The Big Issue : Edition 529
THEBIGISSUE27JAN–9FEB2017 29 THE WEATHER IN London during the last three months of 2015 was unusually dry and warm. Some days temperatures were more akin to summer than autumn or winter. My cat Bob and I had more reason than most to be grateful for this. For a month and a half during that period we were up at the crack of dawn and then out in the open air, walking the streets for hours on end. We – and in particular Bob – really wouldn’t have appreciated weeks of snow and rain. We spent most of this time on our old stamping ground, in Covent Garden and around the Angel, Islington, where I used to busk and later sell The Big Issue. But this time, we weren’t there to sell magazines or encourage passing tourists to toss coins into a guitar case. Well, not for real at least. For those six weeks we became part of the production team on A Street Cat Named Bob, the film based on my 2012 book about how Bob and I met and changed each other’s lives. To say it was the most exciting, challenging, surreal and totally unexpected six weeks of my life wouldn’t come close to describing it. I still can’t quite believe it happened, if I’m honest. When we’d first sold the rights to the book four or so years ago we’d been told by our literary agent to expect little involvement in filming, beyond the odd courtesy visit to the set. So, when shooting got under way in October 2015, I was prepared to stand in the wings, an interested observer as the professionals got on with their job. But it didn’t quite work out that way. Director Roger Spottiswoode and producer Adam Rolston had hired a top flight animal wrangler in Canada to train half-a -dozen “Bobalikes”, fellow ginger cats with acting experience who would take on the arduous job of being on set from dawn ’til dusk. They were ready to do everything from jumping on buses to running down Camden Passage in key scenes. Early on, we were asked if Bob could appear in a few close-up shots for the movie. Then one day, Luke Treadaway, who was playing me, was filming a scene in which he was busking in a quiet alleyway. Roger wanted to use Bob in a shot. This was, after all, his domain. He had spent many an hour sitting on his blanket alongside me in Covent Garden, patiently waiting for me to collect enough money to afford a meal and to pay the electric and gas bill on our flat. But when the cameras started rolling he did something amazing. As the extras walked past, clinking coins into the guitar case, Bob would look up at them and nod, as if to say thanks. Roger’s face was a picture. You could just see him thinking, did I just see that? He had. And he saw it again on the next take, and the next one. From then on Bob appeared in as many scenes as it was possible for him to appear in. As a result, we became an almost constant presence on the set and at Twickenham Studios, where the production team had built sets replicating the flat in north London where Bob and I used to live. He turned out to be an absolute natural there, too. In one scene, in which Luke is having dinner with his love interest Betty, played by his real-life girlfriend Ruta Gedmintas, Bob was supposed to turn up his nose at some tofu that he is offered by the super- vegan Betty. One of the other cats, a lovely guy named Oscar, had happily scoffed it down when he was offered it. But when Bob came to do his scene, he duly sniffed the tofu, then made a little growling sound and pushed it away. Just like he was supposed to. The more involved he got, the more Bob got used to the routine. His dietary demands became so well known that half the crew carried packets of Dairylea Dunkers with them, ready to encourage or cheer Bob up when he was on the set. One day, as we tried to get a particularly grumpy Bob to perform his trademark high five near the Actors’ Church at Covent Garden, it took what seemed like a supermarket full of Dunkers to tease him into action. At times like this, it fell to me to be his handler-cum-acting coach. So I had to develop a repertoire of tricks and ploys to keep him interested and to keep his eyeline where the cameraman needed it to be. I did everything from positioning myself behind the camera clicking my fingers to pointing a laser pen at the walls to make him look around the room. PHOTOGRAPHSCOURTESYOF(L)BIGISSUEFOUNDATIONUK(R)SONYPICTURES TOP JAMES’ AND BOB’S DOUBLES. BOTTOM LUKE TREADAWAY AND JOANNE FROGGATT.