It also takes the right dog, a dog who exudes confidence and fearlessness, and is not reactive to distractions. Uggie truly fears nothing! It is, of course, a collaborative effort — a director should be able to offer the animal trainer a clear vision. The actors also need to be willing to help create that relationship so it looks genuine on camera. I have worked with some actors who refused to even hand a dog a treat, which is the dog’s paycheck!
Jean did whatever it took. He was always willing to stuff his pockets with hot dogs and chicken so he could “pay” Uggie after each take.
B: Jack Russell Terriers are typically very vocal dogs. Did working on a (nearly) silent film change the dynamic for Uggie as an actor?
SC: Indeed they are a vocal breed, and Uggie is especially vocal! Getting him to “speak” is just about as easy as getting him to eat. Because it was a silent film, Uggie could bark a lot more than what would normally be appropriate if we were rolling sound. Being able to work on a silent film and talking the dog through scenes was fantastic. We had many good laughs about that ... how we’d miss being able to talk to the dog throughout a take.
B: Can you describe how you and Uggie prepared for the scene in which Uggie rescues Valentin from a burning house?
SC: We shot the fire scene over many days in a few different locations. I worked all the exterior scenes because Omar was out of the country during that time. To get Uggie to go to the cop and really evoke that frantic energy, I had to be super exuberant and really keep my energy at a 10 at all times. We shot the pant-leg part and the play-dead part in a few pieces, and each time, I would pattern him.
When he ran into the smoky house, I was inside calling him as loud as I could and squeezing squeaky toys. I grabbed him just before the cop came charging through because the smoke was so thick that he couldn’t see either. It was challenging.
I hid hot dog pieces all over Jean and told Uggie to go with him. As Jean is laid down on the lawn, Uggie, sniffing all around him and seeming concerned for his master, is really searching for the hot dog bits. Now I am giving away all my secrets.