cATS has been effortlessly stealing scenes from human co-stars for decades. Who can forget Audrey Hepburn’s gorgeous marmalade at Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Or Jinx, the Himalayan who flushes the toilet at Meet the Parents? Behind every popular Cinematic cat, there is a dedicated trainer who patiently teaches them to obey command, make sure they are happy in their place, and groom them meticulously to maintain their fluffy good looks.
The filmmakers behind The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, a biographical British period film about the Edwardian artist and painter best known for his surreal image of cats, were adamant that they didn’t want to use CGI for filming, so animal trainer Charlotte Wilde was brought in with 40 feisty felines. “It was an organized mess,” she says. “They had their own green room and were treated like royalty.”
Wilde, who has also worked on Fighting With My Family and Bohemian Rhapsody, runs an agency in London that provides animals for film and television. Felix, the 10-year-old black and white Magiha (“A very shy guy!”), is cast as Peter, Wain’s best friend, who inspired his first drawings.
Cats, of course, are known for their volatility and independence – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be trained like dogs to act and do tricks on screen. Wilde says she uses positive reinforcement with plenty of snacks on hand to offer as rewards. “We teach our cats to go party,” she says. “They’ll go in and they’ll know where to stop. We train them to sound a bell. We have some that can roll. A couple can recover. They’ll lie down, rub people’s legs, walk side by side. We show them what to do. Then we try to make it happen.” Immediately “.
A percussion device is used for encouragement. “You might have a moment between two lines where we can get a click, just like that cat [knows]: “You’re doing a really good job. Wait. Food is coming. That’s obviously really distracting for the actors. Maybe they’re tired of the clicker at the end of the movie!”
Mark Harden, a Los Angeles-based animal trainer, was responsible for five snow-white chinchillas who played Snowbell in Stuart Little, and cared for 40 cats in the Catwoman group including many rare Egyptian mouse animals. He says it’s all about cats getting into their way of thinking. “They are predators but they can also be fickle. They have a very strong flight reaction. The most important thing for cats is to keep them away from exotic environments. The movie set is a very exotic environment.”
Canadian animal trainer Melissa Millett has a new way to desensitize the cats she works with: She shoots mock movies at home. For the Pet Sematary reboot, she recruits five Maine Coons from rescue shelters to play the church, in the Pet Sematary reboot, she’s transformed into an aggressive zombie cat. This meant that they gradually acclimated to applying make-up and getting wet. The whole process took two months. “We started with a catnip party in the bathtub. A little water on the cat while he was eating. Then we worked until a full bath. Separately, we start with a little egg white and then start our way up. All produce should be edible.”
Expectations for cat representatives tend to be much lower than those for dogs, Harden says. “People are more afraid of you when you have a cat that does well. I think they expect the cat to be afraid.” However, animal trainers can teach cats to do the kind of tricks that would easily outgrow a Lassie. Millet has a talented Bengal named Sashimi, who can ride a motorbike. Wilde taught one of its members, Lester, to pretend to play the harmonica, while Harden trained Cairo, an Egyptian Mau, to pick up a cell phone with his teeth and run away with it.
But not all cats are cute and cuddly. Being accidentally bitten is an occupational hazard. Then there is the cat hair that is spreading all over the place. “You’re definitely not wearing your best clothes to work!” Wilde says. “You have to get up early because you have to get the animals ready. You go to bed later because you have to put them to bed. They come first no matter what. I will say it’s a way of life, not a job. It’s incredibly rewarding. They give you a lot.”