Hit movie Gone Girl has marquee names: director David Fincher, actor Ben Affleck and a music score by Trent Reznor.
But the breakout star is a cat who, heretofore, has remained uncredited.
The mellow ginger (whose name is actually Boris) appears in almost every scene, acting as a foil to the crazy main characters. Not to give too much away, but the cat’s prowess is undeniable: Boris’s expression when Ben Affleck’s character eats ice cream from the carton feels like Oscar bait. Appropriately, Boris has attracted considerable attention online and in the press–Vogue magazine called it the movie’s “emotional marker.”
Boris may be a big deal now, but he’s really just riding an orange wave, if you will, of popularity. Gingers have appeared in a string of major Hollywood features in the past few years, including Inside Llewyn Davis, the Harry Potter movies, and the 2011 live action comedy The Smurfs, based on the cartoon. Apparently gingers are cool now, which suggests that cats in movies are somehow subject to the whims of fashion. If you look back on movie cats from the past 60 years, you’ll notice different breeds had their heyday, just like styles of sunglasses or facial hair.
It turns out that cat trends are the result of the behind-the-scenes constraints of the animal talent agency business, but also more subjective creative impulses.
The global animal talent agency, Birds & Animals Unlimited, cast all the gingers in the Harry Potter films, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Smurfs, and Gone Girl. And there’s a fairly simple reason why: in many cases, they were the same cats.
Operations Manager Jennifer Henderson says it started with the Smurf cats in 2011. Anybody familiar with the popular cartoon from the ‘80s will remember that Azreal (pet of villain Gargamel) is supposed to be orange, so the breed was essentially baked into the script. When you work with cats, you want to have a number of them playing the same role, particularly if it’s a demanding script where there’s a lot of action required.
“One cat might specialize in being held, another might specialize in ‘running A-B’s’,” said Henderson, using animal-trainer lingo for running from one spot to another on command. (Cats are trained to do this using food and a bell.)
Birds & Animals works mainly with rescue animals, so when the Smurfs producers came calling, the agency focused its recruiting efforts on gingers, eventually assembling a crack West Coast team for the movie. When it came to casting another Hollywood movie, Gone Girl, Smurfs’ cats played backup to Boris, an aging feline thespian who could easily handle the housebound requirements of the role.
Meanwhile Birds & Animals’ East Coast office had assembled a second team of gingers. When Inside Llewyn Davis, which was mostly shot in New York needed cats, these East Coast gingers played the part. (A different ginger, based in the U.K., played Harry Potter’s Mrs. Norris.)
“It’s really hard to find cats who are good on set,” says Dawn Wolfe of the Pennsylvania-based animal talent agency Pawsitively Famous Actors, which cast the cats for Animal Planet’s Cats 101. “When you get a really good cat, that cat just continues to work.”
There were other tactical reasons why Birds & Animals kept recruiting and training gingers, specifically.
First off, they’re easy to match when you’re working with multiples. “And they show up great on film,” says Jim Warren, one of the cat trainers for Inside Llewyn Davis. Black cats are easy to match, but they don’t look great on film. Tabbies look great on film but are not easy to match. So there you have it.
But there may be subconscious aesthetic choices at play, too. A trip through the archives of film reveals that, although “Cat” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a ginger, the “it” cats of the 60s were mostly Siamese. The blue-eyed breed starred in The Incredible Journey (1963) and That Darn Cat (1965), and became trendy as pets with the era’s bohemian cultural cognoscenti. Liz Taylor, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Anita Ekberg and Thelonious Monk all were photographed with theirs.
At a time when people were dabbling in acid, Eastern mysticism and at the very least, turtlenecks, the Siamese was viewed as an exotic accessory–the paisley of the animal world. If you couldn’t own a live Siamese, you could decorate your groovy pad with a ceramic one.
The flat hair of the ‘60s morphed into the big hair and feathered waves of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and with it went cats. Fluffy Persian kitties can be tracked back to 1970s animated movie, The Aristocats, which featured a high-society gray Persian named Duchess. Long-haired breeds are high-maintenance–they must be brushed and are often pure-bred and harder to procure. So, in other words, they were just the right kinds of cats to visually represent the rise of the luxury economy glamorized in movies and TV: “Do you have any Grey Poupon?”
Mr. Jinx from the Meet the Parents series (which began in 2000) was a Himalayan Persian, as was Sassy in the Homeward Bound movies from the ’90s, and of course so was the Fancy Feast cat food cat. Martha Stewart owns three, named after classical music composers. Cee Lo has one. Giorgio Armani has a grey long-hair that looks like him in the face. Karl Lagerfield has a long-haired Siamese, Choupette, that allegedly has two full-time maids. Kim Kardashian had a Persian teacup named Mercy, but it died young.
Kim and Kanye are still around, of course, and their brand of conspicuous consumption and celebrity still reigns in some circles. But it’s not what’s driving culture. Perhaps thanks to the Silicon Valley juggernaut, we’re living in a world of ugly power, anti-fashion, Warby Parker and the mainstreaming of geek chic. The Internet culture recycles everything at lightning speed, so nothing feels special or truly unique. And as Broad City’s Ilana Glazer quipped in a recent New Yorker profile, “we’re statically headed toward an age where everybody’s going to be, like, caramel and queer.”
It’s the era of the canny mutt. And in feline terms, we’re ginger.