Arthur the King Movie Director Talks the 'True Story' & Working With Mark Wahlberg

By Russ Milheim Posted:
Arthur the King, Dog, Mark Wahlberg

Simon Cellan Jones, the director of Arthur the King, spoke about his time working with Mark Wahlberg again, that special connection between mankind and dogs, and adapting the true story.

The film stars Wahlberg (alongside other big names like Simu Liu and Nathalie Emmanuel) as Michael Light, an adventure racer who hopes to win one more race to end his career on a high note. Along the way, he comes across a dog he lovingly names Arthur, who miraculously crosses hundreds of miles of jungles and rough terrain to find himself a new home.

The story is based on the real-life experience of Sweden racer Mikael Lindnord, who wrote a book about the whole ordeal titled Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home.

Director Simon Cellan Jones on Arthur the King

Arthur the King wallpaper
Arthur the King

In an exclusive interview with The Direct's Russ Milheim, Arthur the King director Simon Cellan Jones talked about the craziness of adventure running, working with Mark Wahlberg to adapt the true story, and what it was like working with its titular canine companion.

The director admitted that he only "knew a little bit" about the sport ahead of filming the movie. After he "did some research," he realized how "absolutely crazy" adventure running is:

"Well, I knew a little bit about it, a tiny bit about it. And, of course, I did some research. And I saw that it is absolutely crazy. You know, I mean, it's all great to go for a run every now and then. But these guys just exert themselves five days straight. And you know, it's quite a tough thing to do."

With the story focused on adventure running, an exotic location was needed. This led to the production filming "in the Dominican Republic," even though "the original story [was] set in Ecuador:"

"We filmed the whole film in the Dominican Republic, which was a great place. We had the original story set in Ecuador, but we had COVID, and we had all that kind of stuff. So we had to shoot it somewhere that had a bit of an infrastructure... We filmed in real locations; we went into the jungle, and we dragged our cast and crew with us. And it was tough, but it was really fun."

Arthur the King is Jones’ second film starring Mark Wahlberg in only a few short months, as he also played the leading role in Apple TV+’s The Family Plan.

The director had nothing but praise for the hardworking actor, pointing out how he’s "really easy to work with," is "very supportive," and "empowering:"

"He's really easy to work with. He's very supportive. He's empowering. He does his homework; he really knows his stuff. So, you know, he doesn't just know his lines; he knows everyone else's lines. So I think the great thing about working with him is that he's very generous, but he brings a high level to the game from the get-go. So, you know, I just thought, 'Okay, I better I better try and reach that level as much as I can.'"

While Mark Wahlberg might be the big name on the poster, he shares the spotlight with a canine friend, Arthur, or as the acting dog is known in real life, Ukai.

While Jones admitted the crew "had to be patient" while working with Ukai, he made sure to mention the animal’s "very bright attitude:"

"Well, he was a lovely dog, but he was a dog. And he didn't speak English. And although he did, I think, have a very bright attitude to him. And I think he's very intelligent. You know, we had to give him some leeway. We had to give him a little bit a little bit of food. And we had to be patient. We had three dogs that came over from America. But this one, Ukai, he's the only guy we used. I think there's one other dog in a wide shot somewhere, but everything else is his job."

Simon Cellan Jones, Arthur the King
Simon Cellan Jones

The relationship between Wahlberg’s Michael Light (based on the real Mikael Lindnord) and Arthur the dog "was the heart of the movie," Jones explained, elaborating on how important it was to get that dynamic right:

"Well, the relationship between Mikael, the character, and the dog was the heart of the movie, really. So, if we didn't get that right, we didn't have a movie. So whether whether we did or not, you'll decide, or the audience will decide. But I think the two of them, Ukai and Mark Wahlberg, I think they got on really well. They sort of had a little bit of a special bond. So I think that really helped. Because, you know, again, when you ask a dog to be emotional, I guess you can do it with CGI, but that's not really where we were coming from."

Another big name in the film’s cast was Simu Liu, who many probably recognize from his time as Shang-Chi in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker reassured that despite his character being "a little bit of an asshole," that "is not who [Liu] is:"

"Oh, he was just fantastic...In the movie, the character starts out as a little bit of an asshole, which is not who he is. But he's a great actor. So he was able to do that. He was a fantastic teammate; he's one of our leading main actors. We needed him to sort of bring something in, and of course, he was about to be huge because he's just finished 'Shang-Chi.’ But he was sweet… He's really humble. Really cool. And he adopted a dog from the Dominican Republic."

One of the standout sequences in the movie is when Mikael's team comes across a zip line running over a valley—making for a tempting shortcut. While the crossing goes smoothly at first, things get a little tense when Nathalie Emmanuel’s Olivia gets stuck halfway across.

Jones revealed that they "mostly" filmed "all of that for real," with the actors out on an actual zipline:

"The great thing about that was that we mostly filmed pretty much all of that for real because we had to get the actors, or I wanted to get the actors on top of a zipline… so we could use drones and other cameras on the zipline and all that to make it look real. And fortunately, they were all game… I'm not great with heights. When I was watching Mark hanging literally 500 feet above the ground, just from a little piece of wire. And that was quite scary."

When asked what his favorite scene to film was, the director confirmed that the nail-biting zipline sequence was the one:

"Definitely the zipline… That was really fun. We had a bit of time to plan it. We had a great stunt team and a great rigging team. But that was the most nerve-wracking because, you know, I knew that if we screwed that up, the film would be way less good."

Simon Cellan Jones, Arthur the King
Simon Cellan Jones

With a movie based on a true story, there can be plenty of changes made for the sake of storytelling. However, in this case, Jones declared that they "were pretty faithful to the story:"

"We were pretty faithful to the story... The real story took place in Ecuador. We couldn't do that because we had to film somewhere with a film industry. We had the real guy, Mikael Lindnord, who the story is based on; we had him as an executive producer and advisor. And that was really good… The characters were sort of made up apart from the one played by Mark. But, you know, I think it was very truthful to the real story."

When asked if any notable scenes did not make the cut, the filmmaker detailed "an earlier race" that involved a nice moment at a "waterfall:"

"There was a great scene from an earlier race where the team are running along; they come to a waterfall. And then the character's wife, who's running with them, dives off the waterfall, which was really fun when we really did that. And unfortunately, it got deleted."

As for what he hopes audiences remember after leaving the film, Jones pointed to the theme of not giving up while also expressing just how special "the relationship between human and dogs is:"

"One of the themes of the film is don't give up. Another is the people closest to you are sort of more important than sort of money and winning and stuff like that. But I think the relationship between humans and dogs, it's something that's been around for millennia, and I think it's—I've got dogs, and even though they're infuriating, I love them. And I think, you know, go and save a rescue dog when you come out of the movie."

See the The Direct's full conversation with Simon Cellan Jones here:

Arthur the King is now playing in theaters worldwide.

- In This Article: Arthur the King
Release Date
March 22, 2024
Mark Wahlberg
Nathalie Emmanuel
- About The Author: Russ Milheim
Russ Milheim is the Industry Relations Coordinator at The Direct. On top of utilizing his expertise on the many corners of today’s entertainment to cover the latest news and theories, he establishes and maintains communication and relations between the outlet and the many studio and talent representatives.