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Recreating the Pivotal ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Dog Scene with Canine Star Messi

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This article first appeared as part of Jenelle Riley’s Acting Up newsletter – to subscribe for early content and weekly updates on all things acting, visit the Acting Up signup page.

I’m no stranger to celebrity. I’ve sat down with Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ve interviewed Angelina Jolie — and I have never been more starstruck than last week, when I hosted a press conference with the breakout star of the year. That would be Messi, the lovable pooch who plays service dog Snoop in “Anatomy of a Fall” He’s the scene stealer of an Oscar-nominated movie and the one everyone wanted to meet at the recent Academy luncheon. He is a very, very good boi.

It was Messi’s first L.A. visit (he flew business class, thank you) and besides the luncheon, he visited some historic landmarks — see his owner-trainer Lauren Martini-Contini’s Instagram for his “Baywatch” recreation. He and Martin-Contini (along with translator Fred Cassidy) sat down for a live press conference that proved unlike anything I’ve ever done.

First, it’s very hard to do a press conference with a dog at your feet and not pet him. I will admit I failed a few times, needing to rub the fluffy border collie’s belly or remind him who’s a pretty doggie (he is.) Anytime Messi would yawn or flop over on his side — you know, do DOG THINGS —– it was like a revelation to me. At one point he held up his paws and I made a sound that can only be described as a squeak. I know I should have held decorum and been more professional but COME ON LOOK AT THAT FACE!

Dan Doperalski for Variety

Also, we all know that when a dog stretches, you are required to say: “Oooh, big stretch!” It’s the law.

While many pieces have been written about the love for Messi – most notably by Courtney Howard in this week’s Variety — I wanted to reveal what it was actually like to be in the room with this rising star and get candid with the canine.

Sure, he was surrounded by fans and journalists, but Messi was no diva. I brought him a present — a stuffed Snoopy doll in honor of his character — and he seemed to like it, walking around with it in his mouth. (Some people have suggested this is a sly jab at “Maestro,” but I believe that tales of behind-the-scenes friction between the two puppy scene stealers are exaggerated.) While some media outlets reported that Messi looked “bored,” I believe he just takes his craft very seriously.

And he had a big job ahead of him. In addition to showing off tricks like barking on command and sitting up on his hind legs, Messi was being asked to recreate his iconic playing dead scene from the movie. In the film, Sandra Hüller’s novelist Sandra is accused of murdering her husband by pushing him off a balcony. Their son Daniel (Milo Macado-Graner) engages in an experiment that might help exonerate his mother — but it means purposely poisoning Snoop. While Snoop is ultimately OK (and thus I can recommend this movie) there is a scene where he is sick and unable to move.

To recreate the scene, which you can watch above, Martin-Contini gave Messi the command to lay on his side. His tongued lolled out of his mouth and his eyes remained open. In playing the Daniel part, I tried to pick him up — he’s much heavier than you would think — but no matter what I did, Messi did not move. Just as it was getting too much for me to witness, Martin-Contin gave the command and Messi leapt to his feet, perfectly fine.

A few other fun facts about Messi: he had auditioned for several projects before, but this is his film debut. “He always makes it to the last round, and he’s never picked,” Martin-Contini revealed. While he doesn’t carry around a headshot, he does have a look book. He does have a sister, named Fox, who is tiny in comparison to Messi. He hates the vacuum cleaner. And yes, he’s named after the Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi.

“In France, there’s a tradition that every year there’s a given letter of the alphabet to name your pet,” she noted. The year he was born was “M,” and her two children love soccer, so they decided upon Messi.

There was also a scene that didn’t make the cut, wherein Daniel is supposed to hug Snoop. “They did it time and time again. Milo was a little excited and the dog was a little excited and they couldn’t get the action,” she noted. “So finally they put dog food in the creases of his neck and the dog just went furious licking it and the scene never worked.”

As for what’s next, Messi has shot a French television series — “his life ended the same, he died on camera” — and another series might be in the works. (Suggested titles “Collie Me by Your Name” and “Hello, Collie” were met with polite laughs.) As for people who are looking for tips to train their dogs, Martin-Contini has one word: “Treats,” she said. “It’s all about the treats.”