Warning: This article contains some spoilers about “Captain Marvel,” but no cat puns.
For a breakout star, it was a fairly mundane audition. To cast the part of Goose, an orange tabby who plays a critical role, the makers of “Captain Marvel” were meeting different cats, including Ursula Brauner’s Reggie. “We walked into a roomful of people, and I brought a big plush bed and set it on the table,” Brauner recalled. “Reggie hung out on the bed and was as chill as any cat could be, and the filmmakers saw him embody the character then and there. That’s how he got the job.”
“Captain Marvel” earned more than $500 million worldwide in its first week of release, in no small part thanks to Reggie and three fellow felines who steal scenes as the stray who is revealed to be a ferocious alien known as a Flerken. (In the original Marvel comic books, the cat has the “Star Wars”-esque name of Chewie, but the screenwriters changed it to Goose to go along with the movie’s “Top Gun” motif.)
Goose, who got his own character poster even before the movie was released, has been singled out by reviewers (“Best of all there is an orange cat,” A.O. Scott wrote in The Times”), inspired memes and been the subject of an ode. Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, even speculated that Goose could star in shorts on the streaming service being started by Marvel’s owner, Disney.
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Although special effects were involved, the actual animals are onscreen a fair amount, but at first it was going to be just Reggie. “After looking at the script and seeing the work required, we all decided it would be good to add a couple more cats to the team,” said Brauner, whose company, Animals for Hollywood, provides and trains nonhuman actors for films. In addition to Reggie and another experienced animal actor, Archie (yes, they’re named after Archie Comics characters), Brauner found two more orange tabbies, named Gonzo and Rizzo in a nod to the Muppets, at a shelter.
Each one had a specialty. “Reggie was our all-around go-to cat — he’s seen in most of the film,” Brauner said. “Archie is really rambunctious and loves to play, so we used him for the scratching scene.” The movie, set in 1995, depicts the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) suffering a cat-related injury, necessitating his signature eye-patch. (The comics’ explanation that he lost an eye in World War II didn’t jibe with the movie’s timeline.)
“Gonzo was mostly for holding in the scenes when Goose is carried,” Brauner continued. “And Rizzo was the master of all trades — we trained him in a little bit of everything, so he could step in if we needed backup.”
How do you train notoriously finicky cats? Brauner said the process was not as tough as you might think. “Cats can be just as smart, lovable and easy to train as any dog,” she said. “It’s all positive reinforcement. We use food and treats, and there are different levels. We save the real good, hot stuff for when something’s a little harder or we’re further away from the cat on the set, just to make it worth their while.”
Verbal commands and clickers were also used. “When they’ve done something right, the sound of the clicker is like an instant ‘Yes!’” Brauner explained. “They look forward to that, because they know a pet or a little piece of chicken or liver is coming.”
The cats also eagerly anticipated interacting with their two-legged co-stars. “Sam always gave them treats,” Brauner said. “Every time they saw Sam, it was like, ‘Oh, I remember you!’”
And even though Ben Mendelsohn plays an alien who fears Flerkens, he couldn’t resist cozying up to the cats either. “His costume was a challenge, because he looked so different from a normal person,” said Brauner, who was given one of the character’s prosthetics-heavy suits to use in training. Once shooting began, “Ben would always take the opportunity to hang out with the cats and make them feel comfortable, and they really needed that.”
What about Brie Larson, who stars as the titular superheroine? “She has an allergy, but it never affected us or the cats,” Brauner said. “She was wonderful and always open to helping us, and I really respected her for that.”
Even after four months of pre-production training, the cats couldn’t perform some actions that Flerkens can, like shooting tentacles from their mouths. “That’s when special effects came in,” Brauner said. “Sometimes, like in the jet when the G-force is pushing Goose back, that was computer-generated, but a lot of it was Reggie, no C.G. needed. The filmmakers did as much as they could just with him.”
Brauner said the most difficult part of her job was “getting the cats used to working on a chaotic movie set.” That’s also why Reggie didn’t actually attend the film’s premiere, although separate shots were taken of him wearing a tiny tie on the red carpet: “We try to make sure we don’t bring him out in public where something could go wrong, like a loud noise.”
Still, should they be asked to return in any future Marvel movies — or shorts for a streaming service — Brauner said Reggie and the gang are ready for action. “I truly don’t know if that will happen,” she said. “We’re always up for that kind of challenge.”
Goose’s popularity “surprised us as much as anybody,” Brauner said. “But a lot of it is Reggie — his charisma absolutely shines through.”
Brauner said fame hadn’t changed the cats. “We try to keep them grounded,” she joked. “We’re good parents and make sure it doesn’t go to their heads.”
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