“Uggie! Uggie! Look here! Over here!,” photographers called out to the canine star of “The Artist,” as he worked the red carpet at a special screening of the HBO documentary, “One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal,” Wednesday night at the Lighthouse in Manhattan.
Uggie pranced, pawed and strutted. Wearing an elegant, black bowtie, Uggie wasn’t so interested in the photographers. His eyes followed the treats owner and trainer Omar von Muller pulled out of a little red pouch. The crowd, crammed against the ropes, “Oohed” and “Aahed” at Uggie’s every move.
“Uggie is definitely the star of the show tonight,” said “One Nation” director Amanda Micheli. “Like nobody gives a crap about the director. It’s all about Uggie. I’m all for it. I don’t mind.”
Once in a while Mr. Muller picked Uggie up and handed him to a pretty woman. Uggie licked their faces.
One of those pretty women was Georgina Bloomberg, the mayor’s daughter. The experienced Equestrian told us she’s also an animal advocate and owns five rescue dogs. (Her father has two dogs.) At one point she looked over at Mr. von Muller, who gave Uggie a hand command, and then Uggie did his signature swan-lake move from the “The Artist,” where he bent over and covered his eyes with his paws. “I could definitely use that trainer for some of my dogs,” Ms. Bloomberg said.
We asked Sheila Nevins, the savy President of HBO Documentary Films, how they got Uggie to attend.
“We paid for him to come,” she said. “We knew this was not a show dog,” she said, pointing to her own dog, Bogie, an adorable and winning bichon mix, who like most dogs, can’t hop on his hind legs like the Uggster. His fee, Ms. Nevins said, was not “reprehensible” because Uggie is also a rescue dog.
Mr. von Muller told us Uggie’s story, which was that his family was ready to surrender him to a shelter because they couldn’t handle him any more. “He was way too crazy. He wanted to kill cats and do every bad thing that a Jack Russell wants to do, so I picked him up, took him home,” he said. “We’ve had him for almost 10 years, and he’s a member of our family, and a great movie star.”
What turned Uggie around was obedience training.
“It was actually pretty simple, pretty much what he needed was work. He needed to do something. That’s what Jack Russells are all about. He still wanted to chase cats but slowly he got used to it,” he said. “We have three cats at home and he’s fine with them. Sometimes he’ll chase them around but he won’t kill them or anything.” Good thing, we told Mr. von Muller, or it would kill Uggie’s good-dog image.
Since the Oscars, Uggie has not heard from his co-star Jean Dujardin. Uggie is working on his memoir, “Uggie the Artist: My Story,” out in October, and Mr. Dujardin is making movies in France Mr. von Muller said. “I’m sure they’ll get together one of these days.”
As for whether all the attention has gone to Uggie’s head, it has, “a little bit,” Mr. von Muller admitted. “He used to listen all the time. Now he’s lacking a little bit, he’s like ‘Hey, you know,’ he’s like, ‘I want to do more stuff on my own.” Still Uggie worked his tail off on the red carpet.
The documentary “shows the deep love we have for animals but also a lot of the underside of our fascination with dogs,” Ms. Miceli said, adding, “a lot of dogs end up homeless and being euthanized.”
In the film you’ll see a West Boca couple who pay $150,000 to clone their Lab, and the orthopedic surgeon from Haddonfield, N.J., who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court in court to defend his Rhodesian Ridgebacks after they bit children, including an incident where a 4-year-old girl’s ear was ripped off.
But it is the dogs and the people who save them who are the heroes of this documentary, and the third segment of the documentary, “Betrayal,” will break your heart.
“I know you came to see Uggie,” Ms. Nevins told the audience before the film, adding how she’d rescued her dog, Bogie from a kill shelter in Georgia. She warned the audience about some of the horrific scenes in the “Betrayal” segment of the film. “How far do you go? Maybe I go too far,” she said, “but I think sometimes you have to see the horror to make a change.” There are warnings before the worst parts. “If you really can’t stomach it, just close your eyes,” she said, adding, “Let’s save dogs!”
After the screening, a rep from the Human Society, which also hosted the screening, invited guests to play with some dogs available for adoption, including a 3-month-old toy poodle that loved being held, and a cairn terrier flat on his back making happy, gurgling noises as someone scratched his chest.
Uggie was on a banquette resting. We petted him and he looked into our eyes. He looked pooped. Mr. von Muller told us Uggie’s big starring roles in films were over. “No big movies. He’s old. Little things here and there, no problem, but anything that has to do with long hours I’d really like to keep him away from that.” The next morning Uggie would be flying back to L.A., and he flies first class of course. “He has his own seat in business,” Mr. von Muller said. Who would expect less for a big movie star?
“One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal,” will premiere on HBO on Monday, June 18 at 9 p.m.