in Amanda was a performer, an artist who believed their performance above anything else … She believed what she was experiencing and there’s no other choice as an actor than to just experience it with her. I mean, if they could all be like Amanda Seyfried, I think we would all be really lucky in front of the camera.”
In an exclusive sneak peek of The Art of Racing in the Rain shared by PEOPLE earlier this week, Ventimiglia gushed about the special love and support all furry friends provide.
“We never know those things in our own lives that are going to stop us in our tracks and completely change course for us,” he explained. “Seeing Enzo in that litter of puppies … Denny is now responsible for another life, for another soul, to show him love and to feed him and pick up after him.”
“But it’s the emotional responsibility that happens with that,” the actor added. “It shows Denny’s true spirit. He’s a race car driver, but he’s also a greater figure as a best friend to Enzo.”
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