Mike White offers food for thought 

Mike White isn’t trying to change your diet. The critically acclaimed author of "Chuck & Buck," "School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre," makes his directorial debut, minus Jack Black, with "Year of the Dog," a emotionally charged comedy about a woman transformed from a mild-mannered homebody into a zealous animal-rights activist after the death of her beloved beagle.

White can relate. Shortly after purchasing his home in Los Angeles, he inherited a stray cat and took it in — only to see it die in his arms, on Christmas Eve. And like Peggy (Molly Shannon), his conflicted heroine, whose grief leads her down a path toward self-destructive obsession, the 36-year-old Pasadena native is a vegan.

But if you feel like washing down "Year of the Dog" with a Big Mac and fries, that’s fine with him.

"For Peggy, what she’s trying to say is, ‘This is my passion, and I hope there’s still room for me at the table,’ White says. "She’s not saying, ‘You should all be vegans!’ I don’t want the movie to come off as preachy. But I’m starting to get reactions across the country, and there is a contingent of people who see the movie as propaganda-mongering.

"People are angry about it. And I’m not sure why. It’s her choice, and hers alone. For my own reasons, I don’t eat meat, either. But I don’t have a problem partying with people who do."

While White acknowledges that "Year of the Dog" might come across as an odd beast — a lighthearted comedy that veers, rather unexpectedly, into the darkness of Peggy’s all-consuming obsession — he admits that he is partial to unpredictable stories that challenge his audience.

And if they’re not your cup of tea, that’s fine, too.

"I find movies funnier when you don’t know where they’re going. I like to play with the audience’s expectations," he says. "With ‘School of Rock,’ that was pure comedy — it was written about kids, for kids. People always tell me how funny it was, and who doesn’t want to win that popularity contest?

"But I wouldn’t be happy making ‘School of Rock’ or ‘Nacho Libre’ over and over. You end up having a more lasting impact when your movies are more unwieldy, more divisive. Maybe people will misread you, but that’s part of the experience. You just have to take it like a man."

Though he is hardly averse to revisiting past successes — he has already been approached about a possible sequel to "School of Rock," an idea to which he remains cautiously open — White prefers to keep things fresh, if only to avoid creative stagnation.

"Each movie I make, I feel like I’m lucky enough just to get out alive," he says. "I wouldn’t reject the idea of writing another ‘School of Rock,’ but I don’t want to go back to the well and destroy all the good will I’ve accumulated. I think I am perceived as someone who has made successful movies, but I prefer to be more eccentric in terms of my subject matter.

"At the same time, I certainly couldn’t live off the money I made on movies like ‘Chuck and Buck.’ The trick is to maintain a balance between material that is commercially viable and self-expressive. In Hollywood, there is pressure to keep building on the thing you did before, until it’s bigger and bigger and more bloated. You can play that game, but you will invariably lose. It’s arecipe for disaster."

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