Friday, December 23, 2011

Dog trainer of scene-stealing terrier in ‘The Artist’ speaks

Posted By on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 11:51 PM

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While most cinephiles are lauding over performances by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Meryl Streep during what is now the end of Oscar season, a lot of attention is being paid to another actor, one who is just as likely to be excited to be given a chew toy as an Academy Award.

Meet Uggie, the scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier who has become the talk of Tinseltown since putting his paw print on The Artist, a French silent film that is garnering its own Oscar buzz. Earlier this year, Uggie was featured in the film Water for Elephants.

While Uggie is not eligible to get nominated for an Oscar, that hasn’t stopped fans of the film to start a “Consider Uggie” campaign on Facebook in an attempt to get the furry performer a nod for his work in The Artist.

During an exclusive interview with me, dog trainer and Uggie’s owner Omar von Muller talked about what it’s been like to have Uggie as part of his family and why he thinks his pup deserves a shot at Oscar gold.

How did Uggie come to be your dog?

A friend of mine called me. They were going to take him to the pound because they just couldn’t handle him anymore. I wanted to get him out of that situation. I had him for a couple of days and fell in love with him and decided to keep him.

Was there a specific point during that time when you realized that Uggie had talent and could be trained to do some incredible things?

At the time all I saw was that he was a very active and intelligent dog. That’s really all you need to train a dog to do a lot of things. How far he was going to go, I didn’t know.

Did it come natural for him?

Yes. Jack Russells are very smart. They are very energetic animals. He used that to his advantage.

There are many routes an aspiring actor or actress would take to get into Hollywood. So, how does a dog make it?

I have an animal agency and work with a lot of animals inHollywood. We’ve been doing this for years. If I’m in the industry, my dogs are in it, too.

I read Uggie spent some time with lead actor Jean Dujardin before production for The Artist even began. Is that something you always try to do?

Yeah, we try to do that as much as possible with our dogs. When we did Water for Elephants Uggie spend quite a bit of time with the actors. We took Uggie to Jean’s house to meet him. He was a natural with the dog. He learned the commands and was able to keep Uggie’s attention. There were scenes where we couldn’t be close to Uggie, so Jean was able to do everything himself.

Do you think animal performers like Uggie realize when they are filming a movie that they are doing something special that a normal animal doesn’t do?

Yeah, I think so. Dogs love the attention. Something I do with my dogs that a lot of animal trainers don’t do is that I let my dogs get pet by everyone on the set. A lot of trainers when they go onto a set they’ll be like, “Don’t touch my dog. Don’t look at my dog.” But I like to have my dogs totally happy with everyone around them no matter who it is. I let them touch the dogs, play with them and socialize.

What is life like for Uggie now that he is famous?

He is actually next to me right now just playing around and chewing on a bone. I have other dogs with me, too. We’re all just a big happy family. We do the movies because it’s fun for them and they get a lot of exercise.

What have you thought about the campaign to get Uggie an Oscar nomination?

I think it’s great. We’re really thrilled people are thinking that. I think it’s about time dogs get recognized. People don’t realize how much work it is to train a dog.

If he was to win an Oscar sometime in his career, do you think they would make the statue out of milkbone?

(Laughs) That would be fine! It would be fine if he ate it.

If Uggie could speak, what do you think he would say about Hollywood?

He would probably say, “How come I don’t get residuals!?”

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