Allison Tolman has a confession to make.
The leading lady of “Downward Dog,” a new show celebrating the love between human and canine, is a cat person.
“I’ve had my cat for 17 years,” Tolman says. “It’s the most incredibly significant relationship in my life, longer than any human relationship I’ve ever had.”
The former Dallas theater actress assures us that her kitty is nothing like the one appearing in “Downward Dog,” which premieres at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.
Martin — the show’s leading man … actually, he’s the lead dog — has serious issues with the show’s neighborhood cat. The feline is antagonistic, sadistic and quite possibly demonic.
“But the way my cat loves me is so incredible,” Tolman says. “We have a routine every morning where she crawls up from the foot of my bed to the head of the bead and purrs in my face to wake me up. So I start my day, every single morning, with this little creature beaming love at me out of her eyeballs.
“It’s a profound thing to be loved this much by this little creature — and it’s definitely what I was thinking about when I signed on with the show: the blessings and burdens of being a pet owner.”
The show gives viewers a dog’s-eye view of life with Nan (Tolman’s character), a hard-working and underappreciated ad-agency copywriter.
There’s also an on-again, off-again boyfriend in her life, Jason (played by Lucas Neff).
Martin the dog, meanwhile, is more than just Nan’s best friend. He is the man in her life and he adores her with every bone in his body. “I literally can’t quit her,” he says.
That’s right. Martin, an American coonhound mix, serves as the show’s narrator — talking in a series of voice-overs and on-camera confessionals. Through his eyes, we gain new insights about what it means to be human.
The great comedian W.C. Fields is credited with saying, “Never work with children or animals” — the reason being that even the most talented actor will inevitably be upstaged. And sure enough, Martin (played by a dog named Ned, a rescue from a no-kill animal shelter in Chicago) is quite the scene-stealer.
But Tolman (who made her showbiz breakthrough as Deputy Molly Solverson in the 2014 season of “Fargo”) and Neff (aka Jimmy Chance of “Raising Hope”) weren’t intimidated by Ned’s star power.
“He upstages us all the time,” Tolman says. “But I don’t think any of us harbored any delusions that we would be the stars after people see this dog. He is clearly everyone’s favorite part of the show.”
Adds Neff, the proud owner of four rescue dogs: “Early on, I was like, ‘What happens when he upstages me? Will I still be paid?’ Once they assured me that I would be paid, no matter how popular the dog got, I was happy to be on board.”
When the first season of “Fargo” aired, America found out what Dallas theatergoers had known for years: Tolman can work wonders with a well-written character. The Baylor grad was a standout in a cast that included such heavy hitters as Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Keith Carradine.
“I’m certain that every single door I walk through today has been opened because of ‘Fargo,’” she says.
From 2004 to 2009, Tolman starred in and produced plays at Second Thought Theatre in Dallas.
Now she’s thrilled to be breaking the W.C. Fields rule and sharing the screen with such a charismatic canine.
“I hope people will sit down and watch and feel good for half an hour once a week,” she says. “It’s nice to have this pure show that just makes you feel good. I think we all can use that right now.”