Northern Soul goes behind the scenes on A Street Cat Named Bob
Rider. It’s a much-employed word in celebrity circles. It basically boils down to the star’s requirements, whether that’s in the dressing room, backstage area or on set. Down the years, there have been some notoriously exaggerated demands ranging from a ban on brown M&Ms (I’m looking at you Van Halen) to “a copy of USA Today that’s got a story about morbidly obese people in it”. You’ve got to love Iggy Pop.
Not surprisingly, Kanye West’s riders have grabbed the most headlines. Apparently, Mr Kardashian’s demands have included imported Versace towels on hand at all times and, according to the Daily Mail, an insistence that the dressing room carpet was ironed because it was “too bumpy”. Then there’s Mariah Carey who reportedly insists that she is supplied with bottles of vitamin water to bathe her dogs in. And let’s not forget Marilyn Manson who, if The Daily Telegraph is to be believed, asks for a “bald-headed, toothless hooker” in his rider.
I wonder, though, if any of these celebs have ever requested a packet of Dairylea Dunkers. According to Adam Rolston, producer of the film adaptation of the widely successful book A Street Cat Named Bob, this was non-negotiable for the feline star.
“For Bob on set we spent a lot of money on Dairylea Dunkers,” he tells me. “Every day we bought five packets of Dairlylea Dunkers and that’s what kept him going, kept him happy. In the movie there’s a scene where Luke is with Bob on a bench and you see him feeding Dairylea Dunkers to Bob. And he also loves Whiskas Cat Milk. They were the only demands Bob had on set.”
As the owner of three cats, this pussycat proclivity is new to me. Dreamies and Temptations I can understand (translation: cat crack), and one of my cats goes mad for croissants. But Dairylea Dunkers? Still, if you’re the focus of a multi-million pound book franchise, I suppose the world is your oyster (or processed cheese product, anyway).
First published in 2012, this true story documents the life of James Bowen, a busker and recovering drug addict who found himself on the streets. Enter an injured, ginger street cat who won’t take no for an answer and you have a moving and sometimes harrowing tale (tail?) which quickly becomes an international bestseller and spawns a number of sequels.
When I lived in London, I remember seeing James and Bob in Covent Garden; James on his guitar and Bob sitting patiently, often wearing a fetching scarf. It says something about the eccentricities of the capital that a busking cat seemed relatively normal.
Despite the success of the first book, however, turning the story of James and Bob into a film took some time as Rolston, who enjoyed a successful career as a playwright before turning to movie production, explains.
“I read the book when it was published and like you I’d seen James and Bob in London. I just loved the whole story and I love cats as well. In 2013 I found out the rights were still available. I was quite shocked because by that time the book had become this huge international hit. It had been said in the papers that it was going to be a Hollywood movie but that wasn’t true. So I met James and Bob and his team. I was fascinated seeing Bob for the first time.
“There were some major studios who were thinking about the project and I’d just started my new company, a very independent company [Shooting Script Films], and I didn’t really fancy my chances. But I made a passionate pitch to James and Bob, very much saying we’d stay true to the book and not shy away from James’s sad but inspirational story. A few weeks later I got a phone call saying that they wanted to go with me.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Just a couple of weeks after release and A Street Cat Named Bob is going great guns at the cinema. A sequel is on the cards, according to Rolston, who says that, although it is early days, they are thinking about shooting it later next year for a Christmas 2018 release. In addition, following on from two children’s books about Bob, Rolston and his team have just begun development on an animated, pre-school television series in association with Devon-based animation studio, King Rollo.
What of the current film, though? Starring Luke Treadaway (an award-winning theatre actor recently seen in Sky’s Fortitude), Yorkshire’s Joanne Froggatt (she of Downton fame and the recent Dark Angel which still keeps me awake at night) and Anthony Head (Giles! From Buffy!), Street Cat is directed by veteran filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode. In his early days as an editor, Spottiswoode worked on Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. I’ve not seen it but I’m assured by one of the Northern Soul writers that it bears little relation to Spottiswoode’s latest endeavour.
Nevertheless, Spottiswoode’s subsequent career made him the perfect choice to direct A Street Cat Named Bob, not least because multiple cats were hired for the film.
“We did have other cats involved who were trained,” says Rolston. “But as it turned out Bob became a crew member and starred in a movie and the majority of the cats that you see is the real Bob. It wasn’t the intention at the beginning. I’d hired Roger who’d done Turner & Hooch and a film called Midnight Sun, a really sweet family film with real polar bears. So I said to Roger, how do we do this? It’s impossible, right? But he phoned his trainers from the polar bear film in Canada and they said it’s not impossible and we can look at getting you a team of Bobs. We actually had seven cats trained in Canada for three months before filming and they were flown over and they learned how to do Bob’s high-five and riding on bikes and going on shoulders, all of that famous Bob stuff.”
He adds: “We didn’t know if Bob could cope with a film set or even if James was willing to let Bob go through that. But on the second day of filming we were in Covent Garden, a very busy area, and those cats were struggling with just staying still. We were going to have Bob do a cameo and when we got Bob to do a shot, he just did it. He acted, he almost knew the cameras were rolling, and he did a scene that was perfect. And Roger and I just looked at each other and we both knew Bob had to be in the film. From that day on he was on set every day and he became the star of the movie. It worked out for the best.”
Bob has come a long way from Covent Garden. At the premiere of the film, he recieved a tickle from the Duchess of Cambridge (the evening raised about £70,000 for a charity called Action on Addiction), and I’m told that the book is on the national curriculum in Germany. You know what, though? I’m all for that. A Street Cat Named Bob isn’t the best-written book ever published but, despite having an animal as its centrepiece, it’s a real, human narrative. It’s the story of how Bob saves James and James saves Bob. Anyone who has ever owned a pet (or, in a cat’s case, been owned by them) will know just how special that bond can be.
Like many people, I have plenty of stories about love for pets who have shared my home. There was Basil, a beautiful Bengal rescue cat who, when I was drowning in depression, always wanted to be close and cuddled up to me at night. And Hotspur, the everlasting tom cat who lived until the grand old age of 23, replete with his quiet, unspoken loyalty. Today I have Seamus, Connie and Ellie, more rescue cats abandoned by others but loved and cared for by me.
And that’s what A Street Cat Named Bob is all about, isn’t it? Love.
Coming soon: Northern Soul interviews Bob
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