Ever see a movie and halfway through realize that one of the characters is played by an actor you really like but didn’t know was in the movie? Or maybe you’re watching a TV show and you know you’ve seen that actor before but you just can’t place where. This actually happened to me the other night while watching Doctor Who reruns — in one episode I kept hearing the actor’s voice and thought to myself, I know that voice! Then after doing some research, I realized it was Shirley Henderson, who played Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter. (A more disturbing realization was that David Tenant, who plays my favorite Doctor, was Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter.)
Anyway, those moments happen all the time while watching human actors. Have you ever had one while watching an animal actor? Me neither. I watch a film and think, “Oh that monkey’s totally badass,” but it’s not like I stay till the credits to check out who it was that played the monkey. I say it’s past time we stopped and gave these talented and un-thought of actors the thanks they deserve.
1. Levi, Tara, Boo Boo, & Mercedes: Pirates of the Caribbean
Well already we have way more than just the three I promised in the title of this article, but they’re included together because they all played the same part. And what story about acting animals would be complete without Jack the monkey?
Yup, we have four different actors to thank for this one role. Tara and Levi played Jack the Monkey in The Curse of the Black Pearl and Boo Boo and Mercedes were in Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. Luckily, Capuchin monkeys all look pretty much the same. Why so many actors for one part? There are several different reasons. One, it’s a way to utilize each monkey’s particular talent and thus come up with “Super Monkey.” For instance, one of the little guys might have a lot of fun swinging back and forth on the ship’s ropes while another might be better at sitting calmly on Captain Barbossa’s (Geoffrey Rush) shoulder. Also, learning an entire movie’s worth of cues and tricks ain’t easy.
One thing they all had in common? They were all pests. Apparently, the Capuchins who played in the Pirate franchise weren’t quite as well-mannered as the other animals on this list. They had a short attention span and weren’t always paying attention to their cues. Sometimes the director even had to squirt them with water to get them to face the camera!
2. Uggie: The Artist, Water for Elephants
Meet Uggie, a Jack Russell Terrier and movie star. Like many actors, he got off to a rough start; his first two owners rejected him for being too wild. This isn’t an unusual complaint about Jack Russells, as they have incredible amounts of energy and need a lot of stimulation to stay out of trouble. Luckily, that’s just what animal trainer Omar Von Muller had in mind when he rescued Uggie from the pound. (One more reason it’s better to rescue shelter animals than buy from a breeder: They might be undiscovered movie stars.)
Originally, Von Muller’s only plan was to keep the terrier happy, healthy, and busy. After he realized the dog’s talent and fearlessness — he was unafraid of bright lights and loud noises — he decided it was time to introduce Uggie to the stage. First he had minor roles: the dog in 2005′s What’s Up Scarlett and Wassup Rockers and 2006′s Mr. Fix It. His first big break came as Queenie, the circus dog in 2011′s Water for Elephants.
That same year, Uggie also played as the dog in The Artist, which is when I really fell in love with him. I’m convinced he was the most talented actor on set — and that was a movie full of talented actors. If you want an overview of the movie as a whole and how awesome the human actors were, you can check out our review here.
Most recently, Uggie also made a cameo in the recent release of The Campaign. He’s got a couple of awards, too: the 2011 Palm Dog Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and the 2012 Golden Collar Award — pretty much the canine equivalent of an Oscar. He was also present during the Golden Globes, as evidenced by this adorable clip:
3. Crystal: The Hangover Part II, We Bought a Zoo, Night at the Museum, Community, etc.
You know what I said earlier, about how movies often use many different animal actors for the same part? Forget all about that when it comes to Crystal, because she’s a one-monkey wonder. Between 1997 and 2012, she’s done 19 different movies and TV shows. She’s currently working on The Good Thing, to be released in 2013.
Her most well-known role is probably the trickster in 2006′s Night at the Museum (and its 2009 sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian). Her portrayal as Dexter was one of the only roles where she actually received a name. She was listed only by description in the credits of other movies — for instance she was “Drunk Monkey” in 1998′s Dr. Dolittle , “Forest Monkey” in 2006′s Failure to Launch, and “Drug Dealing Monkey” in 2011′s The Hangover Part II.
My absolute favorite role of hers was in the TV comedy Community, a sitcom featuring seven mismatched community college students who’ve formed a study group. One of the students has a pet monkey named Annie’s Boobs. The line introducing her was: “This is Annie’s Boobs, she’s named after Annie’s boobs.” (Annie is a student in the study group.) The monkey escaped to live in the air vents and pops up every couple of episodes to wreak minor havoc, usually by stealing something. Ken Jeong, who plays Chang, the college’s slightly psychotic Spanish teacher, once described her as “quite possibly the best actor I’ve worked with.”
By the way, if you heard the rumor that The Hangover got her addicted to cigarettes, it’s been debunked. An offhand joke made by director Todd Philips got blown out of proportion. The cigs she “smoked” in the movie were actually ceramic, and the smoke got added digitally afterwards. So don’t worry, this is one actor who will remain drug free.
Next time you see a movie featuring an animal, don’t just dismiss it as a cute set piece. Remember that the animal is an actor who’s worked just as hard as the humans on screen — and quite possibly may be more experienced than some. Here’s a big “Thank you!” to Levi, Tara, Boo Boo, Mercedes, Uggie, Crystal, and so many others who’ve brought their furry or feathered talent to the screen.