The hero of the new comedy Quiz Lady must win big on a game show in order to pay off her mother’s gambling debt and rescue her kidnapped 20-year-old pug, Mr. Linguini.
As you might expect, Jen D’Angelo, who wrote the movie, is very much a dog person. She grew up with a succession of golden retrievers and currently lives with a rambunctious six-year-old maltipoo named Walter (full name: Mr. Walnut).
There’s a lot to like in Quiz Lady for fans of comedy, trivia, and star-studded casts—this one includes Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, Will Ferrell, and Jason Schwartzman. But our conversation with D’Angelo (which has been edited for length and clarity), was all about dogs—the ones in the film, and the ones who inspired it.
Quiz Lady is now streaming on Hulu.
Digest: Why did you put a dog at the center of your plot?
Jen D’Angelo: It evolved as the script was coming together, and it started as this idea of wanting to give Anne (Awkwafina), who’s a very sheltered and isolated character, a companion. It felt like a pug was the perfect companion. The dog is the most important person in her life, and so naturally it makes sense that he gets kidnapped.
Tell us about Aggie, the pug who inspired Mr. Linguini.
Aggie is my friends’ dog, and she’s been in my life for 11 years now. I love Aggie so much. By the time she was two, she was a grand old dame. She started to get her little salt and pepper beard, and all she wanted to do was lay around and snore. So she was the muse for Mr. Linguini. I even tried to bring her to the premiere, but unfortunately dogs weren’t allowed.
What about your own dog, Wally?
My now-husband and I have been together since college. We talked about getting a dog for years. We finally moved in together, but we thought, “The timing isn’t right; this is a big commitment.”
We got married, and we said, “Okay, now that we’re married, the next step is a dog.” We were trying to find our perfect little guy. And we finally found Wally. He was a puppy, and when we got him [the people at the rescue] said, “we think he’s going to be around 40 pounds.” My husband and I said, “That’s perfect. That’s exactly the kind of dog we want.” We both grew up with big dogs, but we live in a small place. We thought, “40 pounds, perfect size.”
And then Wally capped out at 12, and remains this tiny floof. He’s not at all the dog that we thought we would have gotten, and yet we’re completely obsessed with him.
In the movie, Anne needs Mr. Linguini to calm herself and perform on Can’t Stop the Quiz. Did that kind of relationship come from anyone you know?
I have always felt that way about dogs. We had three golden retrievers as I grew up, and they were all, in their own way, emotional support dogs. Our first dog was named Breyers, and he was a very old soul and a very calming presence. You could never get too upset, because Breyers would come over and sit next to you.
Breyers like the ice cream?
Yes. His full name was Breyers Butter Almond D’Angelo. Butter Almond was my dad’s favorite ice cream flavor.
And then we had another dog, Tucker, who was very playful and high-energy. He was the happiest dog in the world. It was very hard to ever be that sad around him. He would immediately cheer you up and shove a toy in your face.
And then our third golden retriever, Toby, actually has a brief cameo in photo form in Quiz Lady. There’s a picture of him in Ken’s den [Editor’s note: Ken is the gangster who kidnaps Mr. Linguini. More on him later]. Keep an eye out for Toby. He also was the sweetest, happiest boy.
It’s based on my relationship with dogs throughout my life, and also with Wally. He’s not a calming presence by any means—he’s very anxious and has a lot of energy—and yet, you know, we got him in 2017. Going through the entire pandemic with him, it really was like, “Oh my gosh, thank God we have this dog.” Even just having this creature in your life that needs to go outside multiple times a day, and so you go outside multiple times a day. Just having something to take care of.
Did any takes with Crosby or Cookie, the dogs who played Mr. Linguini, not go as expected?
There was a very funny one that didn’t go as we expected—which was the shot when Jenny (Sandra Oh) first comes into Anne’s house, sees Mr. Linguini, and thinks that he’s dead. And it kicks off this runner of everyone thinking that Mr. Linguini is dead.
I felt so smart. They say to be careful working with kids and animals, but I thought, “We need an old pug to just be an old pug. They never have to do anything special. They just have to chill out and sleep, and it’s gonna be so easy.” And then, that one day, Crosby had a little bit of energy and didn’t want to sit still. I thought, “How could this possibly be the one day that this anxious pug has a new lease on life and wants to be playing?”
It took us a minute to get him to actually rest. I never thought we would have that problem. But, other than that, Crosby was perfect.
How did you get him to a calmer state of mind?
The trainers came and sat with him, and petted him for a while. And they would have Awkwafina do that too, come over and sit with him, so he got really used to her. They lulled him to sleep, slowly but surely.
What was another on-set dog highlight?
We had puppies for the drug sequence, when Anne sees a bunch of puppies. It was my birthday the day that we shot that. We’re shooting this movie I wrote, on my birthday, and there are all these puppies here.
But that was actually the most heartbreaking, too, because you have to be careful with puppies. They’re not used to the set—how could they be? So we couldn’t really play with the puppies at all. I had to creepily watch their pen from afar, saying, “Oh my God, they’re so cute.”
What inspired the scene in which the gangsters turn out to be basically running a shelter for dogs with special needs?
There was a throw-in joke in the first draft of the script where, when Ken kidnaps Mr. Linguini, he says, “Don’t worry, I love dogs—they’re my favorite collateral.” And then there was a quick shot when Anne is on the show. At the end, there’s a shot of Ken watching her—and he’s home alone surrounded by dogs. You see that he truly has kidnapped so many.
Then, as we were working on the script, when Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, and Jessica Yu, the director, all got involved, we talked more about this idea that we could go into Ken’s den and see his whole gang and what they’re up to—making it that they all love dogs, and it’s sort of ruining them.
Do you relate to the idea of doing whatever it takes to take care of your dog?
We needed to get Wally a knee surgery when he was 2. And I thought, “What choice do we have?”
Is he feeling well now?
Oh, yeah. Even right after the surgery, the vet said, “We want to really rest him; try your best to limit his movement for a couple of weeks.” And we thought, “Oh, boy, how are we going to do this?” We sectioned off an area so he had his pen and wouldn’t have to move that much. And within two days, he was begging to be let out, standing up on his hind legs and running around and wanting to play. And we were thinking, “Oh my gosh, you can’t keep him down.”
This movie combines two wonderful things: dogs and trivia. Do you have a favorite piece of trivia related to dogs?
One of my favorite things about Ron [the smarmy Can’t Stop the Quiz champion played by Jason Schwartzman] is having a villain who is not really that bad. He’s just kind of [a jerk]. I was doing all this research to find little facts he could pepper into conversation. Always trying to look like he’s the smartest guy in the room.
So I was doing research about pugs, because I wanted to have a bunch of stuff in my back pocket for when Ron first meets Mr. Linguini. There’s a brief mention where Ron talks about pugs being the official dog of the House of Orange in the Netherlands [Editor’s note: in the 1500s, a dog named Pompey—thought by many to be a pug—saved the life of Prince William of Orange by warning him of approaching assassins, leading to the breed’s honored status.]
I loved thinking of a place where pugs are treated like kings.
Header image: Sandra Oh as Jenny Yum carrying Mr. Linguini in 20th Century Studios’ Quiz Lady, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.