Charlie Wilson's....CatPublished December 31, 2007
He weighs 22 pounds. He's orange. His name is Max. And one day, he was lolling around in a cage at the NYC Human Society, the next day....well, he was in the movies...thanks to my friend, theatrical animal trainer, Bill Berloni. "Max couldn't make it for this photo shoot. So I'm his stand-in." Berloni, who trains animals that star in movies and Broadway productions, said the script of Universal Pictures Charlie Wilson's War called for a cat to lounge around on CW's desk in a busy office. (Sounds like a feline no-brainer to me.) "So I went to the shelter and I auditioned a few cats," he says. "I needed an even-tempered, friendly, outgoing cat, one who was laid-back enough to deal with the stress of being on the set. Max just seemed right for the part." So, as he does with all his animal stars, Berloni adopted the shelter cat. And the rehearsals began. "I picked as many different surfaces as I could in my home and taught Max to stay with hand signals and treats," says Berloni. "He was a natural. Then we moved to California, and while I was working with the dog in the movie, my assistant began spending two hours a day reinforcing and familiaring Max with the space he'd be in when the shooting began." "It's important to be kind to animals," Berloni explains. Berloni says getting the animal familiar with the space is the most important thing when you're training a cat. "You have to create an environment where the cat feels comfortable doing what it is you need them to do in that particular location. You can get any animal to do something. But getting it to do it every time, under any circumstance, on command is the toughie. And with cats, it's more difficult," says Berloni. "Cats aren't pack animals, like dogs. They're independent hunters, and have no reason to respond to another animal/person. So there are very few things that motivate them." (Got THAT right, Bill!) Of the six weeks it took to film their shots, Berloni and Max worked eight days. Then, when it was a wrap, Max was in for more good news: a home of his own. "While I was in New York with Zizi (who is in the Broadway hit, Legally Blonde), a friend of mine who knew I train and own lots of animals, mentioned he was looking for a pet. I intoduced him to Max, and the rest was history." Berloni answers questions about how to train dogs. When he's not training animals for the movies or Broadway, or looking after the 20 dogs, three cats, two llamas three horses, donkey and pony who live with him and his family on a Connecticut farm, Berloni likes to give back. KittyLiterate caught up with him and his dogs ZiZi (taking a day off from Legally Blonde) and Buster, (the dog who stars in Annie) at a local school, where he spoke to children about training dogs and the importance of treating all animals with care and love.
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