| Uggie: 'He likes to fly first class'|
|On a queen-size mattress at the Arch hotel in central London, Uggie is curled up in front of the flatscreen TV. This Jack Russell terrier might be the most famous animal alive, having starred in January smash The Artist, stealing scenes in the silent film and winning acclaim for his role as Jean Dujardin's expressive pet. Uggie put in one of the great performances of 2012, and if he wants to watch Loose Women in bed, he may.|
He is close to the end of a draining promotional tour, New York to Paris to Chicago and now here, publicising a book (Uggie: My Story) as well as a smartphone app. This on the back of supporting The Artist through its cinema release, during which time Uggie scampered up and down red carpets, and panted on chatshow sofas. He flies between engagements in first class. "He's a celebrity," says trainer Omar von Muller. "He's paid for his seat so shut up, that's what we tell [the airlines]." Travel, nonetheless, takes its toll.
Uggie descends from the mattress, stretching on to a pouffe at the foot of the bed. He flaps a forepaw feebly, like an ailing patient. Then he rolls on to his side, limp, making everybody watching sigh and coo. Uggie's a ham.
"He knows how to work a room," agrees Von Muller, a tanned 49-year-old Colombian who lives in Panorama City, Los Angeles. He adopted Uggie in 2002, adding him to a stable of performing animals. By the time The Artist came calling, in 2010, Uggie was an experienced thesp, a veteran of adverts and a travelling act called The Incredible Dog Show. He nailed his breakthrough film audition, performing for a casting team on Von Muller's front lawn.
"Most of the tricks in the movie, like falling backwards, or hiding his face – they were used because the director saw Uggie do them," he says. "They were not in the script." Hire Uggie and you get a performer who not only works for cheese-flavoured popcorn but who can sharpen a screenplay too. Moreover he's a 2011 winner of the Cannes Palm Dog award.
His schedule is now lighter than it was. Shortly after shooting finished on The Artist, Uggie was cast in an advert for Valentine's Day cards. One scene involved him riding a gondola, and Von Muller could tell the dog wasn't giving his all. On The Artist Uggie was putting in 15-hour shifts. "And whenever he came out the dressing room he'd be pulling on the leash, tail wagging – let's go, let's get it done." Now, in his gondola, "Uggie was showing me that he was slowing down. The dog was 10 years old. Even if he wasn't famous, it's not fair to be doing long hours on set. That's why we have younger dogs to take over."
Uggie was yanked; an understudy, Dash, was brought in. Uggie is now in semi-retirement. "He'll be 11 going on 12 next year, but he still has energy. We'll do some appearances, little things – spend some time in hospitals, make people laugh."
A lead clipped to his custom-made gold collar, Uggie is led to the lobby of the hotel. The dog is retired but no less loved, and a family ask him to pause for pictures. When flying in first-class, fellow passengers ask him to come out for photographs. "We even have the captains of the planes coming out. They say they fly the best actors around, and never ask to take pictures. But with Uggie they have to."