If you paid attention this past awards season, you may have noticed a dog of a different breed on the red carpet. After stealing the show in the 2011 silent hit The Artist, 10-year-old Jack Russell Terrier Uggie has turned into this year’s unexpected breakout star.
Like many actors, Uggie’s early life was tumultuous. After his birth in 2002, his first two owners rejected him. Luckily, animal trainer Omar Von Muller stepped in and offered to foster the puppy until Uggie received placement into a permanent home. What was meant to be a temporary shelter, however, turned into a permanent home when Von Muller recognized Uggie’s rambunctiousness as an opportunity.
Upon moving to their North Hollywood home Von Muller shared with his wife, six-year-old daughter and seven other dogs, Uggie began to learn how to harness his energy into tricks. “He was a crazy, very energetic puppy, and who knows what would have happened to him if he had gone to the dog pound,” said Von Muller. “But he was very smart and very willing to work.” The pair worked well together and soon they set their sights on Hollywood. “One of the most important thing[s] is that he was not afraid of things. That is what makes or breaks a dog in the movies, whether they are afraid of lights, and noises and being on sets. He gets rewards, like sausages, to encourage him to perform, but that is only a part of it. He works hard."
Uggie began his professional career in 2005, at the tender age of four, in the aptly titled Disney Channel made-for-TV movie Life is Ruff. He quickly followed that up with several independent films, including 2006’s Mr. Fix It, co-starring Bones star David Boreanaz, but it wasn’t until last year that Uggie’s career truly took off.
Thanks to the hard work and guidance provided by Von Muller, Uggie scored a role that put him in the presence of some of Hollywood’s most elite actors. He began 2011 by co-starring alongside Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon and Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson in the hit film Water for Elephants. In his first big role, Uggie played Queenie, the companion of one of the film’s circus performers. Despite receiving rave reviews for his performance, nothing could have prepared the pooch for what was around the corner.
On May 15, 2011, a romantic “dramedy” from France premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to incredible fanfare. That film was The Artist and, despite some rather remarkable performances from many internationally renowned actors, the name that had tongues wagging was Uggie. He easily won the Palm Dog Award for Best Performance by a Canine, but that simply wasn’t enough; after just one showing, Uggie was a certified movie star and filmgoers demanded he be treated like one.
That following December, after the film’s wide release, MovieLine.com editor S.T. VanAirsdale launched a Facebook campaign dedicated to earning Uggie an Oscar nomination. The page garnered thousands of “likes” but, alas, no nomination. Uggie did, however, receive special accolades at the Prix Lumière Awards (the French equivalent of the Golden Globes) and won the hearts of audiences when he helped accept the film’s many Best Picture awards.
Uggie was certainly on his way up in the world, but fame and fortune rarely come without a good old-fashioned celebrity feud, and don’t think that just because Uggie can’t speak that he can’t fight with the best of them. In fact, Uggie’s feud was with none other than Captain von Trapp himself, Christopher Plummer. That’s right, the 82-year-old actor has not once, but twice taken to the press to express his disdain for the dog. Plummer’s film Beginners
also featured a highly talented Jack Russell Terrier named Cosmo. Plummer, who remains mum about whether his frustration is real or simply in jest, told the New York Times
, “…I think our dog was much more human, and actually much more professional, than Uggie. Uggie was such a circus dog. You never got to know him inside. The true Uggie never came out. Cosmo yeah, heart on sleeve.”
While Mr. Plummer is certainly entitled to his opinion on celebrity canines, there’s no denying that Uggie now has a new “leash” on life. Unfortunately, for his fans, that newfound fame may have gone to Uggie’s head. Like many celebs before him, Uggie announced his retirement in early 2012. Von Muller told Life & Style magazine, "Uggie is 10 years old and has done a lot of work; he wants to relax at home.” While the doggie diva will certainly be missed, his brother, Dash, is ready to step up to the plate and carry on the family tradition. Von Muller did say, however, that Uggie may be willing to make small appearances here and there. For Uggie admirers, his potential cameo can’t come soon enough.