How Many Kittens Does It Take To Make A Movie? 'Keanu' Is An Exercise In The Art Of Herding Cats
Method Man, looking at stern and intimidating as ever, is casting a steely gaze upon his co-stars. His companion, however, lays quietly in his arms, unaware of the chaos of the actors and crew moving around him. In fact, upon closer inspection, it appears his companion is... sleeping? It also appears that his companion is the tiniest, most adorable kitten anyone's ever seen. This is Keanu , in a nutshell.
There's a lot to draw audiences to this action comedy about a tiny kitten. For starters, it stars comedians Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele in their first roles since their series, Key & Peele, ended its run on Comedy Central in September 2015. It also features a cast of well-known, talented actors like Method Man, Tiffany Haddish (Real Husbands Of Hollywood) — who will be the first to tell you she's "number three on the call sheet" — Luis Guzman (Narcos), and Nia Long (The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air). But, the most attractive thing about the film that should have audiences running to theaters is the fact that the titular Keanu is a literal kitten — and an adorable one, at that. Considering directing actual human beings who can actually speak is already quite a difficult task, though, how does a director make any progress when the star of the film is a tiny, easily distracted animal that has no clue it's being filmed? It can't be possible, right?
To find out, I visited the New Orleans set of Keanu back in July (I did this in the name of journalism, not just to play with kittens. Although... yes, I did get to play with kittens and yes, they were adorable). And, luckily, director Peter Atencio was quick to set the record straight: "Yes, you can [direct kittens]," he told me and other reporters. It just takes some work... and a lot of cats.
The key lies in featuring multiple kittens and training them to do specific tasks rather than having one cat trained to complete a whole bunch of different tasks for different scenes. "Not only do we direct them, we direct different cats to do different things. The cat that seems to have won out the most is the one that’s allowed to sit in Method Man’s arms and sleep," Key says, laughing. "There’s a cat that’s been trained to sit in Method Man’s arms and, like, cuddle."
And, as it turns out, you can actually train kittens to do quite a few things — and they'll actually listen. Well, that is, as long as you have a kitten trained for each specific task. Key and Atencio specified that Keanu brought on cats trained for oddly specific tasks for different scenes: for instance, one was trained to run in a scene, one was trained to walk from one mark to another, and one was trained to just scratch at ropes.
And then comes the other hurdle: After you've cast a series of kittens trained for specific tasks, you have to consider the fact that they won't actually stay kittens for forever (or, even, for very long at all). While filming took place over the course of a few weeks, the film only spans a couple of days, so the crew has to bring in new groups of stunt cats every few weeks — each consisting of three kittens. On week five of shooting, for instance, the film was on its second set of cats. (Talk about unrealistic aging standards in Hollywood.) Don't worry, though — Key assures me the second set of kittens "are just as great" as the first.
And hey, let's be real — when it comes to working with kittens, the more the better, right?
Keanu hits theaters April 29.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures (2)