February 22, 2012 / 10:07 AM / 7 years ago

A Minute With: Uggie, scene-stealing star of "The Artist"

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At 10 years old, Uggie has a long show business resume. But it wasn’t until the lively Jack Russell terrier landed the role of sidekick to actor Jean Dujardin in silent film “The Artist” that he hit the big time.

The scene-stealing star of Hollywood’s awards season talked with Reuters (via one of his trainers, Sarah Clifford) about the art of animal acting, being snubbed by the Oscars and why “The Artist” is probably his last big movie.

Q: How are you handling the spotlight right now?

A: “It is so amazing ... I have never experienced it before. I have been doing this for 10 years and we have never had a dog get this popular off of one project.”

Q: How did this role come about?

A: “When we got the script for the artist, saying it called for a really talented Jack Russell, I thought Uggie is the dog for this movie. There is no other dog who can do this. This dog has to perform really big circusy tricks and perform with this guy on stage and this dog is a star. Uggie has those qualities more than any other dog that I knew of. Jack Russells are real high energy dogs and he had just finished ‘Water for Elephants’ so he was right up to date on his training.”

Q: But surely he had to audition?

A: “He definitely had to audition. At first we sent them (the producers) some videos and didn’t hear back for a month and I thought they had found someone else. And then the directors were flying to L.A. and wanted to meet Uggie for an audition. They came with a little camcorder. We showed them Uggie’s tricks — playing dead, skateboarding, all his high energy tricks. And you could tell they were very impressed ... And then we didn’t hear back for like three to four weeks. And then we got the callback saying they would like to hire Uggie. It was a long process but we were thrilled.”

Q: What kind of new skills did he have to learn?

A: “He had to learn really being able to walk with an actor off leash, and stay by their side. We practiced that a lot. We also worked on the sequence where he walks and falls back on his hind legs. Although Uggie had already been able to play dead, we just made it more dramatic.”

Q: Some actors have instant chemistry. Was that the case with Uggie and Jean Dujardin?

A: “Before filming we spent three days with Jean. That is the most important — having the actor be able to work with the dog. Jean was so awesome and by three or four days I knew it was going to look so good.”

Q: Do you regard Uggie as an actor in this movie?

A: “There are moments in this film that I have never experienced doing this job. There was a take in the scene where Jean holds a gun up to his head when Uggie actually reached out and tried to pull the gun out of his hand with his mouth. Uggie put his mouth on Jean’s hand and started pulling his hand. We were so stunned. He wasn’t told to do that by us. I cried like an idiot ... I feel that because Jean was trembling, Uggie felt he was in danger and was truly trying to stop him hurting himself. That dog was acting in the moment. He was responding to the actor in an emotional sense. I think that’s a form of acting that was amazing to see. I don’t know why they didn’t use that take. I hope it makes the outtakes.”

Q: How much does Uggie enjoy the red carpet part of being famous?

A: “He definitely enjoys it. It’s all people petting him and kissing him and taking their photos with him. Dogs totally feed off positive energy like that and being praised. He is definitely not a dog who is nervous at all. A lot of dogs can’t handle the red carpet like he does — there is a lot of noise with people screaming his name. But he is not even fazed by it.”

Q: How do you feel about Uggie not getting an Oscar nomination?

A: “I understand the Academy established that (no animal) rule a long time ago. I personally am not offended by that. I love that Uggie is getting recognized for being an actor. I think it is beautiful and wonderful. But I also think that the Academy Awards is such a prestigious show that it should be just for the humans. But it would be really exceptional and great if the animals were given some kind of acknowledgment. Some kind of little shout out would be more than enough.”

Q: So what’s coming up next for Uggie? Does he now have his pick of roles?

A: “He has been doing press, like, every day. He is so busy and we don’t want to overwork him. He is 10 years old and close to retirement. He can do little jobs here and there but he probably won’t do another feature film, but as far as little commercials and stuff goes, yes. As long as he is still having fun, but we are never going to make the dog do it.”

Reporting By Jill Serjeant; editing by Patricia Reaney

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