Frame Grab: Who’s that adorable dog in ‘Beginners’?


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Ewan McGregor was becoming anxious toward the end of production on the comedy-drama ‘Beginners.’ The actor had fallen in love with his co-star, a 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier named Cosmo, and knew their days together would be coming to an end.

‘I was looking for a replacement for Cosmo because I couldn’t stand the idea of not having him around,’ said McGregor, an unabashed dog fanatic. So he adopted a little poodle mix named Sid. ‘I found my dog on the last day of the shoot. He is gorgeous and my little Cosmo replacement.’


Cosmo nearly steals the show from the human stars of ‘Beginners,’ which includes McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent. The film, which opened Friday to strong reviews, is based on writer/director Mike Mills’ relationship with his father. McGregor plays Oliver, a young man who has had a hard time committing to relationships. Oliver inherits a Jack Russell, Arthur, from his father after the man dies.
It turns out the father, a widower named Hal (Plummer), came out of the closet at age 75. The film weaves back and forth in time, exploring the relationship between Oliver and Hal, and Oliver’s coming to grips with his own life and relationships. As he bonds with Arthur, Oliver also falls in love with a free-spirited French actress (Laurent). On a bright recent afternoon, Cosmo was playing with a stuffed toy in the living room of a rambling house in Venice he shares with Mathilde de Cagny, his trainer. De Cagny trained the Jack Russell terrier Moose, who is best known for his role as Eddie in television’s’Frasier,’ as well as Moose’s son, Enzo, who starred in the 2000 movie ‘My Dog Skip.’ She’s been training animals for more than two decades, working on films including ‘As Good as It Gets’ and ‘Marley and Me.’

De Cagny, a native of Paris, adopted Cosmo about four years ago from a Jack Russell rescue group. ‘He had been used for Jack Russell hunting competitions,’ she said. The pooch made his film debut in 2009’s ‘Hotel for Dogs,’ in the starring role of the street-smart dog Friday. As for Cosmo, she said: ‘He is a dream Jack Russell. He can turn on and be a total terrier, but he can be really mellow and gentle.’

A non-toxic vegetable dye was used to make Cosmo more closely resemble the 13-year-old Jack Russell named Bowser that Mills inherited from his father in real life. ‘I had him for about two years,’ said Mills. ‘Then he passed away, which was incredibly sad. My dad’s dog could not be away from me. When I brought him to my house, I couldn’t go anywhere without him wanting to trot into that room with me. Jack Russells are indomitable spirits.’

In ‘Beginners,’ Cosmo doesn’t give a ‘Lassie, rescue Timmy from the well’ performance. In fact, he doesn’t do any tricks at all.

‘The goal was to have the dog part of these people’s lives and part of the relationships,’ said Mills. ‘For me the key part is that Oliver doesn’t treat him as someone who is cute or mentally less than himself. He is trying to treat the dog with … full personhood while trying to understand the dog much like he is trying to understand his father. In a lot of ways, he’s the ghost of the father, and they share a lot of qualities.’

Mills recalled rehearsing with Cosmo and McGregor in his living room. ‘We practiced talking to him like he was a person,’ said Mills. ‘I said to think of him as an alien friend from another planet who has a different sensorial experience, but he’s not less than us. Not every dog is so receptive and looks you in the eye an is so intelligent and so audio sensitive. When you talk to Cosmo, he really keys into you.’

As an example of that, McGregor recalled one scene in which Hal gives Arthur a tour of his house. Cosmo, he said, was totally in the moment. ‘Mathilde was in another room. I said, ‘This is the dining room’ and I looked around and he looked around. It is like he was totally acting in the scene. Nobody was telling him to do that!’

Cosmo was the last Jack Russell that Mills auditioned. ‘You see how personable he is,’ said De Cagny. ‘I think Mike fell in love with him.’

But it wasn’t just Cosmo’s looks and demeanor that sold Mills on the canine actor. ‘His request was, ‘I don’t want a dog who is going to be looking at the trainer at any time,’’ she said. ‘This is how I train my dogs to be away from me: When they are in training, I take them everywhere and I slowly remove myself from whatever is going on. I let the dogs be around people and the people give them treats and touch them.’

Whether McGregor, Cosmo and De Cagny will ever reunite on screen is unclear, but the three maintain a social relationship. ‘I take my dog down to Venice, and I go on a walk with him from time to time,’ McGregor said.


Movie review: Beginners


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— Susan King