I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody on opening day in November, and have seen it a few more times since then. I loved everything about the movie: the wonderful portrayal of Freddie Mercury, the perfect casting and phenomenal acting, and of course, the music. The movie had me spellbound and that’s something that rarely happens for me. And then there were the cats!
It’s well known that Freddie Mercury adored his cats, and I was delighted that the biopic incorporated that part of his life. And I wanted to know more about the adorable cats in the movie. Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to Film and TV Animal Trainer Charlotte Wilde, who provided the cats for the movie.
Meet Charlotte Wilde, Film and TV Animal Trainer
Charlotte owns a London-based animal agency which supplies professionally trained animals to top photographers and TV and film production companies. She got into the business in 1984, when her family’s horses were stabled at the property of a woman who owned an animal agency. Charlotte went to help out on school holidays, and even though there wasn’t enough work to make it a full time career at the time, she kept working with them. “Back then, it was very much wrangling,” said Charlotte. “I guess I learned how to not do it back then,” she said. In 1994, she started working with animals full time, using reward based training. “I’m passionate about welfare and training. It became second nature to me to make sure the animals were safe and happy.” The cats are closely monitored while working. “We take pride in our cats,” said Charlotte.
Meet the cats of Bohemian Rhapsody
Almost all of the cats in the movie are Charlotte’s own cats.
Sidney and Chester, a brown tabby and a ginger and white cat, came to her when she was looking for a tabby kitten for another film. When she found them, Charlotte didn’t want to separate brother and sister and adopted them both. “They’ve both been amazing,” she said. “I trained them from the time they were 12 weeks old.” Chester has had a few health issues, including a blocked bladder at one point, but he’s healthy now. “Every time I picked him up then, it was to give him pain relief, and he now hates being held,” said Charlotte. “I could probably train it out of him, but I’m not going to force him. I don’t step over the line with any of them. They’ve got to have some personal choice in what they do.”
The movie’s producers were especially excited about Paddington, the blue point Birman, because he looks so much like Freddie’s cat Tiffany.
Chinchilla is a green-eyed Persian. He loves working, “but he’s not the brightest cat.” You can see him in the scene where two cats look out the window at the Rolls Royce as it’s pulling away to take Freddie to Live Aid.
Texas, the black cat used in one of the scenes in Freddie’s apartment, was a stray. “A friend called and said ‘oh, can you pick up this cat?'” said Charlotte with a wry laugh. “He’s a super super silly little cat, and very clever.”
Orlando, a ginger cat, was used in one of the scenes in Freddie’s apartment. “Orlando, being Orlando, he’s a real character, decided to jump out the window,” said Charlotte. “It was only on the first floor, but we all panicked a bit when it happened.” Thankfully, this happened in the secure studio, not a real apartment. Orlando was fine and returned to work like the pro he is.
They also used two Bengal kittens in the film. Charlotte got them from a responsible breeder friend. “She’s so excited that her cats are in the movie,” said Charlotte. There was a scene when one of the kittens was supposed to be asleep. “I think we had the liveliest kitten in the world,” said Charlotte, but eventually, the scene was shot and you can see the kitten peeking out from under a blanket in the movie.
Charlotte spent about ten days on the movie’s set. “We didn’t shoot on all of those days, maybe six or seven days total,” she said.
The most challenging scene
The most difficult scene to film was the opening sequence of the movie, when the cats are all eating. “Because they’ve got food in front of them, they don’t give a stuff about what you’re saying to them,” laughed Charlotte. “Also, we had the food lined up in two lines, and we had to stay out of the way. It was difficult to guarantee one’s not going to finish before the other, and then they’re going to walk away,” she said. “Full belly, I can’t hear you!”
Working with the cats on set
I asked Charlotte about the scene when Freddie and Mary are sitting on the sofa watching Love of My Life being sung by an audience of hundreds of thousands in Brazil. The cats can be seen on the bed in the background. I remember thinking how remarkable it was for the cats to just quietly sit there when surely there were dozens of people involved in filming the scene. “We teach them to sit, stay and lie down,” said Charlotte. “Generally, we have at least four trainers on set. You’ve got a set of eyes watching everybody. You’ve got to make sure you don’t cast a shadow on the scene so you’ll be squeezed in a corner sometimes. We find something for the cats to watch, that helps – basically, a piece of meat on a stick.”
Charlotte acknowledged that “once the cats jump off something, you’re done. Chester is particularly cheeky. If he breaks your eye contact or eye contact with the food on the stick, he’ll be ‘oh, I’ll be back in a minute.’ The problem with that is, because it’s so natural looking, the director goes ‘this is great,’ but then you can’t ever repeat it!”
Rami Malek is allergic to cats
If you watched the interactions between Freddie and the cats in the movie, you’ll notice that there’s never any direct contact. This is because Rami Malek is allergic to cats. “In the breakfast scene, Sydney was going to be on his lap and he was going to be feeding her,” said Charlotte. “They decided to let the cat be on the table instead, which made it much easier for Rami.”
“Working on the movie was a great experience.”
Charlotte said working on the movie was a great experience. “It’s nice when you’re on a set and the crews actually have faith in what we can do and respect us,” she said. “In addition to the great cast, director Dexter Fletcher was a delightful, lovely guy to work with.” She had previously worked with him on other films and commercials. “When we went back to do some pick up shots once they started editing the film, he came up to me and said ‘I’ll make sure that your cats get a close up.’” Looking at the final version of the movie, it looks like Fletcher kept his promise.
Could your cat be a movie star?
I asked Charlotte how cat parents can determine whether a cat is suited for film work. “How comfortable is your cat going to the vet?” asked Charlotte. “That’s a really good indicator. If your cat is happy to go in the cat box and come out relaxed on the other end, that’s probably the easiest way to gauge whether she’d do well on a film set.”
At the time that we talked, Charlotte had not seen the movie.
Image of Chester walking across the piano and image of the cats eating: screenshots from the official trailer of Bohemian Rhapsody (20th Century Fox,) all other images ©Charlotte Wilde, used with permission