From 'A Star Is Born' to 'Widows': Meet the Animals Stealing the Show in Oscar Contenders

8:30 AM 1/7/2019

by Tara Bitran

These playful pups, kittens and 17 rabbits brought authenticity and a lot of "aww" to the year's top awards hopefuls.

A cat in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
A cat in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Alex Cramer, Rebecca Ford, Chris Gardner, Lauren Huff and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.

  • 'A Star Is Born'

    Courtesy of Warner Bros.

    By the end of Bradley Cooper's remake of the timeless Hollywood love story, there was another star born besides Ally.

    Charlie, the dog shared by Lady Gaga's ingenue and Cooper's country rocker Jackson Maine, stole the hearts of not only his onscreen parents but audiences everywhere after the film was released in October.

    Cooper, who stars in and directed the drama, didn't have to look far when it came to casting the couple's pooch for his directorial debut. He chose his very own labradoodle.

    "That bond with Bradley is natural and can't be duplicated," a Warner Bros. spokesperson tells THR.

    The golden-haired pup proved a scene-stealer in his own right, as viewers watched him leap into Cooper's arms when playing in the star-crossed couple's Laurel Canyon-esque backyard. But he also did some emotional heavy lifting after a fateful scene in a garage near the end of the film.

    Aside from the fun that comes with casting his very own "man's best friend," Cooper included Charlie in his directorial debut as a way to honor his late father, Charles J. Cooper, for whom the dog is named. Cooper's father died in 2011 after a battle with lung cancer.

  • 'The Favourite'

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

    Director Yorgos Lanthimos needed a lot of rabbits for his royal satire starring Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. "The rabbits in our film were central to the story, as they symbolize the painful loss of Queen Anne's 17 children," says producer Ceci Dempsey. "At first, we were concerned they'd be all over the place, but they were actually quite content and calm and completely trainable."

    To prepare one particular rabbit named Winky, who has a memorable moment with Emma Stone's character toward the end of the film, Dempsey says "weeks of treat-filled and gentle training" were used to get the job done.

    At any given time, there were up to 17 rabbits on camera. "The rabbits won over the entire crew and cast," adds Dempsey. "They are the sweetest, cuddliest animals and love attention. We all became very protective of them, and each of us had our favorites. Everyone seemed very fond of Winky and Strawberry in particular."

  • 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

    Mary Cybulski/Fox Searchlight Pictures

    In Marielle Heller's biopic, Melissa McCarthy turns in a tour de force of notorious author turned forger Lee Israel. But McCarthy's performance would not be complete without her adoration for a certain black-and-white feline: Jersey, a 12-year-old cat whom the character considers her only family in lonely New York City. (Jersey is played by a feline whose real name is Towne.)

    Unlike her onscreen counterpart, McCarthy owns dogs in real life, but she admits that once upon a time she was "a rather extreme cat owner."

    Indeed, the actress grew up on a farm housing anywhere between 20 and 30 cats at a time, "which I know sounds insane," she tells THR.

    If someone said, "We have a litter and don't know where they can go," McCarthy's family would take them in. But that policy came with one catch —­ the cats always stayed outside.

    "They were not in the house. We're not that crazy," she says with a laugh.

    The Golden Globe nominee recalls how when friends would drop her off and see her home for the first time, they would "intensely" freak out at the sight of numerous cats running up to the car.

    "It would look like a horror movie! We'd drive down this craphole country road, into our driveway, and out would come 30 cats. Parents who never swore would suddenly be like, 'Holy shit!' They were just terrified."

  • 'Roma'

    Carlos Somonte/Netflix

    Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron was meticulous in re-creating his experience as a child in Mexico City, from the furniture designed to look like viewers stepped into his family home down to casting every last role in the film — including the dog who doesn't quite seem to have a handle on his bowel movements.

    "He had to look like the original dog, so we looked at dogs like crazy," Cuaron says.

    The production team eventually found a puppy on the street that was identical to the dog of Cuaron's upbringing. "It was months before we started shooting, so it was enough time for the dog to get used to the set and be trained," he adds.

    Marina de Tavira, who plays matriarch Sofia, jokes that the screen novice was not always the most cooperative co-star. "There was lots of fake dog poo all over the place, and he would try to eat it because it was made of chocolate and sugar," she says. "They had to find another way to create that material so it wouldn't be appealing for him."

    Castmembers easily bonded with the pup, as he brought out lots of laughter behind the scenes. "I know now that he's really happy," says de Tavira. "He lives with the family of one of the girls, and he has lots of land to run. I don't know if he's going to be an actor again, but he has a good life."

  • 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was very much a cat person, at one time keeping as many as 10 felines. And Fox's biopic Bohemian Rhapsody includes several scenes showing off the rocker's resident pets in his lavish London home.

    Unfortunately for Rami Malek, who stars as Mercury in the film, his furry co-stars didn't quite agree with him. Widely known for his performance as Elliot on Mr. Robot, Malek says he's allergic to cats and had avoided working with them. The Emmy winner adds that early on in production on the USA drama, he managed to convince showrunner Sam Esmail to change the computer programmer's pet from a cat to a fish.

    "His fish in the show — its name is Qwerty. Qwerty was initially a cat, and I said, 'No cats,' " says Malek. "And then he brought on a dog, a big, white, fluffy dog, and I said, 'Are we doing a sitcom?' And nothing against sitcoms, but I realized that with Sam the only thing you need to get him to do to change an idea is say, 'I think I saw this on a sitcom once.' And you'll get your way."

    But there was no switching out the cats for fish when it came time to play Mercury.

    "When those cats were around, I was not the happiest human being," the Golden Globe nominee says. "But I thought, 'Hey, if Freddie loved them so much, I guess I've got to tough this one out.' There was lots of sneezing."

  • 'Widows'

    Merrick Morton/Twentieth Century Fox

    Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo aren't the only fierce ladies of Widows.

    Brian Tyree Henry considers Olivia, Davis' beloved 3-year-old West Highland terrier in the heist thriller, "one of my great co-stars, another powerful female." He keeps thinking he and the fluffy pup, who can also be seen in Game Night and on Netflix's Insatiable, will become Instagram friends one day.

    "She is one of the most well-behaved dogs in the world," says the Atlanta and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse actor. "I mean, she lives the lavish life. There's not a hair out of place on Olivia. I'm trying to take notes from her on how [to] be so pulled together."

  • 'Ben Is Back'

    Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

    The family dog in Ben Is Back was not named Ponce on a whim. The name holds a dear place in director-screenwriter Peter Hedges' heart, citing an early family outing where his young sons — Simon and Lucas, who plays the titular prodigal son in the drama — encountered a "completely wild-looking dog named Ponce."

    Lucas jokes how Ponce's owners said at the time, "He's just going through an ugly phase." Peter claims that his sons are highly allergic to dogs, and when one of them started petting Ponce, "he just started breaking out all over his neck and face," tears filling his eyes because they all knew they couldn't take the dog home with them.

    But the story has a happy ending. "Later, we got two dogs that they are not allergic to, or not allergic enough — slightly allergic but not enough that they can deny them," Peter says.

    This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.