The days of Hollywood’s star system—when studios would launch huge publicity campaigns for their contract players—are more or less over. Actors aren’t under contract, studios aren’t run like private kingdoms, and tap dancing and elocution classes aren’t what they used to be. Every so often, however, a would-be star manages to appear in every conceivable venue all at once, as though Louis B. Mayer were still pulling the strings. Sometimes the sudden ubiquity of a new talent is exciting, but more often than not, it’s just annoying. America, I bring joyous news: It looks like the next new person you have to know about now won’t be a person at all, but a very good dog named Jumpy.
Focus Features, the studio distributing Ti West’s new western In a Valley of Violence through their Focus World label, is taking the role of MGM, while Brigade Marketing plays Harry Brand. Every press release for the upcoming film puts Jumpy front and center in the plot synopsis:
A mysterious drifter named Paul (Ethan Hawke) and his dog Abbie (Jumpy) make their way towards Mexico through the barren desert of the old west.
You have to read to the end to discover John Travolta is in the movie. It’s rare for a dog to get any kind of credit at all, much less outrank Travolta, but Jumpy is not just any dog. As the film’s press releases point out, he is “one of the most well-trained and intelligent dogs on the planet.” Here’s Jumpy’s stunt reel, in which he does a standing backflip, skateboards off ramps, waterboards, and rides an upright scooter, to say nothing of his insane jumps:
He also does parkour and paints landscapes. There’s no question Jumpy is, as they say in showbiz, a very good boy, and judging from the trailer for In a Valley of Violence, is going to do some of his best tricks on the big screen. (The film is reportedly structured like John Wick, which means Jumpy will also have the opportunity for the kind of tearjerking work Meryl Streep would kill for.) But a lot of movies have very good dogs in them; not a lot of very good dogs have PR agents offering “press opportunities with Jumpy.” What’s Jumpy’s secret?
Well, like most things in Hollywood, it’s who you know. Jumpy’s trainer is Omar von Muller, the Svengali behind the career of the late, great Uggie, star of 2012 Best Picture winner The Artist. (And target of the most scandalous, mean-spirited, contrarian hit piece in Slate’s history, in which Forrest Wickman made the startlingly incorrect argument that Uggie was not a good boy.) Studios may no longer have stables of actors, but von Muller does: Besides Uggie and Jumpy, he also trained Gordo, aka the original dog in Veronica Mars, Dash, who started as Uggie’s body double before building his own career, and Popeye, a bulldog who—unlike so many other actors—made it all the way to the screen in a Terrence Malick movie. I met von Muller and Jumpy in 2014, for a Dissolve piece about what it took to make a dog a star; Jumpy turned out to be a better dog trainer than I was. At the time, Uggie was still casting a long shadow while Jumpy languished in commercials. But now, with the full force of the canine star factory behind him, Jumpy looks to be headed straight to the top. What a good dog!