The Cat Stole The Film
“The cat is a character and its screen time is consistent. …If you haven’t seen the film yet, keep an eye out for this amazing creature. He knows all. “ (hellogiggles.com)
“Nick & Amy’s Cat Actually Has Some Important Significance” (Huffpo)
“…he [Fincher] deploys Nick and Amy’s orange cat as an emotional marker.” (Vogue)
“The only really stable character in this house is the cat…” (screencrush.com)
The Man Behind The Cat(s)
Larry Payne was the lead animal trainer on the very popular movie based on the book, “Gone Girl.” However, despite everyone agreeing Bleeker the cat’s role was pivotal in better understanding the relationship between the two lead characters, you’d be hard pressed to find the names Larry or Boris (who played Bleeker the cat) in any credits. [refer to prior post on why it’s time for cat actors and their handlers to receive the credit they deserve in helping to create blockbuster films]
Larry is not an easy man to find, and despite deploying my finest Google stalking investigative techniques I was unable to turn up a photo I could confirm was in fact him. This, despite the fact he’s been the animal handler in movies such as “Marley and Me,” “The Smurfs,” and “Hangover 3.”
I did, however, have the opportunity to speak with him by phone not long after the movie came out.
It turns out even the man who’s worked in the industry for many years was a bit intimidated by being on the set of a Fincher movie. “He’s intelligent, you can’t tick him off,” were Larry’s exact words. And it turns out casting the role of the cat, Bleeker, was quite the undertaking and potentially the most difficult part to cast!
Larry said they, “sent a million pictures…in the beginning there were even issues with these two [the two cats that were ultimately on-set for the movie*]. We even sent photos from other agencies…”
Animals are cast in twos to give them break time, and because certain cats excel at certain things. So you may want to use one cat in a crowd scene and another when you want a lap cat etc.
Ultimately the two cats that were cast for “Gone Girl” were Boris and Krinkles, both rescues from the pound. Boris is the older of the two at 2.5 years of age and has starred in shows the likes of “Malcolm in the Middle.” Krinkles is around 5-6 years of age and starred in the “Smurfs” movie (which Larry thinks Fincher was unaware of and probably would not want to know).
Boris is what Larry refers to as “bomb proof,” he stays where he is put, to the point that Ben Affleck joked, “He’s a half-dead cat.” Krinkles, on the other hand does “A-to-B” movement work. He’s food motivated, which helps in that regard, but “goes soft” after a few takes (being younger he likely doesn’t have the stamina…or patience!).
On-Set With Cats
Seeing the set the day before the shoot, even this seasoned animal trainer was a bit worried. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll recall the opening scene takes place in the middle of a sprawling upper middle class neighborhood. Up until the time they’re on-set, trainers only have the script to work from and have to simulate situations to the best of their ability to prepare the cats. But you never know for sure what you’re in store for until you get there.
Larry explained that with such a wide shot, and on an open set, there’d be no way to use a waist-tie to tether Boris. The opening scene called for Bleeker to be in the middle of the street – on an open set. Larry was praying Boris didn’t make a break for it. He was also hoping Fincher didn’t look at the cats too closely. They’re not exactly twins.
After seeing the movie I’m quite sure Krinkles was left on the cutting room floor. Larry was unable to confirm this as he had not seen the movie (He wasn’t invited to the premiere – nor were the cats. Humph).
David Fincher’s Dirty Little Secret
Many jokes were made about the cats on-set and in the press by Ben and Fincher: The cats flying up in a G5 Lear jet while Ben flew commercial; He [the cat] was difficult to work with. None of which were true.
As much as David Fincher wants you to believe he’s not into cats – and may even dislike them. It’s all a façade.
Larry joked that, “David [Fincher] doesn’t want it be let out that inside he’s a cat lover,” but confirmed “David did ‘reach-overs’ between takes to pet Boris. Who he loved.”
And Fincher pays as much attention to the cat’s acting as he does of the two-legged actors. He really wants to nail each scene and understands the importance of the cat’s performance as well, looking at the subtitles and doing re-takes to get it just right.
So it seems David Fincher is a Cat Man after all! Time to come out of the closet Fincher. We’ll still take you seriously, we promise. Next time just invite the cat and cat trainer to the opening okay?
The Birth of An Animal Trainer
When Larry was in High School he developed an interest in Falconry. His neighbor, Gary Gero, had just started Birds and Animals Unlimited, a company that provides animals of all kinds to the entertainment industry for use in commercials, movies and the like. He had birds that Larry began caring for while Gary was away. That evolved into doing odd jobs for him, and ultimately working on-set.
The animals Larry works with are for the most part rescues from the pound. He himself lives with 5 cats, 7 dogs and 3 birds – some of them are in fact acting animals with Birds and Animals Unlimited.
While he admits animal training and being on-set with animals is a “ton of work,” he loves it.
The animals at Birds and Animals Unlimited live in people’s homes or on a ranch. Since Boris is getting up there in age, he’ll likely be retiring soon – wonder what that pension looks like? All the food you can eat for the rest of your natural life?
Larry says the animals he’s worked with really want to work. They enjoy the extra stimulation.
While much has been made of ginger cats on-camera in the press, and all sorts of reasons given as to why they seem to dominate like being easier to see on-screen, Larry believes it’s because they’re easier to find, and tend to represent the “average” cat to most viewers.
Do you have a movie with a favorite cat actor in it? Did you see Gone Girl? Personally, I think they did an excellent job of keeping the cat’s character relevant throughout the movie and not forgetting he was there. I remember wondering when they were going to feed the cat, and just as I nudged my movie-mate (a fellow cat lover), the copy brought up needing to find the kibble!
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to read my interview with Dawn Barkan, the animal handler who lives with the famous toilet flushing cat from “Meet the Fockers” and trained all three cats on the set of the Cohen Brothers Movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
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