Is Your Cat Ready for Its Close-Up?


Have you ever seen a cat performing in a TV commercial or movie and thought:  "My cat could do better than that!" If the answer is yes, then you just might have what it takes to be a savvy stage mom -- or dad -- for an animal actor. But before you pack up and move to Hollywood, it's a good idea to find out if your cat has what it takes to be!

"A show business cat has to be pretty outgoing -- not worried or tentative," says Karin McElhatton, a certified animal trainer. McElhatton is also owner of Studio Animal Services, a Los Angeles agency that trains domestic cats for the big and small screens. Her cats have been animal actors in films like "Déjà Vu," and countless commercials for cat food. "A cat that's right for television and movies is one that leaps right onto your friend's lap when she comes to visit. It's the cat that climbs onto your keyboard whenever you sit down to write -- one that always wants to be where the action is."

So if your cat has this kind of star quality, then check out these tips for getting your cat ready for its close up.

Agencies for Animal Actors
Unless you have plans to become a certified animal trainer yourself, you'll need to hire one for your cat. This is the four-legged actor's version of an agent. Unlike the agent for a human actor, an animal trainer will ultimately be on-set with his or her feline client at all times in order to care for it and assist in its performance. While some animal trainers work independently, the most efficient way to get your cat work is to sign up with a licensed animal actors agency (a web search will help you locate one near you). Federal law requires a myriad of permits to protect working animals, so when a production company needs animal actors, they turn to these professional agencies.

Animal Acting Skills
According to Hollywood Animals' Animal Actors Agency in Los Angeles, a cat must acquire basic obedience skills (e.g. sit, stay, come) before most agencies will consider signing them up. In addition, your pet must be able to perform these behaviors reliably, no matter the distractions in its environment. To prepare your cat for the life of a working feline, the agency recommends exposing it to challenging and unusual environments with stimulating sights, sounds, smells and textures -- beginning in kittenhood. Additionally, your cat should become accustomed to interacting with crowds, small children, other animals, cars and machinery.

Look the Part
For cats as much as starlets, the right look is essential to making it in Hollywood. But unlike the expectations for human actors in current times, feline actors need to be plump and filled out. "We want cats who are meaty," says McElhatton. "They need to be at the right weight -- healthy, muscular and toned."

Pets with Personality
Any cat trainer will tell you that most cats have a fairly limited acting range because of their natural characteristics. For this reason, a role will most often be played by a team of cats, not just one. So when you see a cat on TV, you can bet that there is more than one animal actor playing the part. Cats are placed on teams according to their complementary skills and how much they look alike. For example, a team might have three cats: one with a talent for standing still, one that's good at running around, and one that has the ability to, say, make expressive faces. Says McElhatton, "When training your cat, try to cultivate its natural talents. For example, if your cat is docile, carry it around, and have others carry it around. Its role on an acting team might be that of the docile cat. If your cat is more of a leaping and zooming cat, train it to leap on cue, and then its role on the team could be that of the active cat."

A Special Breed
Because certain breeds have characteristic personality traits, some cats are better suited for certain roles. "Persians are laid back and kind of prissy. Bengals are athletic and sleek. Siamese are very vocal," says McElhatton. So if a role calls for a noisemaker, a team of Siamese cats might be cast. Generally speaking, however, American Shorthairs are the most sought-after for film and television work. Cats of this breed tend to be food-motivated, which makes them easier to train on set. Food rewards are great for enhancing an animal actor's performance once the cameras roll.

Finding Feline Representation
The Internet makes finding animal actors agencies easier than every before.   Once you are ready to take the next step, an agency may ask that interested owners email a digital photo of the fledgling feline performer (or a standard print via regular mail). It's a good idea to send two pictures: one head shot and one full body shot. And if your cat has a special talent, such as a yawn or a tilt of the head, try to capture it on film. Photographs should be clear and in focus, with a neutral background.

Next stop: a star -- or paw print -- on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.