I am firmly of the opinion that movies, like life, are better with cats in them (and suspect that my own cat, Miranda, would echo that sentiment, if she felt like it). “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the new Coen brothers’ movie (opening in Seattle next Friday, the 20th), features a crucial performance by a remarkably calm orange tabby — but, before there’s any awards talk i.e. Uggie in “The Artist,” it should be noted that it’s actually several cats. Originally, says the movie’s cat trainer Dawn Barkan (whose credits include teaching “Mr. Jinx” to use the toilet in “Meet the Parents”) in an interview with Vulture, five rescue cats were cast — two were fired before the cameras rolled due to “temperament issues.” Here’s how the remaining three were used in the film:
Tigger, a female, was the “holding” cat, the one Llewyn Davis carries around everywhere. Jerry was the “action” cat because he proved adept at “patterning” — a series of behaviors rewarded with a treat, like chicken. And Daryl was “the laid-back dude who could be put in hairier situations,” says Barkan. So that’s Jerry in the more sedate subway scenes, and Daryl whenever the subway stations and cars are overcrowded or too thunderous. At one point, Barkan says, even the usually chill Daryl got spooked by the noise and jostling, and clipped Isaac in the face.
Sounds smooth, except for the clipping part, right? (You can read the whole interview here, but beware; it contains a minor spoiler regarding the cat’s name.) Not according to the Coens, in a separate interview:
“You always blithely write [stuff] in and then find out that it’s a pain in the ass to do it,” groaned Joel. “In Inside Llewyn Davis, we very blithely wrote that there was a cat in all of these different scenes. And then we got on the set and had to do it, and you know, cats are a pain in the ass. They’re just an unvarnished pain in the ass, that’s all there is. There’s nothing fun about it.”
And though the Llewyn Davis cat ends up being a scene stealer, the Coens were quick to point out that there’s not a single Uggie-like superstar feline responsible. “You have lots of different cats on set,” said Joel. “‘Oh, that one won’t do the scene? Try this other one, see if he’ll do it.’ And you just sit there until he does it, or until you say, ‘ . . . he ain’t gonna do it,’ and come up with something else.”