Uggie The Artist Dog's Trainer Omar Von Muller: The Man Behind the Dog
Courtesy Omar Von MullerUggie
came late in life for Hollywood's Next Big Thing. Before he played
opposite Reese Witherspoon and landed a scene-stealing role in an
Academy Award-nominated film, he endured random parts in commercials, TV
shows and films -- and even performed tricks on Third Street Promenade
for pocket money.
He didn't hit the big time until he was in his
mid-50s. Which is to say, mid-50s in people years: In dog years, Uggie
is just 10.
Uggie, of course, is the orange-and-white Jack Russell terrier in The Artist. Already a veteran of such movies as Mr. Fix It and Water for Elephants,
Uggie became a movie star in his own right by playing sidekick to Jean
Dujardin's tragically declining film star in the dark-horse silent film.
There was the Palm Dog award at Cannes. There was the big splash he
made at the Golden Globe Awards, getting photographed on the red carpet
and then stealing the show during the moviemaker's acceptance speech.
There was his guest appearance on the BBC's Graham Norton Show. And then there's Movieline's ongoing "Consider Uggie" campaign, a general effort to honor the terrier for The Artist.
resides with his Colombian-born owner-trainer Omar Von Muller, 49,
along with Von Muller's wife and daughter, several other dogs, a few
cats and a handful of domesticated birds, in a comfortable ranch house
in Panorama City.
Von Muller is an ace trainer, a guy who gets
little face time or glory but who knows how to inspire astounding
moments of animal theatricality. (Readers might remember our piece about
his amazing skateboarding dogs, seen at Venice Beach -- see "Omar Von Muller's Skateboarding Dogs. Yes, Skateboarding Dogs," Sept. 22, 2011.)
Von Muller, who grew up in a
multigenerational animal-training family in Colombia, adopted Uggie as a
puppy, saving him from the pound. The terrier's previous owners had
deemed him too wild.
Today, his trainer says, Uggie is anything but.
don't want to put anyone down," Von Muller says. "There's a bunch of
good animal actors out there. But Uggie is one of the best. He knows
when the word 'action' comes, he does what he's supposed to be doing, he
doesn't get distracted with the people around him, the camera and the
lights, and he takes no time to get used to what the director wants."
Uggie with Jean Dujardin in The Artist
few days at actor Dujardin's house before shooting was sufficient to
create a connection between the rakish Frenchman and the rascally yet
understated Jack Russell. "Jean was a great person to work with," Von
Muller says. "Because he really, really liked Uggie." One wonders what
actor wouldn't like Uggie, or at least who would confess to
such a thing: Besides his shaggy charms, he brings, well, a dogged work
ethic with him to the set each day. (The gossip rags went so far as to
report -- incorrectly, according to Von Muller -- that actor Robert
Pattinson liked working with Uggie so much on Water for Elephants that he sought to adopt him.)
Uggie is, as Von Muller says, a pro.
humans, for sure, it's very long hours -- 12 to 15 daily, and we shot
30-plus days. He was OK," Von Muller says. "We would just go back to the
room and rest in between shots."
While the down-to-earth Von
Muller is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed coddler of talented pups
-- no gold-plated doggie bowl or satin-lined bed for Uggie -- he
considers his pets true companions: "He's like family, and it's all
about having fun."
Just as he's hit the big time, though, Uggie is retiring from movie work.
Is this a case of going out on top, like Joaquin Phoenix quitting acting not long after Walk the Line?
Some reports suggest the Jack Russell suffers from a rare neurological
disorder that causes him to shake sporadically. Von Muller only
acknowledges that Uggie's age is an issue.
"I see him getting tired faster now. We have a couple of other young dogs that are ready, and equally good."
Uggie has just become official spokesdog for the 3-D video game
Nintendogs Plus Cats, a job that should keep him in the media spotlight.
And he can rest knowing he has achieved Hollywood immortality.
movie was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in. Besides it being
in the Oscars and Golden Globes, my dog got to actually have a great
part in it. Most movies with a lot of dogs are cheesy, like Disney
movies and ones filled with chihuahuas," Von Muller says. "It's hard to
find a movie this good."
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