A cat named Goose pranced his way into Captain Marvel fans’ hearts this month as the movie’s hilariously intemperate scene-stealer. The Flerken, as Goose is better known (since he’s actually not a cat at all but a deadly, secretly tentacled alien), didn’t just get his own character poster in the marketing for the film, he also walked the red carpet in a sensible ensemble at the premiere. Soon after, he became the subject of a very popular (and nice!) South Korean meme, wherein people Photoshop pictures of their ordinary house cats to look like the Captain Marvel sidekick. The role is the largest for any animal actor in the MCU, but animal trainer Ursula Brauner, of Boone’s Animals for Hollywood, had no idea how big a figure her kitties — Reggie, Archie, Rizzo, and Gonzo all play Goose — would become, or how integral Goose’s part would be to the film. Reggie, specifically, has gained a small but devoted cult following, and how could he not after Brauner revealed that he was so dedicated an actor that he knew when his take was bad; upon flubbing, Reggie would go back to “one,” without being told, for another shot.
Brauner called us for a quick chat to talk diva animal actors, Skrull mishaps, and fan demand for Flerkens to save the world in Avengers: End Game. Oh, and she cleared the air about Samuel L. Jackson’s alleged feelings toward feline co-stars.
I heard Brie Larson was allergic, and Samuel L. Jackson was kind of so-so on cats when they started filming.
None of that really was a factor when we started working. Brie with her allergies, she still did everything we asked. If Reggie needed to walk up to her, she would just give him a little treat. The same with Sam. He says he’s not a cat person, but he was probably one of the best people working with the cats. They loved him, went right up to him.
It’s so like a cat to choose the one that’s not a cat person.
The first day working with Sam Jackson was probably my favorite day.
You must have tried to get a personal photo of Goose with Nick Fury.
No. We try to stay very professional.
Goose is actually multiple cats, right? The very last end-cap scene stars Goose coughing up the energy core on the desk. It looks like a mix of a real cat and CG. Which cat did they model that one after?
We had four total. Reggie, Archie, Rizzo, and Gonzo. You may have to ask Disney about which one they used for that scene, but it was probably Reggie. He was really the hero and did most of the shots. We always work cats in teams so we can spread the work on different days. They each have strengths. Reggie was good at almost everything. He probably featured [as] like 70 percent of the live cat on the film. If Reggie had a big day or a big scene, we would switch him out for another one after that to give him some rest. Some of the holding scenes, Gonzo was great being held in arms, so we used him for that. Archie is the spunky cat with personality. Rizzo we trained to be the master of all trades, and we would save Reggie for the big scenes.
Reggie’s the diva.
They’ve always been divas. They always think they’re the bomb. They’re cats. People want to meet them. We have no problem with anyone coming and giving Reggie a pet, but we need to keep them focused. In the middle of a shot, we don’t want them to run up to the camera operator. In their perspective, they’re in a room full of people who want to give them attention. Every now and then, they’re like, Oh, and who are you? Disney provided us with a full decked-out trailer, where they had big areas where they could play — cat trees and toys, all of it. We had a little cart with their crates, litter boxes, and water, and we’d wheel them in when set was ready for them, and they were covered so nobody could see them.
Divas. “Don’t look at me!” Right? Did Reggie have to sign an NDA?
[Laughs suspiciously.] I did. But the cats didn’t. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we’ve worked on the biggest features to the smallest independent features, so we kind of flow, depending on what the project is. We did Pirates of the Caribbean for Disney, too. The most important thing for the animals — and this is the most important part of what we do — our philosophy in training is to build a trust and a bond with any of our animals. So much of what we do in the preproduction and training was getting them comfortable to be in that environment, so they feel calm and safe and concentrate on the job at hand.
How do you sense if they’re comfortable?
If they’re looking at us and asking us, Is this okay? and we look at them, and we say, “It’s fine,” then they feel comfortable, because we’re comfortable. And we don’t breach that trust.
I mean, the cats aren’t actually talking to you. I know I talk to my cats like they’re humans when I’m alone in the house, but when I do it around other people, I realize that it comes off as though I’m a little …
Oh, yeah. People think we’re crazy. You gotta remember, we’re with them all the time, and it is like a relationship. Especially when they’re training. We’re like, “Oh, no, that wasn’t right. Please try this again,” and we get so close that we understand each other very well. And they know our movements.
Did you notice anyone on set starting to talk to the cats like humans, too? Maybe Sam Jackson shooting the breeze with Reggie?
We really felt that everyone there was all-in. Everyone on the film respected the cats. And they always reached out and helped us whenever we asked them to do something, a pet or a piece of food.
I’ll assume Sam Jackson talked to the cats. I like thinking that the set might have to shut down for five minutes, so Reggie can get his pets in. Was anything especially difficult for the cats?
I think maybe it was probably the Skrull costumes. That was one of our challenges because they look so different from people. Ben Mendelsohn was so amazing getting the cats used to the costume and makeup, though. He showed them how he moved and sounded, and he was just really great getting the cats to like him.
Good. That’s the level of exceptionality I expected out of Ben Mendelsohn.
I remember being in the quad-jet set in a very tight space, and Ben doesn’t look anything like a human being in his costume. Reggie was a little unfurled. [Captain Marvel directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck] took the time to say, “Let’s stop what we’re doing and get the cat comfortable.” We had Reggie sitting on a chair, and Ben was sitting in the chair next to him, and we let Reggie go to him and explore on his own volition, and pretty soon, he realized Ben was just like us, but he just looked different. It’s about taking the time to stop. And it shows onscreen.
That’s a pretty good PSA for embracing people or Flerkens who look different from you. I imagine Reggie and Ben Mendelsohn just sitting quietly next to each other for ten minutes while a hundred crew people watch, and it’s like a really Zen image.
It was awesome. One of those surreal moments where you go, “Yeah, I dunno, I’m getting my cat used to a Skrull now.” I guess if they see another one in the wild, they’ll be fine.
So back to that end-cap scene with Goose? I think it left a lot of us very hopeful that the Flerkens will be back to help save the world from Thanos in Avengers: Endgame. How do you think a Flerken could save the world?
[Laughs even more suspiciously.] I don’t know. I think that’s more a Disney question. I know nothing … [suspicious pause]. But it’s remarkable how much Goose has resonated with people.
Did you know he was going to get a character poster?
I did not! Like I say, that’s so great for us. We do what we love. That’s our first love, and our second love is being able to be involved with something like this. It’s the coolest thing to see your buddy up on a billboard or a poster. Not everybody has a Flerken. Wait, actually, we are the only people who have a Flerken … and that’s pretty cool!
That is cool. You’re kind of like a stage mom. I bet you’ve got your favorite.
We love all our animals. Every one of them is special. I don’t care if it’s a feature or a commercial, we are very proud of them …
But Reggie is my favorite, yes. Don’t tell the other ones.