Getting rave reviews, and the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, “Inside Llewyn Davis” shares the story of a folk artist in late 1950s Greenwich Village as he rootlessly roams New York City with a cat.
Brothers Joel and Ethan Coen jointly directed, wrote and produced the film, which borrows loosely from Dave Van Ronk’s memoir of the folk music scene of that time, “The Mayor of MacDougal Street.”
The cat stole many a scene, and that’s thanks to long-time movie animal-trainer Dawn Barkan. She has trained cats, dogs and other animals from rats to birds to raccoons, for 20 years film projects such as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Meet The Parents” and “The Heat.”
“Nobody thinks you can train a cat to do anything,” Barkan says. “When you do, everyone is surprised.”
The film shows the cat being carried through the streets of New York City, sitting passenger-side in a moving car and riding in a subway train. Barkan said it was a challenge to get the cats comfortable in each new situation, but she worked to make them feel secure.
“Cat’s don’t’ do anything to please you. It’s ‘What’s in it for me?’ When you break through with a cat, you’ve really done something.” Barkan acknowledges some tasks are simpler for cats to master, such as running from point A to point B or jumping up to a specific location, but she “wouldn’t say there’s an ‘easy’ cat job.”
“There’s always a challenge.” She says a lot of things written for a cats are things they might not otherwise choose to do. “Riding on a subway train, being held out in the middle of a New York City street. Introducing a cat to all that stimuli is a challenge.”
Barkan worked with multiple cat actors to portray the feline in the Coen brothers’ film. “There were three main cats that we used. We started with five, but had to fire two.”
“We went with what the cats were comfortable with. One was comfortable being the holding cat, one was more comfortable being outside, one was more comfortable on the set.” Jim Warren, a colleague at Birds & Animals trainers, came to help on several scenes as well.
The cats in “Inside Llewyn Davis” were, as most of Barkan’s talent, rescue cats. She searches shelters and sites like Petfinder to find any animals that might have potential.
Two of her own cats are rescues who have worked in film, the cats who found great popularity by portraying “Jinx” in “Meet The Parents.”
“Jinx the cat got so much attention. Now two of the cats who played him live at my house and roam around.”
The orange tabbies in “Inside Llewyn Davis” might experience similar graceful retirements after their hard work in stealing many of the movie’s scenes.
The scheduled release date for “Inside Llewyn Davis” is Dec. 6, 2013.