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Ready furr their close-up: How cats became Hollywood's hottest stars

Lupita Nyong'o and Frodo the cat in 'A Quiet Place: Day One'.
Lupita Nyong'o and Frodo the cat in 'A Quiet Place: Day One'. Copyright Gareth Gatrell - © 2023 Paramount Pictures
Copyright Gareth Gatrell - © 2023 Paramount Pictures
By Amber Louise Bryce
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A flurry of feline protagonists has proven to be catnip to cinemagoers - but we demand more awards recognition meow.

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The most unbelievable thing about A Quiet Place: Day One is not its premise of world-invading ultrasonic-hearing aliens, but rather that a cat in such a situation wouldn’t have everyone within its vicinity immediately killed by tapping a delicately balanced glass off a table. 

Cats are - and I say this with nothing but love and admiration - really dumb.

It’s why the internet loves videos of them so much. A feline flying through the air at the sight of a pea? They're more hilarious idiots than the evil geniuses Blofeld's cat would have us believe.

But what if all this time we’ve been wrong to pigeonhole them to silly clips involving keyboards and cucumbers?

A recent rise in cats being hired for film and TV roles suggests that traditional purr-ceptions are changing and Hollywood dog bias is dead.

Everybody wants to cast a cat

From Alfie the Scottish Fold in Matthew Vaughn’s Argylle, to Lucio the Maine Coon in Steven Zaillian’s 'Ripley', these are cats playing heroes and complex side characters, no longer typecast to villainous sidekicks or horror movie jump scares.

In the newly released A Quiet Place prequel, breakout performance(s) come from two tuxedo cats named Nico and Schnitzel, who together play Frodo, the emotional support animal to terminally ill Samira (Lupita Nyong'o). 

No more photos, purrlease.
No more photos, purrlease. Vianney Le Caer/2024 Invision

In typically dog-like fashion, Frodo is fiercely loyal to Samira. He sometimes runs off when there are loud noises, but always returns. He helps chance companion, Eric (Joseph Quinn), find her medication, and manages to turn on our tear ducts with every lingering look - did you know cats actually have 276 distinct feline facial expressions? Daniel Day Lewis could never.

And ok, while the cats' performances are no Messi-the-dog-in-Anatomy of a Fall, they do appear to do their own stunts (even getting wet at one point) and have won over the hearts of cinemagoers the world over. 

​​”If Frodo doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar I’m never watching any awards shows again,” reads one impassioned response of hundreds on social media. 

The risk of cat-astrophe

Lupita Nyong’o had to go through a form of cat therapy before filming 'A Quiet Place: Day One.'
Lupita Nyong’o had to go through a form of cat therapy before filming 'A Quiet Place: Day One.' Vianney Le Caer/2024 Invision

While in many ways it’s a genius move to cast a cute cat in a leading role - and quite possibly the answer to all box office woes - it was still a major gamble for the film’s writer-director Michael Sarnoski (who previously worked with a pig named Brandy in his 2021 film Pig). 

Cats are famously tough to work with due to their aloof personas and penchant for doing the exact opposite of what’s asked of them out of seemingly sheer spiteful satisfaction.

Ray Berwick, who was responsible for training dozens of cats for the 1969 film Eye of the Cat, once admitted this was more difficult than his work with the flock of feathered fiends in Hitchcock’s The Birds, while in 2019, ‘Game of Thrones’ show runners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss “killed off” a ginger tabby called Ser Pounce due, in part, to it being such a diva on set.

Jonesy in 'Alien', one of the most famous and bad-ass film cats of all time.
Jonesy in 'Alien', one of the most famous and bad-ass film cats of all time. 20th Century-Fox

“Dogs generally do what you ask them to do if they’re smart and well trained. Cats have their own agenda,” Weiss said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Thankfully, advances in CGI have made it easier to feature felines - omitting its use in the movie adaptation of Cats, which almost singlehandedly ruined an entire species' reputation.

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But for Sarnoski, it was important to keep Frodo real in a film that centres human connection over the predominantly fearful tension of its predecessors.

“We managed it with incredible cat trainers and incredible cat performers. Everyone assumed we wouldn't be able to pull it off the old fashioned way, but I’m really happy we did,” Sarnoski told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Louise Fazenda and Pepper the cat - reportedly the first feline Hollywood star - in 1917's 'Are Waitresses Safe?'
Louise Fazenda and Pepper the cat - reportedly the first feline Hollywood star - in 1917's 'Are Waitresses Safe?'Paramount pictures

Despite the fact cats have been gracing movies for over a century - a Maltese kitty named Pepper was reportedly the first after being born on the California lot of Keystone Studios in 1912 - there’s still a notable lack of recognition for their cinematic contributions. 

While canines get the Palm Dog Award at the Cannes Film Festival and invited to the Oscars, cats are left longing for the halcyon days of ancient Egypt.

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May we suggest a Pussy Palm? Some sort of golden feather on a stick award?

When asked for comment, my Persian cat Gertrude looks incredulous and walks away after being refused a (highly unethical) bribe of Dreamies. 

Who am I kitten? They don't give a damn about any of this. Catnip and cardboard box trailers will suffice.

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