Paw & order

Paw & order

By Michael Pickard
July 13, 2023


Actor John Reardon and dog master Sherri Davis spill the secrets of working with Diesel vom Burgimwald, the canine star of Canadian police procedural Hudson & Rex, as the show approaches its 100th episode.

At the heart of any long-running drama lies the strong bond and on-screen connection between the central characters – or in the case of Canadian police procedural Hudson & Rex, one man and his four-legged partner.

First airing in 2019, the series introduces Charlie Hudson, a major crimes detective within the fictional St John’s Police Department. When German shepherd Rex’s human partner is killed in pursuit of a kidnapper, Charlie adopts him as his own and they start working together.

Four years later, the series is in production on its sixth season, which will include its landmark 100th episode. But after sharing the screen together for so long, how has the relationship grown between actor John Reardon, who plays Hudson, and Diesel vom Burgimwald, who stars on screen as Rex?

“It’s interesting because, in a lot of ways, we’ve still been doing the things that have worked from the beginning,” Reardon tells DQ. “That relationship is the anchor of the show. But the thing that’s interesting going into season six is that the relationship continues to evolve.

“When we first started, Charlie didn’t really know how to control Rex and they just didn’t know how to work together. Now we’re at the point where they intuit each other and his actions.”

Good boy: Diesel vom Burgimwald with co-star John Reardon

Supporting the central partnership, a key figure behind the scenes has been dog master Sherri Davis, who adopted Diesel herself when he was just 18 months old. Working together with Reardon, she has an important say in how Hudson and Rex collaborate on screen to solve the case-of-the-week while also enhancing their own personal partnership.

“It’s cool how John and I will feed off one another,” Davis says. “Well, I’ll feed off John because there are times now when he’ll just give a signal to Diesel and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, I wasn’t expecting that,’ and it works, right? It’s very cool how their relationship has grown.”

Hudson & Rex is based on a similarly long-running German-language series called Kommisar Rex, which originally aired on Austria’s ORF from 1994 to 2004 before it was revived by Italy’s Rai between 2008 and 2015, switching the action from Vienna to Rome. The Canadian series, produced by Shaftesbury, Pope Productions and distributor Beta Film for CityTV, is also one of a handful of international remakes, including Komisarz Alex (Poland), Inspetor Max (Portugal) and Rex (Slovakia).

Officially signing on for the show just three days before the cameras were set to roll, Reardon had to jam a lot of preparation into a short space of time to ensure both he and Diesel were ready for the first take. “One of the most important things for Sherri is that Diesel is comfortable with who he’s working with because, first and foremost, everything’s a safety issue,” he explains.

“‘Will Diesel and whoever is playing Charlie have chemistry?’ That was the biggest thing when I arrived. Sherri wanted to find a way for us to spend time together and get to know each other so that relationship started to evolve. Diesel and I get along well because Sherri was creating the scenario for that to happen. I feel like my relationship with Diesel has grown a lot.”

Dog master Sherri Davis adopted Diesel when he was 18 months old

That relationship has developed to the extent that Reardon can now command Diesel – a direct descendant of the original Kommissar Rex – and lead him around the set, such as when they need to return to their first positions for a new take.

“He’s learned the commands, and Diesel actually respects and trusts John enough that he’ll listen to him, which is good 99% of the time,” Davis says. “There’s 1% where he’ll be leaving the bullpen [in the police station set] and Rex is supposed to stay, but Diesel is off in a heartbeat.”

“He learns so quickly,” adds Reardon. “I don’t know how many times we exit the bullpen and Rex is on the perch and he just jumps down. He intuits it now – he just knows when that move is made. I had worked with other animals in the past, and it was a positive experience, but they weren’t nearly as capable as Sherri and Diesel. It’s a completely different experience.”

With more than 20 years of experience working with animals on set, Davis certainly has some empathy for the actors who find themselves paired up with a non-human co-star. And it’s not just the lead actors but the entire cast who must try to focus on their performances while Davis is off-camera giving commands to Diesel.

“In season one and two, I’d be apologising after every take because I’d be in their eyeline and I’m over there doing circus tricks, trying to work the dog and they’ve got to focus and deliver their line and ignore me – and sometimes I’m not the easiest person to ignore,” she jokes. “When we have guest actors, we try to tell them, ‘So you might hear me behind you saying something.’ And it never fails. As soon as I give a command, they turn and they look. And then it’s like, ‘Cut. No, no, you don’t look at Sherri.’ But these guys are pros. They’re fantastic with letting me do my art while they do their art.”

Fetch! Diesel shows off his suspect-apprehension skills

During rehearsals, Davis will be on set to see how a scene is coming together and where the dog action will be included. But her own preparation starts as soon as she receives a script, which she will break down to find all the dog behaviours that are needed. If there are any stunts, she will then coordinate with the art department to have a piece of the set replicated that they can rehearse with. She also works with the episode director to choreograph Diesel’s movements to ensure the scene can be filmed in the way they envision.

Davis doesn’t bring Diesel onto set until the cameras are ready. Until then, she will play Rex in rehearsals herself, unless a specific dog-only rehearsal is required. Diesel also does most of his own acting work, with only very specific moments where stand-ins will be used.

“Diesel is 99% of the show, but where you see a jump that’s over four feet high, it’ll be one of the stunt doubles – anywhere Diesel essentially could harm himself, but that’s not to say that the stunt doubles are not worthy of being hurt,” Davis says. “It’s no different for John. He’s the face of the show so he has a stunt double. Anything that puts their health in danger, we use stunt doubles, and it’s the same with the dogs.”

Heading into season six, Reardon says the challenge is to continue delivering what the show’s fans around the world – it has been sold into more than 120 countries – have come to love and expect, while also keeping it interesting with new storylines and ways for him to interact with Diesel. “We don’t want to keep doing the same thing. We want to push it,” he says. “Sherri and I are always talking about wanting to do more action or car chases.”

Both Reardon and Davis have a strong bond with the pooch

However, how much longer the series will run will come down to Diesel, with Davis keen to stress that the star works on his own terms. “Diesel just turned seven so if he decided that this was his last year, then it would be his last year. I’m never going to force my kids to work,” she says. “And it would be very obvious. He just would not come out of his trailer. If I say, ‘Go to work’ and they don’t get up and aren’t excited about it, then it’s like, ‘OK, I’m not coming today,’ and then I’ll have to figure that out at that time.

“But right now, when we say, ‘You’re going on a hiatus,’ he’s like, ‘Oh man, this sucks.’ For two days he’s good, and then it’s like, ‘OK, let’s go train,’ because he’s a working dog.”

“It’s true. He loves being at work and he really is excited to see the people at work,” Reardon says. “When he comes on Monday or any morning, the first thing he does is he walks around, says hi to everybody, and then comes over to where we’re supposed to work. He just wants to be a part of it. After he comes back from the weekend, he’s just excited to be back.”

Davis puts part of that excitement down to the bond Diesel now shares with Reardon, counting the actor as one of the few people she trusts to drive him in a car.

“In season one, John could have got punched, shot, yelled at, anything, and Diesel would have been like ‘Yeah, whatever,’” she says. “Now, I’ve got to be very careful in fight scenes or when John yells because, right away, Diesel’s like, ‘Don’t touch.’

“That’s their bond – I see that as him protecting John. His bond with John is really a true bond. It’s not a forced one.”

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