How Russian Doll’s Oatmeal Went From Stray Cat to TV Star

Photo: Netflix

If your adorable fur baby ever slips out of the house to do some soul-searching — or mouse-hunting — please look both ways before crossing the street when you go looking for him. Nobody wants a Russian Doll–esque inescapable time-loop situation on their hands just yet.

Despite only getting a few minutes of screen time, the feline star of Netflix’s acclaimed drama plays an integral role in the time loop that sucks Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne) into death after death. Nadia first gets caught in her loop when she’s struck and killed by a taxi in pursuit of her beloved lil’ buddy Oatmeal, and as the Netflix show dives into her existential trap, he’s a key driving force for her story: Nadia gets worried when Oatmeal disappears longer than usual for his outdoor treks, goes looking for him at the neighborhood bodega that ties her future with Alan’s (Charlie Barnett), and at later points in the season, sometimes even progresses far enough in her loops to have very snuggly reunions with him.

But as many pet owners could tell you, cats are not particularly trainable animals, which made Oatmeal’s tender role in Russian Doll especially remarkable. (In the eyes of this long-suffering tabby owner, at least.) Even more remarkable, though, is the actual cat’s lack of showbiz experience and rags-to-riches ascent. His real name is Louie, and his road to TV stardom began when he showed up at an animal sanctuary in upstate New York.

“He was very emaciated and sickly,” Russian Doll’s animal trainer Bambi Brook told Vulture. “He showed his remarkable personality by being more interested in the humans working there than most strays that show up.”

According to Brook, Louie wound up at the sanctuary “a few months” before the show’s props department sent out word it was looking for a “full white cat” who could freely move without a leash during the day and night, and who would also be comfortable being held for longer periods of time. Despite not being a color match (“He is a basic-looking cat, to be honest, nothing remarkable in his coloring”), Brook realized he would be ideal for the role, owing to how effortlessly and comfortably he interacted with humans — and she got a quick yes from the show as a result.

But cuddly or not, the production had firm rules in place about when and how Louie could work on set. “We don’t take any chances with our animals and used safety precautions,” Brook said. “For the outdoor scenes, we used a harness and leash on him. The one scene where Oatmeal is lying near the bush in the park, the trainers also used fencing as extra precautions when we couldn’t have the harness on him for close-up shots.”

To prepare for the role, Louie went through harness and leash training in the weeks leading up to his shooting days — the gear was carefully chosen to ensure it wouldn’t appear on camera during filming — with Brook taking him for walks in both to get him better acclimated. “The truth is, Louie met Natasha and already liked her and her cool-cat personality. Fleeing the scene wasn’t much of a thought to him,” she added.

Now with a surrealist masterpiece debut under his paws, the future is looking bright for Louie: He’s since filmed three other projects, one of which let him veg out in the Rhode Island wilderness. “He is a remarkable boy and will live his life happily content,” Brook said, “playing in shows or not.”

How Russian Doll’s Oatmeal Went From Stray Cat to TV Star