This past Saturday afternoon Baxter, Ron Burgundy's trusted, furry sidekick from Anchorman, was tired.
"It’s a warmer room," trainer Raymond Beal explained, as Baxter—real name Quince—lay in a fuzzy bed propped on a leather chair. "He’s still on L.A. time. We just flew in yesterday. We got up at 6 o’clock this morning to go for a walk so that’s actually 3 o’clock L.A. time. So he’s like, I’m still a little sleepy."
Quince was set up in a room of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York decked out to look like a sitting room. There were two leather chairs—one for Baxter, and one for a human—which framed a fake fireplace and a framed photo of Baxter/Quince and Ron Burgundy/Will Ferrell. Quince was on hand to promote his film in "interviews" and take holiday photos with cooing humans. (Yes, The Wire is guilty of photo-taking and cooing.)
Quince, you might notice, is not the Baxter that appeared in the first film, which came out in 2004. (That dog, Peanut, is no longer with us.) But Quince is not just new to the role. He's also new to the business. Anchorman is the big break for this dog who was rescued from a supermarket parking lot, and had only done minimal work in the entertainment industry before getting the part. "He hadn’t really done much other than walk on a leash, go with the Grinch," Beal explained, having noted that Quince has played the Grinch's dog Max in a show. "Now this was learn your marks. He had to learn the basics: sit, stay, lie down, on your feet, speak, back up, all those basic things." The "craziest" trick Quince had to perform for the film, was for a scene in which the movie's news team crashes their RV. (Ron thinks cruise control means that the thing can drive itself.) Quince had to grab onto one of the actor's arms while in motion in a harness. "We just made it a game," said Beal, who works for company Birds & Animals Unlimited alongside Mathilde de Cagny, the credited trainer on the movie. Quince also trained in a therapy pool for some water-based scenes. There were three dogs on hand to play Baxter, but Quince ended up as the sole performer.
As in the case of the first movie, Baxter has a pivotal role in the latest Anchorman. Besides looking extremely cute doing things like drinking out of straws and wearing tiny hats, he appears as Ron's voice of reason, even (spoiler alert) saving the day at the very end. "It's like a little treat Baxter moment at the end," director Adam McKay explained in a roundtable interview earlier Saturday. (McKay has also floated the idea of a Baxter spinoff.)
It's obvious enough that the camera loves Quince, who sat quietly and let The Wire pet him while we talked to Beal. "He’s a great looking dog. He looks good on film," Beal said. "He’s got a lighter face, he’s got these great brown eyes, you put a camera on and you put an eye light on it just sparkles."
One might think that Quince, a dog, would be free from doing the junket interviews required of his human co-stars like Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate. No, Quince—who Beal said can be "serious" sometimes—was also talking to the press on Saturday, barking in response to questions. But by the time we got to the room, he was a little over speaking on cue. "He’s slowed down on the reaction time," Beal said. "The reaction time went from right away to three seconds, to ten seconds to, um, nothing." Beal explained Quince does have some good barks on hand: "He’s got a couple of repertoires. He’s got a good sharp bark, he’s got a kind of grumbly bark, a little bit of whining once in a while after, 'You keep asking me the same thing am I doing it right?'"