The canine star of ''I Am Legend'' -- How the German shepherd playing Will Smith's best friend snagged the role
In the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood, some aspiring starlets will do whatever it takes to get to the top. Then there’s Abbey. The 3-year-old German shepherd, who plays Will Smith’s best friend in the sci-fi epic I Am Legend, took an old-fashioned road to fame: She got discovered. Plucked from a California kennel by Steve Berens, a trainer with 28 years of industry experience, Abbey was exactly the kind of light-colored shepherd that Legend director Francis Lawrence had been looking for. The film, set five years in the future, tells the story of a scientist (Smith) who struggles to survive in a postapocalyptic New York City with only his four-legged pal, Sam (Abbey), for company. It was a demanding part, and Berens knew it would take more than a few Method classes to get his new protégé ready for the camera. ”We were pretty much starting from scratch,” he recalls. ”She didn’t even know her own name.”
Three weeks of intensive coaching followed before Abbey was ready to meet her costar. Sparks flew instantly: ”Will came walking up, and Abbey barked at him,” recalls Berens. But Smith patiently earned Abbey’s respect, and the two headed to New York City for a grueling six-month shoot for the film, which is based on a 1954 vampire novel of the same name.
A consummate professional on set (she declined fur and makeup and ate a strict diet of kibble and chicken), Abbey balked only when asked to perform a particularly degrading act for one scene. ”For whatever reason, she just had no interest in playing fetch,” says Lawrence (Constantine). ”We had to use a backup dog.” But even the occasional diva moment couldn’t diminish the cast and crew’s love for their leading lady. ”When we finished her last shot, it was like the whole crew had been dying for six months to pet her,” recalls Lawrence. ”Everybody swarmed. She loved it.”