Keanu, the new action comedy from Key & Peele's Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, might be the comedy duo's first big feature, but the film features a third lead: an adorable kitten named Keanu. The movie is about two men who must enter into the gang world to recover their lost kitten, and, as anybody who has ever been on the Internet will know, cats are truly the big stars of our time. So it makes sense that the kitten in Keanu is the star that has everybody talking — and questioning if the Keanu cat is real.
As fans have likely noticed, cats don't normally run away from gang members and ride on the hood of moving cars. Could a real cat have done all those stunts on command? Modern CGI wizardry can make animated animals look freakishly life-like, just ask The Jungle Book, so it's no surprise some fans are wondering about the Keanu cat's origin. As it turns out, the kitten in Keanu is actually real, but Keanu wasn't just played by one kitten actor. Keanu is actually many cats. As Key said during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, "There were seven kittens. Two rounds of them, because the first round of kittens, uh, they had a growth spurt." In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Keanu animal trainer Larry Payne revealed that the production began with just three tabbies, but midway into filming they grew too big to pass as small kittens and were replaced by four identical, and younger, cats.
All the cats were adopted from animal shelters in New Orleans and were trained by Payne and his colleague April Mackin, who had custody of the Keanu cats during filming. Trainers used treats and positive reinforcement to train the kittens not to be scared off by loud sounds (typical on a movie set) and how to hit a mark, but, in the end, each had their own distinct personalities. In the Chicago Tribune interview, filmmakers noted how different cats had different skills. Some, for example, were better at running to a mark or sitting still during a take. "There's the run guy, there's the snuggle guy, there's the meow guy," Key explained.
You might think that they couldn't possibly have trained the cats well enough to perform some of the more action-heavy sequences, but you'd be wrong. Director Peter Atencio wanted to use the real kittens as much as possible, even during a shootout scene. "The studio said, 'You're going to do all CGI for this right'?" Atencio said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "And I said, 'No, we have to use real cats. You have to see the cuteness!'" Kittens were trained to dodge squibs (essentially fake bullets) for the scene. (And, yes, a representative from the American Humane Association was present on set to oversee the animals.)
Despite extensive training, sometimes a kitten's gotta do what a kitten's gotta do — or, at least, whatever it is they want to do. No amount of training could ensure that a cat would follow directions at all times, which made filming with the kittens sometimes unpredictable. "They very often take their own direction," Key told USA Today when asked to name the worst thing about having a cat on set. "They're method," Peele joked. But, that unpredictability helped the actors focus on set. "Once you have this wild card in this animal, everybody gets real insular all of a sudden and decides we can't screw around," Key said.
Most of the cats used in Keanu might just have a future in show business. Payne and Mackin took six kittens back to California, where they hope to continue the kittens' careers. Meanwhile, the seventh cat was adopted by Keanu co-star Tiffany Haddish, who named her kitten Catonic. May these kittens' careers be long and fruitful.
Images: Warner Bros; Giphy (3)