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The canine stars of Eight Below had to be able to do much more than sit and stay - they had to demonstrate the indomitable will to survive. To cast the furry actors who would face unusual challenges for animal stars, head animal trainer Mike Alexander of Birds & Animals searched far and wide for a team of unusually intelligent and charismatic huskies.

In the dying days of what passes for summer in the Antarctic, Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) reluctantly agrees to guide geologist Davis (Bruce Greenwood) to a distant sector of Antarctica in search of meteor fragments. Jerry’s ex girlfriend, the bush pilot Katie (Moon Goodblood), radios a storm warning to get the duo out of the ice, just as Davis is rescued after an accident by their pack of eight sled dogs. The evacuation is successful but for the dogs, who have to be left behind until a return trip is possible. With the storms and with winter closing in, this is impossible and Jerry is guilt ridden to have left his dogs. During the harsh, Antarctic winter, the dogs must struggle for survival alone in the intense frozen wilderness for over six months until Jerry and his small team, including cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs) can try to mount a rescue mission. If Jerry can find the funds. If any of them are still alive.

"dogs with unique looks, great personalities and a love of learning"

Head animal trainer on Eight Below, Mike Alexander of Birds & Animals, compiled his cast through a series of spontaneous auditions with animals who ranged from sleek show dogs to homeless strays whose fates were turned around by the film. Says Alexander: “We were looking for dogs with unique looks, great personalities and a love of learning, and we didn’t really care very much about conformation, so we ended up using a lot of rescue dogs who turned out to be just wonderful. In a story about survival, they worked tremendously well.”

As MAYA, the strong and maternal alpha leader of the pack, seven-year-old silver beauty Koda Bear stars. One of the cast’s most veteran performers, Koda Bear has been seen in such films as “Snow Dogs” and on television in “Malcolm in the Middle.” Almost passed up for the part because the filmmakers initially wanted a white dog, she won over the filmmakers, becoming one of director Frank Marshall’s favorite members of the cast. On the set, she was known to her trainers as “The Princess” due to the fact that she wouldn’t go anywhere without her special blanket. Also starring as Maya is the equally beautiful seven-year-old Jasmine, who was thrilled to have been rescued from a refuge for abandoned dogs in Colorado and whisked away to stardom by Mike Alexander in order to take on the role. Finding her true joy in life, Jasmine now conducts sled dog tours at a popular bed-and-breakfast joint in British Columbia. Their sledding double was Kalista, herself an experienced alpha sled dog and veteran of many long treks, who, much like her character, always helped to keep the other dogs out of trouble during the filming.

MAX, the young sled dog who starts out in the back of the pack but becomes a heroic leader in the course of the incredible adventures of EIGHT BELOW, is six-year-old D.J., a playful, happy-go-lucky natural-born movie star who previously starred in the canine hit “Snow Dogs.” D.J. impressed his trainers and director Frank Marshall with his uncanny improvisational skills and always brought an extra dash of drama and emotion to his scenes as Max. Now living the high life in Los Angeles, D.J. has become one of Birds & Animals’ biggest stars and can usually be found flaunting his fur at a film or television audition. Also playing Max is D.J.’s sledding double, Timba. A veritable pup at only a year old, Timba was just starting to learn how to pull a sled when she joined the cast of EIGHT BELOW, impressing the trainers with her fast, graceful moves and cuddly nature. Since then, she’s become a member of a real-life sled dog team, leading tours for intrepid travelers in Canada.

The all-brawn-and-too-few-brains rebel dog, SHORTY, is played by equally playful, all-white three-year-old Jasper—another rescued stray who was especially excited to get the chance to star in EIGHT BELOW because he quickly discovered that snow is his favorite thing in the world. Jasper’s sledding double was the tenacious Lightning, a professional sled puller and impressive canine athlete who never seemed to tire of pulling the sled.

DEWEY, one of the close-knit twins in the pack, is portrayed by four-year-old Floyd, one of the canine cast’s most experienced actors who, when not starring in movies such as “Snow Dogs,” can now be seen on stage as one of the regulars at the Universal Animal Show in sunny Florida. His sledding double was two-year-old Ryan, a former frou-frou show dog from Texas who had never even seen snow before beginning his training for EIGHT BELOW! Falling instantly in love with the ice and cold, Ryan was always ready to take off with the sled, even when it wasn’t his turn.

As TRUMAN, Dewey’s identical brother, is three-year-old Sitka, another pound puppy from Colorado who led trainer Mike Alexander on her own hair-raising adventure when she escaped from her crate on their initial journey to California. Luckily, she decided to return and was able to make her film debut in style, discovering that she had a yen for yummy slices of Canadian duck. Her sledding and action double was five-year-old Chase, a California native known to the trainers as “the big goofball.” Chase graciously underwent a regular non-toxic dye job in the production’s “Canine Day Spa” to look more like Sitka.

Starring as the silvery, sleek SHADOW are Noble, a three-year-old canine actor known for really getting into character, and four-year-old Troika, a rescue found emaciated on the streets of Tennessee only to be transformed into a canine star. Troika demonstrated a beautiful howling voice on the set of EIGHT BELOW and has since become a full-time actor, living in Los Angeles and regularly auditioning for parts. Both Noble and Troika were double threats, doing both the acting and the sledding for their roles.

The spirited, redheaded BUCK comes to life through the expertise of Dino and Flapjack. Dino, known on the set for his keen canine smarts, began life as a show dog in Montreal but has since journeyed to the far warmer climate of Florida to star in the Universal Animal Show with fellow EIGHT BELOW castmate Floyd. An Alaskan native, Flapjack is a true working endurance sled dog who has continued to do his job in the frozen wilds following the film. Flapjack also holds the distinction of being the biggest dog on the movie, weighing in at over 120 pounds. Dino and Flapjack performed both the acting and sledding for Buck.

Finally, the oldest dog in the pack, renowned for his well-honed poker-playing skills, OLD JACK is played by relative youngster Apache, a beautiful four-year-old Pinto (black-and-white) husky who hails from the British Columbian outback, and by Buck, an all-white dog previously seen in “Snow Dogs,” who had a daily non-toxic dye job to match Apache’s dark spots.

Published April 20, 2006

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