- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

There are animal celebrities. And there are celebrities, perhaps, who behave like animals.

Now there is a new take on such matters: animals who look like celebrities. The clarion call of Hollywood has sounded.

Universal Studios is seriously searching for those who believe their pet resembles someone famous, all for a new video about the phenomenon. Auditions will be held in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

"The response is really pretty good," said Universal spokesman Eliot Sekuler yesterday.

"We have a Dalmatian who looks like Marilyn Monroe, a terrier and a bulldog who look like Jack Nicholson, a greyhound version of Calista Flockhart. And then another terrier who looks like Tom Hanks in 'Castaway,' " he continued.

Dogs, apparently, are more star struck than cats.

"Not so many felines, maybe two, and probably because dogs seem to have more variety in their faces," Mr. Sekuler explained. "Listen, Washington is always accusing Hollywood of going to the dogs. Now, we're going to accommodate them."

The video itself is part of a new partnership between the studio and Animal Planet, a cable channel that features all animals, all the time.

"What could be a better combination? Pets and movie stars," noted channel spokesman Matt Katsive. "Besides, this kind of talent doesn't ask for their own trailer on the set."

They may get it anyway.

"Whoever wins the audition gets star treatment," said Universal's Mr. Sekuler. "Dressing room, makeup the works."

Which is, in reality, a serious consideration. The American Humane Association (AHA) monitors some 800 movie productions a year to ensure that all creatures great or small are not stressed during film shoots. In California, the group's officers are licensed as law enforcement officers and can write a citation or arrest the perpetrators on the spot.

Last year, the AHA received countless calls about a dot-com television spot that featured gerbils thrown against a wall.

"Answering the gerbils calls became my life's work," said spokeswoman Karen Rosa. "It let everyone know the gerbils were props."

And while Universal's casting call is for amateurs, the animal acting business is alive and kicking. Several agencies specialize in placing furred and feathered thespians in commercials and films.

Atlanta-based Animal Actors International has five offices around the country, catering, they say, to "new talents interested in animal acting." A current audition, in fact, calls for "mixed dogs who can bark on command."

Hollywood Animals, an agency that manages the affairs of elephants, monkeys, bears and other fauna, notes at its Web site (www.hollywoodanimals.com), "our animals all have doubles that can work as backup."

Meanwhile, the notion of animals with Tinseltown charisma holds a peculiar cachet to many.

Last year, British radio personality Danny Baker devoted a show to listeners convinced their pets looked famous. A Shih Tzu named "Izzy" so resembled Warren Beatty that his photo "is in the window of local shops," a production advisory noted. A cat named "Sinead" was a dead ringer for cartoon character Marge Simpson, complete with "boggly eyes and a protruding mass of hair."

"It is not unfeasible that we would get a call for an animal celebrity look-alike," said a spokesman for Lookalikes-USA, a Massachusetts-based casting company. "The field is always expanding."

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