September 11, 2015 | Posted in Famous TV & Movie Dogs
In 2011, the talk of the town, both with show business people and the general public, was a little Jack Russell Terrier named Uggie. He’d stolen scenes when he appeared in the popular and unusual silent film “The Artist” earlier that year. Audiences fell in love with the smart dog who was really an actor in every sense of the word. A whirlwind of publicity and appearances followed his work in “The Artist”, but Uggie’s life wasn’t always so good.
He was born in 2002 as a best estimate of his age. He had been adopted twice by families who determined that he was too wild for them. After his second trip back to the pound, he was about one year old. Trainer Omar Von Muller was always looking for new dogs to train for films and television, and some friends of his had seen the little terrier at the shelter and thought of him. He visited the shelter and decided to at least save the little dog’s life by taking him home and foster caring him until a home could be found. “He was a crazy, very energetic puppy, and who knows what would have happened to him?” Von Muller reasoned when he rescued Uggie.
After spending a little time with Uggie, Von Muller realized the dog was very smart and willing to work. He wasn’t afraid of anything, an important trait for an animal actor since they are surrounded by people, lights, noises and movement during the course of making a film. Von Muller kept Uggie. The terrier started out doing extra or bit parts in films. His first major role was as “Queenie” in “Water for Elephants” with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Then came the role that would change everything – “The Artist”, a modern-day film being done as a silent film.
The little Jack Russell surprised everyone with his acting abilities. He had two stunt doubles, Dash and Dude, but did most of his own stunts and physical work himself. He had to fall down in some scenes, and play dead. Trainer Von Muller said that took lots of practice, aided by hot dogs as rewards. In a scene where one of the human characters turns a gun on himself, Uggie was supposed to bark and pull the character’s pants leg. He did so without any problems, but went the extra mile because he was thinking on his feet – all four of them. He also tried to pull the gun out of the actor’s hand! This last part was edited out of the film but showed the compassionate side of Uggie.
When the film was released, Uggie attended the American Film Institute premiere, walking the red carpet with the other stars. He did more promos for the film, too. A Facebook campaign was launched to earn Uggie an honorary Oscar nomination for his role in “The Artist” but the Academy decided against it. He did receive the Palm Dog Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, though. And he’s picked up nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter. He was asked to be the 2012 spokes dog for the animal welfare organization PETA, promoting the concept of adopting an animal from a shelter.
Von Muller noticed that Uggie was slowing down a little, though, and decided that he would be open to accepting smaller, less-demanding roles for the little guy, who could at least semi-retire. He makes occasional personal appearances and in-between those, he lives comfortably with Von Muller, his wife and daughter and six other working dogs in the North Hollywood area of Los Angeles.