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How the Dog From ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Trained for Two Months to Perfect Playing Dead

Sure, Sandra Hüller received an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Anatomy of a Fall,” and the film itself won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes. But Messi the Border Collie really set tongues and tails wagging following the film’s debut at the festival, going on to receive the Palm Dog honor for his performance as Snoop, a service pooch for a vision-impaired tween (Milo Machado Graner) whose mother (Hüller) is accused of murder.

Snoop plays a pivotal role in her defense, but the canine performer portraying him hasn’t let his moment in the spotlight go to his fluffy head. According to owner Laura Martin Contini, his greatest pleasure is simple: playing with his ball. “The ball is his holy grail,” she says.

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Messi already knew how to play dead — a skill director Justine Triet and her team required of their canine actor. “What we did need to work on throughout was how to be able to carry him and have him remain in this play acting of being inert,” Contini says. “This was something I added over time by working every day. It started on the bed, and it was just how much disturbance was this dog going to be able to withstand whilst remaining limp.”

Being a cinema dog, Messi is used to cameras, but his owner trained him to withstand screaming and people running into rooms. “Most of the preparation was very intensive for two months before,” recalls Contini, who watched a lot of videos about service dog training for visually impaired children in preparation for Messi’s role.

The four-legged actor also had ample time to bond with his two-legged co-star. “I met Messi months before the shooting, several times,” says Graner. “We both practiced separately, and I have to say that he could simulate lethargy very well.”

Anatomy of a Fall
Messi (the dog)
Credit: Neon
Messi in ‘Anatomy of a Fall’

During a crucial scene, Snoop is catatonic, tongue lolling out in distress after being drugged. Contini noticed his tongue looking that way after a vigorous play session with his beloved ball and immediately knew it would be perfect for that scene.

“I’m a little bit scared that he’s just going to be typecast in roles where he has to die,” Contini says. “These are the kind of roles we’re being asked to do now.”

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