Interview: Garth Stein talks “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the new comedy/drama, based on Garth Stein’s bestselling 2008 novel. The film is told from the point of view of Enzo (voiced by Kevin Kostner), who watches his owner, race-car driver Denny’s (Milo Ventimiglia) life unfold. Enzo witnesses Denny get married and have a child; along with the hardships of losing loved ones and dealing with criminal charges.

It’s a journey through life that makes us wonder just how much our pets are taking in, and what would they say if they could talk? And like almost every dog movie, this one will have you reaching for all the tissues.

Author Garth Stein visited Mutts Cantina in Dallas this week for a fan event, and I sat down with him to chat about the film which is based on his own personal experiences.

I haven’t seen an audience react so strongly to a film like this one in a long time. There was cheering, there was laughing, and of course, crying. What do you think it is about this story that has people so emotionally invested while they watch?

Well it’s a good old fashioned family story that’s told by a dog. So there’s the endearing quality of Enzo, who’s a really keen observer and he studies human behavior and that’s his goal. But he also doesn’t get everything right. It’s a very black and white world for him, in a sense. You’re either a good guy or a bad guy. And though he may not always be right, we’re invested in him. When something happens that’s funny or exciting, we’re going to be especially responsive.

There’s a really great scene between Denny and Eve (Amanda Seyfried) when they’re discussing if loving the race is enough to keep doing it, since it’s clearly a huge obstacle for them. Do you think loving a job is enough to keep pursuing it?

Yes! I mean there’s a point where you have to have a gut check. There’s a point where you have to say, “Okay am I really with this?” And if the answer is, “Yes”, then you have to make the sacrifices. You have to do the work. I mean that’s what happens with Denny in the book, and that’s what happened with me when I was writing the book. You know I wrote the book and I sent it to my agent and he said that, “you can’t do this, no one can sell this book, throw it away.” And I fired him. I did a gut check, and I had to sit with myself and meditate on it. And if I had listened to him, no one would have ever met Enzo.

I think it’s great that Enzo knows how to distract Denny when he’s down. One of those ways is by making him watch TV. When you’re upset and you need a good distraction what do you like to watch or do?

You know it’s interesting, I do meditate and I do play tennis. There’s nothing like a good hard work out to get your mind off all your troubles. But I think that’s the idea.  To go to something that does not need much conscious mind input, and therefore can alleviate any anxieties one might have. 

I really like watching movies. Movies are my medicine. When I’m down I watch either a comedy or horror flick. (i.e. “Tommy Boy” or “Scream”). What movies do you like to watch to clear your mind?

So my go to movies would be, “The Godfather” movies, “Alien”. Yeah so there are some movies that make me go, “You know what, I don’t want to think about anything right now, so I’m going to watch Alien 2” (Laughs).

My youngest kid is 12 years old and this summer we’re doing “The Summer of Horror”. So he wanted to see like more scary movies. We’ve been doing like “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, and we started with “The Shining”, which freaked him out a little bit. And then we watched “The Babadook”…at some point I looked over at him and said, “You know what we’re going to stop right now.” And he was okay with it (Laughs). That one might have been too soon to watch (Laughs).

It’s interesting to see people’s lives from a dog’s perspective in this film. It reminds us of what all dogs are able to see and listen in on. If you could be any person’s dog in this world for a week and get insight into their lives, who would you choose and why?

That’s tough. Honestly, I have to be with Enzo on this and be with one of the great drivers. Well with the actors, Steve McQueen or Paul Newman would be fun. But you know, what about someone like Louis Hamilton? He just won his seventh Grand Prix of Hungry. That would be pretty awesome to be with one of the great Formula One drivers. 

There’s a great line in the film while Denny is fighting for custody of his daughter, “There’s no dishonor in losing the race, there’s only dishonor in being afraid to race.” Metaphorically speaking, what has been your most challenging race?

You know there’s been a lot of challenging races. My father died 10 years ago. Obviously that’s pretty challenging. It was an interesting transition, and it took me a while to get use to the change in the family dynamic when that happens. There is an accommodation that has to happen. My mother and I got through the difficult part and now were cruising.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” hits theaters August 9th

Susan Kamyab

I am an on-air entertainment reporter/film critic for Irving Community Television (ICTN). Besides redcarpetcrash.com, I also posts weekly movie reviews, interviews, and discusses coverage of entertainment events on my website thischixflix.com.

Since childhood, movies have been one of my best escapes, adventures, romances, and laughs.I am always asked “What is your favorite movie?”. The Breakfast Club, hands down!It was the first movie I ever emotionally connected with and in general John Hughes’ work had a tendency to never let me down.
Susan Kamyab

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