updated 01/17/2012 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/22/2012 AT 4:00 PM ET
Awards season has been all about one name: Uggie!
The Artist’s canine star was the life of the party at last Sunday’s Golden Globes – especially when he played dead on stage! – and the buzz around him is getting so loud that he could even make an appearance at February’s Oscars.
The talented 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier trained hard for the role that’s garnered him so much attention. (On Saturday night, the film was named best picture of the year by the Producers Guild of America.) Here are five things you should know about the plucky little performer.
1. He was a diamond in the rough.
A rambunctious puppy, Uggie was 1 year old when his Florida family gave him up and handed him to dog trainer Omar Von Muller, who redirected the dog’s energies to performing. “He was just born to be a showman,” says Muller’s business partner, dog trainer Sarah Clifford, who worked with the pooch on much of The Artist. “I knew Uggie was perfect for [this role].”
2. The canine competition was stiff.
Uggie performed his best tricks at an intimate audition for director Michel Hazanavicius and a few of the movie’s producers. “They were very impressed, but we didn’t get hired on the spot,” Clifford says. “I had heard that they looked at a couple of other dogs. After several weeks we were awarded the film – I was thrilled.”
The already well-trained dog, who played Queenie in the Reese Witherspoon drama Water for Elephants, had to learn to fall down and play dead on unusual surfaces, like cement, which he hadn’t had experience with before. So Uggie’s training was reward-focused, often with hot dogs. “We just really, really practiced that a lot. It’s a trick any dog can learn, but it’s harder to have the dog respond to the actor,” says Clifford. Luckily, the dog’s costar Jean Dujardin was a dream partner: “They had a pretty tight bond by the end of filming,” she says.
4. He truly cares.
While shooting one intense scene in which a character turns a handgun on himself, Uggie jumped into action. “Uggie was barking and pulling on the pant leg, but what they didn’t show in the scene was Uggie actually reached up and tried to pull the gun out of his hand,” she says. “It was so incredible, I actually got emotional on set.”
5. Uggie got a little help from his friends.
Though he was the main canine star, there were three dogs on the film’s set at all times, including Uggie’s pals Dude and Dash. “When you’re doing multiple takes like that, for long hours, you don’t want to tire out the dog,” Clifford says. When they weren’t shooting, the doggy trio could be found skateboarding outside or having a snooze in a private room. “Uggie’s a snorer,” Clifford says with a laugh. “Very loudly, actually.”
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