As the old Hollywood adage goes, never work with children or animals – but in the recent adaptation of Stephen Kings thriller novel Pet Sematary, youve got both…in leading roles.
With family cat Church a protagonist in the grisly haunted flick about resurrected beings and zombified felines, how does one even begin to get a real life cat to play undead?
Ever tried to tell a cat what to do? Itll cough up a fur ball and fashion it into a pipe before it considers your request.
Melissa Millett was part of the animal team that created the zombie cats we came to love in the adaptation of Pet Sematary and has dished all of her secrets, should you want to replicate.
It may have helped that five Maine Coon cats played Church, with the director able to dip in and out of the literal litter of kitties waiting on standby.
Need a sweet, family friendly Church? Thats Tonics time to shine. Ready to shoot a scene where Church rips apart a bird? Welcome Leo to the set.
It was amazing and we were so lucky with having five cats, it gave us a series of personalities to choose form. Who is able to bring out different elements of Church, with their own personality? Melissa told Metro.co.uk ahead of the films digital release.
You had Tonic with the lovable kitten face who could do the family pet. Then you had Leos grumpy face that could really pull off the evil Church. Together you were able to pull off different emotions in the character.
In the film, once Church comes back from the dead hes gone from an adorable feline to a blood-splattered sasspot of a pet who just loves ripping apart birds.
Its safe to say the cat is going to choose its own character, not beholden to a personality thats been assigned. But even down to Churchs coat, the fake blood worked only on Leo (who has since, sadly passed away) which made it an easier task to pick who was the crazed cat over the huggable.
Tonic didnt have that facial expression. Leos eyes were beautiful and his coat was a little different, too, which helped him come across, Melissa continued.
Leo had a lighter, fluffier coat, so the makeup looked so much better on him than Tonic – he had a coarser coat. Cats are cats and you can train them but at the end of the day they bring their own twist to it.
Melissa, who also trains dogs, explained that while cats ultimately will do whatever they want to do, there was a high level of preparation in getting five shelter cats comfortable on set – before even thinking about putting them in a makeup trailer.
From minimising startling and creating a silent set, to pairing each cat with its own black Labrador to foster a sense of confidence, downtime on set was even spent rehearsing scenes without the actors.
We went to sets at night and at lunch and we replicated the scenes [when no one was around], she explained.
We were standing in for the actors, “stabbing” each other – cats like murdering things, right? Theyd grab a bird, “lets join in”.
Most of the time they did everything they were supposed to do. They blew our minds.
Luckily injuries were minimal despite a cats natural inclination to brandish the razor sharp fangs. When youve specially picked a personality that wants to cause destruction, surely a few missing fingers are expected at the wrap party?
They have very dangerous mouths, right? So that can be detrimental, Melissa agreed. You get some scratches just from handling cats, feeding them treats, but there was nothing major [on set].
Following a press tour that favoured the calmer of the personalities, Tonic has mingled with the rich and famous. And now hes got a big coat.