Messi the dog, who was previously known for breaking your heart in the movie Anatomy of a Fall, has now risen to fame as a top Hollywood A-lister.

Messi the dog, who was previously known for breaking your heart in the movie Anatomy of a Fall, has now risen to fame as a top Hollywood A-lister.

During the Oscar season in Hollywood, I was assigned to the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills for an interview with a rising star of the year.

Upon my arrival in the lobby, he caught my attention right away: his messy black and white hair, those unique, unsettling blue eyes. He had a leash on, and a female admirer had embraced him. A group of individuals were taking pictures.

Similar to Tom Cruise, Messi, the canine star of Anatomy of a Fall, appeared slightly smaller in person, but still exuded the same captivating charm. The acclaimed French film, which marked Messi’s breakthrough role, received five Oscar nominations, including nods for best actress, best director, and best picture. Messi’s portrayal of a guide dog for a blind child amazed audiences and propelled the seven-year-old border collie to fame as a beloved canine celebrity.

Messi was awarded the Palm Dog at Cannes last year, which his trainer, Laura Martin Contini, deemed the highest form of recognition in the field of training dogs for film. Now, some of Messi’s supporters are pushing for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to establish the Pawscar.

The movie features a writer, portrayed by Sandra Hüller, who is accused of murder when her husband dies from falling out of a window at their remote mountain cabin. The key witnesses in the trial are the couple’s 11-year-old son, Daniel, and his guide dog, Snoop, who appears to have a remarkable understanding of the events unfolding. The peak of the story is a moment where Snoop is poisoned and nearly dies, delivering a convincing performance that stunned viewers with the animal’s acting skills.

“I have just witnessed the most incredible display of acting in my life, and it wasn’t by Sandra Hüller or a child actor… it was by a dog,” stated actor Ayo Edebiri on her well-known Letterboxd profile.

As the deadline for Oscar voting approached, Messi traveled by business class from his home in France to Hollywood to help promote the film Anatomy of a Fall for the best picture category. The trip was successful, as Messi was recognized at the airport and became a surprise hit at an A-list luncheon for Oscar nominees. He even had the opportunity to mingle with stars like Bradley Cooper and Billie Eilish. His appearance was featured in People magazine and actress Emma Stone, who was nominated for best actress, praised his acting skills.

At lunch, Martin Contini decided to demonstrate Messi’s top move: he would feign death. Ryan Gosling, who was sitting at a nearby table, quickly came to assist, claiming he “thought there was an issue with the dog.” Video footage of the incident captures the Barbie actor appearing troubled, until Messi suddenly jumps back up unharmed. Did Gosling not realize he was a performer?

Two days after, Messi had a busy day of answering questions from the press – around eight to ten interviews, some with journalists who had never spoken to a dog before.

border collie lies on stageView image in fullscreen

Becoming Messi

If becoming a famous dog actor is your goal, having connections as a celebrity’s pet can be advantageous. In recent years, the Palm Dog awards at Cannes have been given to dogs owned by Tilda Swinton (2021) and Quentin Tarantino (2019).

Messi’s journey did not begin this way. Martin Contini, a dog trainer who resides near Paris, took him in as a puppy from a neighbor. According to Contini, the neighbor was taken aback when she chose “the least attractive pup” from the litter. However, she also mentioned that there was something special about him and referred to him as “un chien de cinéma” or “a movie dog”. Her kids named him Messi after the famous soccer player.

Martin Contini shared that Messi was her initial canine pupil for the film industry, and they both improved their abilities together. It takes time and a trusting relationship to prepare a dog for on-screen performances. With the help of a translator, Martin Contini, who speaks French (just like Messi), explained that they started with basic commands like sit, stay, and lie down.

Afterwards, she mentioned that trainers gradually introduce tools such as cameras and boom mics to help dogs become accustomed to disregarding them. The next step in training is to familiarize the dog with loud noises and chaotic environments. No matter what is happening, the primary objective is for the dog to maintain focus on the trainer, she explained.

It can be difficult to maintain a bond on a film set due to constant distractions and the need for the dog’s trainer to give commands from a distance of 10ft. When it comes to training other dogs, the best advice is to focus on using treats.

Martin Contini has clearly elevated training into her own particular kind of art. On Messi’s big PR day, she had a sharp blonde bob and easy charisma, and had dressed in a dark jumpsuit, a ruffled blouse and Converse sneakers. When she took the actor on his periodic walk breaks, she put on a denim chore jacket, which made her look almost painfully French.

Despite his talent and cleverness, Messi faced challenges in establishing himself in the industry. There was something about his appearance that didn’t click with others. Martin Contini continuously brought Messi to auditions, but despite making it to the final round multiple times, he was never chosen. “He was an artist who was misunderstood,” she explained.

For his breakthrough role in Anatomy of a Fall, Martin Contini and Messi attended “seven or eight” in-person auditions, which included a chemistry test with Milo Machado-Graner, the young actor portraying Daniel.

After being chosen to play the part of Snoop, Messi underwent two months of specialized training under Martin Contini. In order to properly execute his important poisoning scene, Contini began with fundamental techniques such as lying down and playing dead, and gradually incorporated more advanced skills like remaining calm while being lifted up.

After a game of soccer, Messi was exhausted and his tongue was sticking out. She recognized that this would enhance the moment and realized that he had been trained to stick out his tongue without showing any reaction.

Messi spent a lot of time rehearsing with the human actors to build the kind of rapport that would make Messi truly seem like the family’s dog.

During one particular scene, Messi was being instructed to leap onto a bed with Muller and lay down next to her. According to Martin Contini, who plays Martin in the film, director Justine Triet wanted Snoop to channel the spirit of the deceased husband as he reunites with his wife. This presented a difficulty as they had to figure out how to convey the essence of Samuel through the dog’s actions.

Messi’s coach stated that she wants to create an environment for him to showcase his best skills by giving him the freedom to improvise. While she carefully prepared him physically for the scene, she purposely removed herself so that Messi could fully engage with his character Sandra and have a genuine experience with her.

She stated that the intimate moment originated from that.

Staying humble

A couple of hours prior to my planned meeting with Messi, I searched online for tips on interviewing a canine. However, I found limited guidance. One radio journalist warned against treating audio equipment as a plaything in front of the dog. I came across multiple videos of dogs playfully licking or gnawing on microphones.

I was not the sole individual feeling anxious. Maggie Bie-Grace, a PR representative for Messi, shared that she had received numerous emails from journalists before his press day inquiring, “This may be a silly question, but… should I acknowledge the dog?”

There was no need for concern: Messi became famous later in his life and was a professional.

Jenelle Riley, an editor at Variety, hosted a live news conference where Messi made an appearance. He calmly entered the room, sniffed his interviewer, and then rested his head on her knee. As he was given a cookie shaped like his face, he licked it.

According to Riley, she had interviewed Angelina Jolie and Leonardo DiCaprio before, but meeting Messi left her even more starstruck. While she petted him, Messi seemed mostly uninterested and laid on the floor, occasionally grooming himself with his tongue. As Riley spoke with his trainer about his accomplishments and how he spent a day off in LA, Messi looked on lazily. The soccer star had gone to Venice Beach, where he frolicked on the sand and played with other dogs, recreating his own version of Baywatch.

What’s next for Messi? He will be appearing on a French TV show, where “he will die on camera – it’s something he’s become known for,” according to Martin Contini.

When I inquired about which human actor Messi bears the most resemblance to, Martin Contini appeared puzzled. She responded through the translator, “His inherent character would be calm and lively, but also very intelligent. Perhaps Brad Pitt?”

I was skeptical: Brad Pitt clearly resembled a golden retriever. I polled my friends to see which actor they thought Messi resembled. Some suggested Elijah Wood, due to his striking blue eyes, or Paul Rudd, because of his youthful appearance. Personally, I saw him as the canine equivalent of Jake Gyllenhaal, although I am unable to explain why.

Messi was likened to Julia Fox due to his extraordinary energy and talent in the art world.

Did Messi come to the realization that he is a famous figure after his week in Hollywood? According to his trainer, no. They stated, “He remains completely oblivious to his status as a star.”