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Flapper: Not just a celebrity dog

As an entertainment reporter, I’ve met famous actors over the course of my career. But this was the first time I had encountered one who allowed me to throw my fangirl arms around him and plant a big smackeroo at our very first meeting — and then proceeded to lick my armpit.

As an entertainment reporter, I’ve met famous actors over the course of my career. But this was the first time I had encountered one who allowed me to throw my fangirl arms around him and plant a big smackeroo at our very first meeting — and then proceeded to lick my armpit.

“How forward,” you might think. But it’s all part of the unstoppable charm of canine actor Flapper — only one name, like Madonna or Prince — whose popularity is rising faster than you can say: “Get me my agent.”

Flapper, thought to be a Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever mix, made his showbiz debut in the 2012 movie My Dog Dou Dou. He branched out into television with the 2013 Chinese legal drama Sudden, in which he played Romeo Tan and Rui En’s loyal companion.

The eight-year-old canine’s latest project is the Toggle web series Mystic Whispers. In this supernatural comedy, Flapper is once again paired with Tan — he and Sheila Sim play ghostbusters helping a string of ectoplasmic beings with their unfinished business on earth. Not to take anything away from Mystic Whispers’ human cast, but at a free public screening on Saturday evening at Big Splash, Flapper’s live celebrity appearance had top billing along with Tan’s and Sim’s. That’s nothing to sniff at.

How did a mere pooch with bit roles get to be a well-known name with more than 7,000 Instagram followers? Flapper’s owner, who wanted to be known simply as Corrinne, said: “I always call him the accidental actor. It’s accidental that he’s actually really good at it; that he does well on set. It was just for fun ... it was unexpected that he became so popular.”

 

WORKING LIKE A DOG

 

From his first time on a film set, Flapper turned out to be what the industry calls a “natural”. Recounting their experience working on My Dog Dou Dou, Corrinne said: “After the third take, he started to differentiate between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. For example, if he has to lie on his side and look really sick, once he hears ‘cut’, he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m done!’”

His performance in Sudden was so well received that many viewers embraced him as their favourite part of the show. Fans even expressed their dismay online when the pooch was killed off in the series.

“I did read about that,” Corrinne laughed. “It’s a bit embarrassing, actually, considering his appearance was very short.”

But celebrity hasn’t gone to Flapper’s head. “For him, doing the projects is a good time for us to have that mother-and-son time,” Corrinne said. “Although he does recognise cameras and lights, to him, it’s just a fun time in which we do stuff together. Once he sees me pack a haversack of his toys and water bowl, he gets really excited. And then when we arrive on set, he’s quite happy to go and greet everyone.”

Outdoor scenes are the toughest for Flapper because of the heat. But, said Corrinne, tents are always set up and “they turn a fan on for him”. It also helps that on such occasions “he gets food of a much better quality”, she added.

It would certainly seem like he is the biggest star on set, but Flapper is no diva. “Actually, he’s pretty fuss-free. Wherever he is, he’s able to sleep and relax. And when he hears the assistant director scream, ‘Flapper!’, he’ll just wake up and go find the cameras.”

And this dog works very hard. Unlike how it’s done in Hollywood movies, where multiple dogs play one part — in the movie, Marley And Me, for example, 22 Labradors were reportedly used to play the role of Marley — Flapper is a one-dog show. So the scope of his acting ability is really dependent on what he can or cannot do. “If you want a human to, for example, act dead, you can have him hold his breath. But you can’t stop a dog from breathing. Or you can tell a human, ‘I want this expression’, and the human can contort his face — but with a dog, you have to work with what it can offer.”

Of course, Flapper’s “acting” is really Corrinne calling the shots. “He will listen to me, but if anyone else asks him to do things, he’s quite good at pretending, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Unless, of course, you take out a chicken wing — then he’s your best friend.”

In spite of that doggy disposition towards food, Flapper’s devotion to Corrinne is patently obvious. He never took his eyes off her and would pace near the door whenever she left the room. It’s a bond that has grown since she adopted him as an unruly eight-month-old puppy and instilled discipline into his life.

 

PRO BONE-O

 

But Flapper isn’t just a celebrity dog aiming to have his own limo, an unlimited supply of biscuits and a collection of bling collars. Before he fell into acting — which came about because Corrinne was bored and looking for activities for them to participate in — Flapper was a volunteer with the Singapore Police Force and had also done pro bono work in the field of animal-assisted therapy.

Corrinne hopes that Flapper’s work will have a meaningful impact. To this end, Flapper and Tan are the poster boys for Love Is Ageless, a new campaign by Hill’s Pet Nutrition Singapore and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Singapore that encourages the adoption of and caring for senior dogs (those aged seven years and up).

“Flapper’s popularity is one thing, but for me, it’s about getting a healthy message out to owners,” Corrinne said. “It’s not so much about how pedigreed they are. It’s not so much about training them to be a TV or movie star. It’s knowing that the commitment is beyond just making sure they get their square meals. The dedication towards their mental and physical well-being all comes in a package.”

She added: “It’s really about raising recognition of how dogs can contribute to community. As a country, we are still very resistant to using animals as a form of alternative therapy,” she said, citing the example of the struggles faced by the Guide Dogs Association of the Blind.

And while Corrinne said she would welcome more animals starring in shows, she also hoped that such roles would allow for more from the animal actors. “Instead of the dog just standing there barking and looking cute all the time, I would love for the storyline to get the dog more involved in showing what dogs can actually do for humans. I would love to see, for example, if the owner is handicapped, the dog helping the owner to do some shopping,” she said.

 

Mystic Whispers debuts today on http://www.toggle.sg. Watch our video interview with Flapper at http://tdy.sg/flapper16sept

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