SFGATE: Finding Hitchcock's dogs put trainer in suspense.
May 27, 2012Updated: Aug. 6, 2012 2:54 p.m.
Finding Hitchcock's dogs created a lot of suspense for animal trainer
Sealyham terriers once ruled Hollywood as the lapdog of choice for Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Alfred Hitchcock. But by the time animal trainer Sarah Clifford got the call to round up a couple of pups for Anthony Hopkins' forthcoming "Hitchcock" bio-pic, the breed had become nearly extinct.
"There are only 75 left, but I told the producer, 'If you hire me, I will find them,' " Clifford says.
She eventually located a litter in Palm Springs, where she acquired two 8-month old Sealyhams to portray Hitchcock's canine companions Geoffrey and Stanley. After three weeks of intensive training, the dogs hit their marks opposite Hopkins and "Hitchcock" co-star Helen Mirren. "They nailed every scene," Clifford says. "Helen Mirren even made them set up B cameras just to get the dogs' reactions because they were just so cute."
When communicating with animals, Clifford explains that it's not so much what she says as how she says it.
"If you want the animal to look happy, you're like, 'Whooo!' and raise your voice really high, because that dog is totally feeding off my energy. If you want them quiet and sad, you lower your voice."
Clifford put her skills to the test in "The Artist," when she steered pound-dog Uggie through a climactic action sequence.
"We'd been working 18-hour days and I had a four-hour commute, so I was operating on about an hour of sleep," she says "Between takes I'd close my eyes and sleep standing up, but as soon as they said 'Action! I'd get revved up like a cheerleader and say, 'Good boy, Uggie, get 'em, get 'em, get 'em!"
Clifford, who appears Wednesday at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' "Hollywood Dogs" panel in Los Angeles, decided to become an animal trainer while serving as a production assistant on "The Matrix Reloaded." "They had 10 trainers who got all these crows to fly through one of the scenes," Clifford says. "That was the first time I realized there are people who are paid to train animals for movies, and I was like, 'Oh my God, that's something I would love to do for my whole life.' "