Two Jack Russell terriers have stolen the hearts of moviegoers everywhere in “The Artist” and “Beginners,” but the dogs’ two-legged trainers deserve credit as well for their scene-enhancing perfs. Both trainers, Omar von Muller and Mathilde de Cagny, relied on their combined six decades of experience to create convincing relationships between man and mutt.
In “The Artist,” Uggie performed tricks, including the crowd favorite of pretending to get shot and playing dead, which von Muller says took him a couple of months to learn through repetition and trust.
On the other hand, Cosmo’s role as confidante to Oliver in “Beginners” didn’t involve tricks, but instead a close bond with actor Ewan McGregor.
“I trained him to not pay attention to me,” de Cagny says, “and I asked Ewan to be as involved as possible.
“At some point he asked me, ‘Can I have Cosmo?’ And I said, ‘Not even in your dreams, Ewan.’ ”
Cosmo and Uggie are veteran actors, each in the business for at least five years, and their trainers agree that the on-set variables, not the pooches, challenge them the most.
“You have to not just be a dog trainer and read your animals properly, but you have to be able to manage the set and the set environment and gain enough respect from your teammates to help your dogs succeed,” says de Cagny.
On normal film sets, trainers communicate with their dogs through hand signals while trying not to step into the shot. Von Muller notes that “working on a silent movie is pretty much a trainer’s dream come true.”