It’s almost time for the Oscars, and I’m on pins and needles waiting to hear if Uggie (of The Artist fame) will be appearing or — better yet — performing a trick or two at the ceremony.* Apparently, he hasn’t been invited yet, which is an outrage if you ask me! The Jack Russell terrier with a certain je ne sais quoi steals not only scenes in this silent film, but also our hearts. He is loyal, playful, bashful, heroic. Man, this dog can act!
Actually, the whole question of “dog actors” is the stuff of Hollywood legend. It is said that during the first awards year of 1929, Rin Tin Tin garnered the greatest number of votes for best actor, though members of the Academy thought better of giving an Oscar to a dog. Alan Siskind of DogNewsDaily.com took matters into his own hands in 2012 and inaugurated the Golden Collar Awards, where Uggie won Best Dog in a Theatrical Film. Uggie also received the Pawscar for Best Scene Stealer by the American Humane Association.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Omar Von Muller for rescuing Uggie and adopting him into his family. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, at least one other family had deemed Uggie “too wild.” But even though hyperactive dogs can be challenging family pets, they can be extremely well-suited to search and rescue work — and become great performers. It is a matter of redirecting that impressive energy! Von Muller had done all sorts of training work with dogs, including police work and obedience, and he applied his experience to working with Uggie. Von Muller’s business partner, dog trainer Sarah Clifford, worked with Uggie — fresh from the set of Water for Elephants — on much of his performance in The Artist. (To learn how Sarah trained Uggie for specific film scenes, click here. Just know that there’s a plot spoiler!)
How did Uggie break into show business? Well, like other movie stars, he put in his time with commercials and reality TV before breaking into the silver screen.
How did Uggie come to audition for his starring role in The Artist? Sarah Clifford read the script and told Von Muller about it. The film director, Michel Hazanavicius, and a few of the movie’s producers came over to the house and watched Uggie do tricks. Though Uggie faced competition, he won the part!
Who determined which tricks Uggie would perform in the film? Some of the main tricks, like playing dead, were already in the script, though Uggie embellished his role, falling back dramatically. But other scenes — such as the tense breakfast meal Valentin the movie star endures with his angry wife — were improvised!
Did Uggie perform all of his own tricks? There will be no Black Swan babble about body doubles, thank you very much. According to Von Muller, two other Jack Russells, Dash (Uggie’s brother) and Dude, served as understudies for Uggie but ended up in “only a few seconds out of the whole movie.” “Every movie needs to have a double. This is a must,” says Von Muller.
Which treats did Uggie receive as rewards for performing tricks? A good variety: chicken sausage, dry liver, vegetarian treats…
Where does he get his bow ties? (or rather, “Who is he wearing?!”) High-class pooch that he is, he’s been spotted at Nordstrom’s out West and Robert Graham out East…in reported “canine chic” at the Golden Globes, where he had the temerity to interrupt an acceptance speech. He wears regular bow ties, and they are adjusted to fit.
When he’s not acting like a celebrity — walking the red carpet at the Golden Globes, attending charity events, being surrounded by paparazzi during his travels — what is he like? According to Von Muller, “When you see him in the movies, he’s a calm Jack Russell. In the house, I let him be more of a dog. He runs around, he sleeps with us…” (The dogs have their own beds, and given how many there are, that’s a good thing I should say!)
What are Uggie’s plans for the future? Regrettably, Uggie will be retiring from feature films. He is 10 years old, after all, and he gets a little tired. But he’ll still perform bit parts, and he just signed on to be Nintendo’s first spokesdog, so watch for Uggie in future commercials. And remember, that rambunctious animal you see in a shelter could have his name in Hollywood lights one day!
* Post-Oscars Update: Uggie and Von Muller joined fellow cast members onstage when The Artist won Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards. Plus, Uggie got a shout-out from Best Director winner Michel Hazanavicius.