If you ever want to see how important Fido is to the film industry, take a trip to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stars on the ground mark some of Tinseltown’s biggest success stories, which include famous dog actors like Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. One pooch who has her sights set on her own star is Bonny. At the tender age of 10 months, she was plucked from obscurity to act alongside Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson and Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh’s critically acclaimed thriller, “Seven Psychopaths.” In honor of Oscar® season, we spoke with Bonny’s owner and trainer, Claire Dore, about what it takes to make it to the top.
“I’ve been a professional studio animal trainer for almost 20 years,” said Claire. “I was working as a trainer with Performing Animal Troupe when they got a call about this movie, ‘Seven Psychopaths.’ They needed a little Shih Tzu who would basically be one of the main characters of the movie. There were a few trained Shih Tzus in the business at the time, but the director was very specific about what he wanted and they didn’t quite fit the bill,” she added.
Bonny’s route to the top wasn’t through a traditional casting call. In fact, some might call it fate. “We started looking for an unassuming purebred Shih Tzu to adopt and train for the role but had no luck at local shelters and rescues. In the end, we found her on Craigslist. She needed to find a new home or would be sent to the pound. Her name was Bonita, or Bonny for short. Coincidentally, Bonny was also the name of the character she would be playing in the movie. It was a sign!” Claire exclaimed.
As soon as he laid eyes on the little Shih Tzu, McDonagh knew he’d found his star. And he’s not the only one she charmed.
“Bonny was like the baby on set, and everyone loved to cuddle her. This really helped her come out of her shell,” said Claire. “I think she came to enjoy being doted on by the male actors. Christopher Walken adored her and called her his favorite dog actor to work with. Woody Harrelson spent a lot of time with her before he started filming because she was basically his character’s motivation throughout the entire movie. And Colin Farrell got two Shih Tzus after the movie was out. I’d like to think that Bonny influenced that choice.”
Just like working pups pulling sleds through blizzards and sheep dogs herding flocks on mountain tops, Bonny’s work also proved exhausting. “Before they started the first scene, we would usually wait in Bonny’s trailer, aka my car, where she would nap. This was punctuated by walks, potty breaks and snuggles,” said Claire.
The days were long, but McDonagh’s unique style was an inspiration for Bonny and her blossoming acting chops. “Bonny was on set for long periods of time. Martin McDonagh started out in the industry as a famous playwright, and he likes to shoot his movie scenes as if they were plays. I think this style really helped Bonny feel involved, because the actors interacted with her very naturally and she responded naturally,” added Claire.
Like many film stars, fame has gone to Bonny’s head. “I think she’s definitely a bit of a diva. She gets upset if she’s on set but other dogs are working and she’s not. I probably spoiled her more than I should have as I was trying to help her personality grow. I still wouldn’t change her for the world,” said Claire.
The film’s popularity acted as a springboard for Bonny. “Since her breakthrough role, she has worked on TV shows like ‘Two Broke Girls,’ ‘Angie Tribecca,’ ‘Key and Peele,’ ‘The Mindy Project’ and ‘Jimmy Kimmel,’” said Claire.
If you think your pet is a budding “Brad Pitt-bull” or “Leonardo Di Cat-prio,” then check out Claire’s tips for big-screen success. “Always keep it positive. Animals in film are taught by reinforcing the good behaviors. A big part of the job of any studio animal trainer is to make sure animals are happy to perform and feel safe in a chaotic environment. Aside from that, socialize them in different situations and make it a positive experience. Teach them basic obedience, with a solid ‘Stay,’ and get them used to being photographed with a loud strobe flash,” said Claire.
One thing you won’t need to worry about is getting an agent for your dog actors. “There are some studio animal companies who keep a database of privately owned dogs. Your best bet is to send these companies photos and info,” she explained.
Pups who ace their auditions will have to spend lots of time away from home. “Bonny has traveled to Canada for the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and to Washington, DC for an event related to pet therapy that she does with veterans. As long as she has cozy places to nap and someone she loves to give her snuggles, she’s a happy girl,” said Claire. The pair have picked up some handy travel tips from their lives on the road. Claire’s best advice for small dogs is to learn to use a puppy pad. "It will save you from having to go on a very long elevator ride and then have to find some grass or dirt to potty on."
The star Shih Tzu may have missed out on an Oscar® for her role, but she didn’t leave award season empty handed. “Bonny thinks it would be lovely to have her own Oscar®. She did win an American Humane Association PAWscar for Best Animal Performance,” said Claire.
Living up to her A-list billing, this furry thespian doesn’t waste her time watching other pups acting. “Bonny’s favorite dog film is ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ because it’s the only one she’s seen in the theater and there’s this adorable Shih Tzu in it!”
Read more about Bonny’s show biz life in her autobiography, My Hollywood Adventure.