What was the biggest challenge of training the animals for Cinderella?
The biggest challenge was working with the mice. The type of mice we use are very large mice; they are quite aggressive, and not very clever, I would say. Every thing we have to do with them is a bit more challenging, and a bit more difficult, but that’s what I love – I love a good challenge.
We managed to do more or less everything that they wanted. Actually, when you are working with animals in the movies, particularly on a big production, you have plenty of meetings beforehand; our job is to be animal trainer on the set, sure, but we have to advise production on how to handle the animals, and what they can do. Most of the time we are able to do everything with no problem, because we know exactly what the production wants and we are able to advise them on the way to do it.
The film features ducks, geese, mice, a lizard, and some horses – what was the trick that you did with them that was the hardest to achieve?
I didn’t work with the lizard or the horses. I worked with the farm animals and the cat, and the mice.
The most difficult thing had to be putting the animals in a room with hundreds of cameras all around them; you have to stay behind the camera, so you’re far away, and have real animals stand still for ten seconds. Trust me, when you are far away from animals, to get a goose that is very fidgety to stand still is a big challenge. Getting the animals not to react, and not to move, is very difficult.
No, you have to do it quickly. The longer you try to do it, the longer animals get bored, the more they’re fidgety! If you don’t manage to do it quick enough, you’re actually shooting yourself in the foot.
That’s why you have to train the animals properly, and why you have to have at least three animals to do one job, because we are dealing with some very fidgety animals, some very nervous animals, some a bit more laid back. You have to select animals for each job, and choose the animal that will do it best, and train them, so when you put them into the room, you know they can do the job and it will be very, very quick. The way to make that happen – that is the tricky bit!
It sounds rather like working with young children: that element of boredom and “I’m going to go and do what I want to…”
Yes, it’s exactly the same. They don’t have a very long attention span so you have to work very very quickly.
In the movie, there’s a lot of interaction between the characters and the animals; how much were the actors involved with the training? Or did they come in just for the filming?
Mostly, with the cat, we have to prep a certain amount. We train the animals with different people every day so when the actors come in, they know they can trust it. The actors come in for a couple of hours beforehand; sometimes it’s harder to train the actor to react properly with the animals than it is to train the animals to work with the actors!
How much of your job is training the human part of the equation then?
Some of the actors are very good, they love animals, and they get it straightaway; others need more work because they aren’t used to animals and they come too close. We try to keep it to a minimum with the actors because they are very busy. If it’s a very difficult job, then we will work with the actors for two or three weeks to make sure.
What sequence are you proudest of in Cinderella? What do you think works best?
That’s a good question. One thing I am very pleased is with that we managed to have all the farm animals fleeing in the courtyard. The ducks want to go to the pond, the goat wants to go and munch on a carrot, so when you’ve got so many animals, and at the end of the day, everybody is back, everybody is fine, every animal has had a good time, you go home happy. I’m very pleased with all the animals together – it was very nice to watch and to achieve that.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a couple of commercials coming, I think I’m going back on Game of Thrones in [September], and I’ve got a couple of movies that I can’t talk about yet. The only problem is because I’m going to be a daddy in two months I’m trying to pull back on some jobs.
What animal that you haven’t yet worked with would you like to?
That’s another good question. I’ve worked with so many animals, so it’s a very difficult question. I would love to actually work with a large bird – one I’ve never worked with is an ostrich, because of their size and they are very impressive animals.
Are they intelligent birds?
I think not. They’re a bit like owls. Owls are very pretty but not very clever. Ostriches are very impressive but not very clever. That’s why I like to work with animals that are a bit of a challenge, and when you’ve finished with those animals you’re always very proud of what you’ve done.
Cinderella is released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 24th