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Lulu Wang and Barry Jenkins’ Dog Is the Secret Star of ‘Expats’

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Amazon/Instagram
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Amazon/Instagram

The new drama series Expats may star Nicole Kidman, but another huge name often stole the spotlight. No, we’re not talking about brilliant co-stars like Sarayu Blue, Ruby Ruiz, or Ji-young Yoo. Nor is it Jack Huston or Brian Tee, who actually admit this huge name upstaged them.

The monumental star we’re talking about here is Chauncey Wang-Jenkins, the dog of Expats creator Lulu Wang (The Farewell) and her partner, Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). Chauncey, who flew all the way out to Hong Kong to feature as a family dog in Expats, is the unsung star of the new Prime Video thriller, the show’s cast says, showering him with praise.

“Chauncey’s brilliant!” Tee tells The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, speaking over Zoom and giggling the second I bring up the curly-haired pup. “He’s a scene-stealer. I was actually really upset because he’s taking all the camera time and getting these super-focused shots.”

We meet Chauncey when Tee’s character, Clarke, is at an impasse with his wife Margaret (Kidman). The pair have recently lost their son in the middle of a night market while living in Hong Kong as expatriates—the toddler was with new babysitter Mercy (Yoo) when he disappeared. The family is rocked by grief and is still trying to find their baby, so to provide a little comfort, Clarke adopts a dog to provide some support.

Enter Chauncey, equal parts furry and friendly, who goes by his real name in the show. But there’s actually more depth to the dog’s character, Tee says. While Margaret and Clarke chat with law enforcement, argue over whether or not they should stay in Hong Kong, and try to raise their other two kids, there’s Chauncey, making a mess or barking at noises outside.

“It was such an incredible [idea], to bring something to laugh about—otherwise we’re all going to start to cry,” Tee says. “It’s this obscure situation, the deepest, most emotional scene. And then you have the dog running around, and us trying to tame the dog.”

Although Huston—who plays David, another member of the expatriate community who begins an affair with Mercy—didn’t share many scenes with Chauncey, he has nothing but compliments. Wang’s use of Chauncey, Huston says, was a brilliant creative decision: It adds a bit of reality into the mix. “[Lulu] really taps into the human aspect,” Huston says of Chauncey’s presence.

Wang never planned for Chauncey to be the main scene-stealer in Expats. A dog had been written into the script, but that role had yet to be cast when she and Chauncey landed in Hong Kong. Originally, Wang had brought the pup along for emotional support—she’d be in Hong Kong for weeks without her friends and family, and needed a familiar face around.

“I work with a lot of women,” Wang adds. “I really believe that we need to be able to balance personal and work. I hope [for] and envision a world where we’re all making films our entire lives, and are able to have kids around sometimes—and our dogs!”

Behind the scenes, Chauncey supported everyone with plenty of cuddles and doggie kisses. And, Wang adds, it certainly helped with his training. “Oh my God,” the director says, “Chauncey has matured so much through this experience.”

Huston is grateful for this method of working. Wang, he says, was able to really represent the human side of life, and also was never afraid to experiment with the production. “Lulu loves to play,” Huston says. “She’s very much up for exploration of these characters. She was always like that. I like it when you trust [a director] because you shoot something over and over again, and when she got it, you always knew that she got it.”

Nicole Kidman’s Brilliant ‘Expats’ Taps Into What Made ‘Big Little Lies’ Great

For example: In another interivew, Wang applauded audiences who want to watch Expats out of order. The series is episodic, although the episodes are not chronological. In the first chapter, we learn that a big fight has ripped Margaret and Mercy apart; in the second, the series goes on to explain how that happened. It’s a mystery where the characters know everything—but we, the audience, are still piecing it all together. Wang enjoys that her series can be interpreted in many different ways, and her stars love that level of artistry.

“It does jump around. It’s forward and it’s backward—it’s all over the place,” Huston says. “I love that Lulu said that [you can watch it out of order], and that’s so cool, because it really just goes to show the interesting filmmaker she is.”

But shooting out of order, Tee adds, came with some struggles. One day, the Expats crew would be shooting the fourth episode—next, they’d be shooting the first episode.

“The challenge was trying to keep the order in your head and in your body, especially when you’re planted in that particular scene at that point in time,” Tee says. “You want to try to figure out where you are, as far as your character’s journey is concerned.”

In regards to watching episodically versus chronologically, Tee and Huston don’t seem to have a pressing opinion. In their eyes, the show would have the same resonance front to back as it would back to front.

“When you’re dealing with trauma and tragedy and grief, everyone experiences that differently,” Tee says. “That’s the brilliance of Lulu, this whole series and this whole show has a universal theme of humanity from all different walks of life and different perspectives. In watching it out of order, I’m sure you’d get that same effect.”

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