Article reprinted with permission from Author Steve Marsh
May 2012 • STEVE MARSH | Delta Sky Magazine | www.stephenhero.com | firstname.lastname@example.org
Obviously, a dog doesn’t have to be famous to be a challenging interview. Many civilian dogs are treated like stars, but a celebrity dog? Gotta be worse. And Uggie, the star of The Artist? When I got the assignment, I assumed this guy was gonna be a bigger prima doggy than Rin Tin Tin in his prime. In the past few months, Uggie has not only made a black-and-white silent French film totally watchable, but he wore a custom satin Chopard bow tie to the Academy Awards—and he was invited to dinner with the most powerful dog lover in the world: President Obama.
As the first huge canine star in the Internet era, Uggie’s been the subject of countless celeb gossip posts, industry columns and pop culture think pieces. So we’re pretty familiar with Uggie’s facts of life: (A) He lives in Panorama City, California, with his younger Jack Russell buddy, Dash, and their trainer, Omar Von Muller. (B) After The Artist, Von Muller decided to retire Uggie from major motion pictures—he is 70 dog-years old, after all. (C) Von Muller got Uggie a new gig as “the official spokesdog of Nintendo,” which means fewer 15-hour days and more public appearances and Internet commercials (he’s been promoting the nintendogs + cats game for the Nintendo 3DS).
Von Muller has been around dogs since he was a 10-year-old back in Barranquilla, Colombia, teaching Kaiser, his trusty German shepherd, tricks he saw Lassie do on TV. Now 50, Von Muller says the reason Uggie is so great in The Artist is because he’s pretty much just playing himself.
“We do the exact same thing he did [with Jean Dujardin] in the movie,” Von Muller says. “He’s my best friend, and I take him places to show him off. In the movie, he is Jean’s best friend, and he goes everywhere with him and shows his tricks off to people.”
So everybody’s talked to Von Muller, and now his dog is a big-shot spokesdog for Nintendo. But here’s the deal: nobody’s spoken to the spokesdog. Until now.
I just needed help. I didn’t have enough time to explore my own ability to talk to dogs, so I called Liz Morrison, an “animal communicator” from Madison, Wisconsin, who owns yourpetwantstotalk.com. She says animal communication can help with behavioral problems, emotional issues and family dynamics with people and other pets. But could she help me interview a movie star?
I arranged a conference call between Morrison, Von Muller, Uggie, myself and Nintendo’s corporate communications:
After a round of introductions, Von Muller asks Uggie if he wants to say hello.
“Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!” Uggie says.
Morrison thanks Von Muller for allowing her to contact Uggie telepathically over the weekend. And it turns out that Uggie really wanted to talk. “I’ll talk to some animals and it will be a minute,” she says. “But he went on and on.”
It isn’t surprising that this Jack Russell is kind of a motor mouth: According to Von Muller, Jack Russells are the smartest, most driven dogs around—and the easiest to train. “But they’re crazy,” he says. “They’ll destroy your house and everything you have in it.” So if you don’t have the time to hang out with a Jack Russell and teach him tricks all day, consider another breed. In Uggie’s case, however, it’s apparently not just the breed. “I didn’t get any hint at all that this dog is 10 years old,” Morrison says. “He has such a young spirit.”
She says Uggie says he gets a little nervous on set, because “people are yelling and screaming and calling out and he hears people say, ‘It’s gotta be perfect!’” Uggie tells her Von Muller does a great job keeping him calm and focused.
Later, Von Muller tells us he doesn’t want to brag, but Uggie is a one-take dog. “Now, we do end up doing 15 or 20 [takes on set],” he says. “But most of the time, it’s because the director wants something from one of the other actors, not because of what the dog is doing.”
The one thing that does bother Uggie a bit, apparently, is the use of stunt doubles. “He says, ‘I love those dogs, we play and we have fun sometimes, but why are they there? I can do everything,’” Morrison translates. “‘I don’t need those dogs to do anything for me.’”
At this point she asks Von Muller if he has any questions.
“Nope,” he says. “Pretty on the money so far.”
Evidently, like any actor who gets hired based on his appearance, Uggie does have some body issues. “I love my food and my treats,” he says, according to the animal communicator. “But I can’t get fat! No getting fat!” Von Muller tells us Uggie is on a raw-food diet that incorporates plenty of broccoli and collard greens, with dried chicken and liver for treats. “And,” he adds sheepishly, “the occasional hot dog.”