15 Prized Facts About Best in Show
Based on a thin outline written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, Best in Show was an improvised mockumentary about five entrants in the fictitious Mayflower Dog Show. Featuring the likes of Guest, Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Fred Willard, and Jane Lynch, the movie was the second in the streak of Guest-directed improvisational comedies considered to be the standard of the genre, after Waiting for Guffman (1996) and prior to A Mighty Wind (2003) and For Your Consideration (2006). Here are some facts about Best in Show, once you stop naming nuts.
1. EUGENE LEVY DIDN’T THINK IT COULD BE DONE.
Guest—portrayer of Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) and Count Tyrone Rugen of The Princess Bride (1987)—and his wife, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, had two dogs, leading the writer/director to make frequent trips to the local dog park. "There were people there with purebred dogs, with mutts and so on, and as I mingled with them I started thinking that this might be an interesting idea to explore in a movie," Guest said in the film’s official production notes. In mid-1998, Guest called Levy with the idea and was told no. Levy was nervous about the third act, not knowing how to make a dog show funny.
2. GUEST AND COMPANY DID THEIR HOMEWORK.
Along with Levy and producer Karen Murphy, Guest spent months attending and researching dog shows. He attended the annual Westminster Dog Show, on which he based the movie's fictional Mayflower Dog Show. The principal cast all had classes with their respective dogs and Earlene Luke, an all-breed professional handler. The usual eight-week course of Luke’s was compressed into five intensive days.
3. THEY HAD TO MAKE THEIR OWN DOG SHOW.
No actual dog show would allow them to film on site, so they had to create their own.
4. SHERRI ANN’S ORIGINAL POODLE WAS FIRED.
On account of “misbehaving,” a new poodle was hired to portray Jennifer Coolidge's beloved pooch. Meg and Hamilton Swan (Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock) initially had a pointer dog, but this was changed to a Weimaraner. When their characters had a pointer, Posey and Hitchcock decided their characters shopped at J.Crew. When they got the Weimaraner, they shopped at Banana Republic. Posey shopped for beige and tan clothes, “because Weimaraners just look so delusional and lost."
5. POSEY AND HITCHCOCK PREPARED AT STARBUCKS.
Since their characters met at a Starbucks (two different ones, technically), the actors would hang out there figuring out their characters. Guest allowed Posey and Hitchcock to work with the set designer and go through the Sharper Image and Frontgate catalogs to work on the Swans’ home.
6. HAMILTON WANTED CHANDLER BING’S HAIR.
Hitchcock figured that Hamilton Swan would think he looked like Friends' Matthew Perry, so told the hairstylists to make his hair look like Perry’s hair during the then-current season of the hit NBC sitcom.
7. JENNIFER COOLIDGE USED A REAL-LIFE ACQUAINTANCE TO HELP DEVELOP THE CHARACTER OF SHERRI ANN.
When Coolidge first got to Los Angeles, she was employed as a babysitter in Beverly Hills for a Sherri Ann type, described by the actress as a “very feminine, very phony” woman. She considered portraying someone like her old employer as “kind of revenge.”
8. JIM PIDDOCK HAD TO SOUND KNOWLEDGEABLE AS TREVOR BECKWITH.
Guest gave Piddock a book called The American Kennel Club, which he had to read for an hour every night while working on a BBC show he co-created called Too Much Sun. He described the book as “not interesting reading.”
9. FRED WILLARD WAS ONLY THERE FOR TWO DAYS.
Willard and Piddock reviewed all of the footage of the dogs for four hours one day, then shot their hosting sequence from dawn to dusk the next, so Piddock could return to England. Murphy said she never saw Guest laugh as hard as he did when watching Willard perform as Buck Laughlin.
10. BUCK LAUGHLIN WAS BASED ON JOE GARAGIOLA.
Guest sent Willard tapes from past Westminster Dog Shows and asked him to notice the musings of former professional baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola, who had hosted the most prestigious dog show of them all from 1994-2002, despite, as Guest pointed out to Willard, taking “no effort” in learning about dogs. Garagiola himself said he had seen Best in Show in an interview with CNN. “I think he used some lines I wouldn't use, but he's a funny guy and, hey, we all have our tastes. I didn't particularly like the show. I thought the satire went over the top.”
11. IT WAS SHOT ON SUPER 16MM FILM.
12. THE NARRATIVE OUTLINE FOR THE FILM WAS ONLY 15 PAGES LONG.
Levy explained the outline and the major improvisation it left room for: "Our outline gives a very solid blueprint to the actors so they know how to get from point A to point B, but how they do it is largely up to them.”
13. 60 HOURS OF FOOTAGE WERE FILMED.
14. MEG’S PILL-TAKING AND POT-SMOKING WAS CUT OUT OF THE FILM.
Because the drug use might have earned them an R or PG-13 rating, it was taken out; Hitchcock claimed he played Hamilton as uptight partially due to his character not liking Meg’s smoking. Also cut was Harlan Pepper (Guest)’s obsession with beach balls.
15. IT CHANGED JANE LYNCH’S LIFE.
The comedic actress met Guest when she did a Frosted Flakes commercial with him. Months later, she was asked to join the Best in Show cast as Christy Cummings. “It opened up a bunch of doors for me,” she told The A.V. Club. “I felt like I fell into a way of working that really suits me. That was another one of those happy accidents that I could’ve never planned for, and it changed my life, really.”
An earlier version of this post ran in 2016.