Meet Messi, dog star of “Anatomy of a Fall” who stole the show at last night’s Oscars

Many of Hollywood’s biggest stars attended last night’s Academy Awards, but one actor truly stole the show: he had a prime seat, every shot of him went viral, and host Jimmy Kimmel said he gave “the performance of the year.”

No, it wasn’t Ryan Gosling — it was Messi, the canine star of the acclaimed French drama Anatomy of a Fall, who won the hearts of movie fans everywhere this awards season.

Messi is a 7-year-old border collie, owned and trained by Laura Martin Contin, who has had him since he was a puppy. She describes him as a “very smart,” “good dog” who “learns easily,” but his on-screen talents weren’t always recognized.

“Messi was a misunderstood artist. He had a lot of trouble getting roles,” Martin Contin told GQ. “He always went to the end of the auditions but was never accepted often because of his [unusual] look and his eyes.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 14: Messi the dog attends the Film Independent Live Read of Justine Triet’s “Anatomy Of A Fall” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 14, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Messi worked in commercials, but had his big breakthrough after being cast in the French courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall, directed by Justine Triet. The film is about a woman (played by Oscar nominee Sandra Hüller) trying to prove her innocence in her husband’s death. Messi was cast as Snoop, the guide dog of the main character’s blind son.

Snoop was a dream role for a canine actor, and Messi got to flex his thespian chops in some pivotal scenes — including one where the dog nearly dies of an overdose after eating aspirin. That one scene required two months of training.

“It had to happen in steps,” the trainer told IndieWire. “First, the simple laying down and having his head kind of immobile. [I] started there and then [we worked on] lifting the head and just letting it fall back without resistance.”

“He had to let his whole body fall to appear inert,” she told GQ. “I added cries and emotions so that he knows not to move despite the noise.”

That hard work paid off: the scene is riveting and realistic, and many admiring critics and audience members were left in awe at the dog’s performance.

Anatomy of a Fall was met with widespread critical acclaim and won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival — and Messi won the Palm Dog Award, given to the festival’s best dog performance.

It was later nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. While Messi was not eligible for any nominations, it didn’t stop him from being an awards season favorite. Messi appeared at the annual Oscars Luncheon, where even stars like Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper were eager to meet him.

Fans were disappointed when it was initially announced that Messi would not be able to attend the Oscars. However, it was soon revealed that the dog would be part of the show after all.

A preview clip showed host Jimmy Kimmel rehearsing jokes with Messi in his dressing room:

And Messi proved to be the viral hit of last night’s Oscars telecast. In his opening monologue, Kimmel praised Messi’s performance and used it as the basis for some of his jokes.

“Messi, who even though he’s a dog, may have given the performance of the year in Anatomy of a Fall,” Kimmel said. “Messi has an overdose scene, if you’ve seen it you’ve known it. It’s incredible… Honestly I haven’t seen a French actor eat his own vomit like that since Gérard Depardieu.” 

Another viral moment showed Messi “clapping” after Robert Downey Jr. won Best Supporting Actor. And at the end of the show, Messi peed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame star of Matt Damon, part of a long-running joke feud between Kimmel and Damon.

These bits were pre-taped and spliced into the show, so it’s not clear how much of the ceremony he actually took part in, but either way he was the breakout star of the evening.

Messi doesn’t have any roles lined up after his acclaimed star turn in Anatomy of a Fall, but it’s safe to say that he’s now one of Hollywood’s most beloved doggy actors.

Could he be on the Oscars stage one day? The Academy currently has no category for animal actors, but Messi’s trainer says they should consider a change.

“Why not?” Laura Martin Contini told USA Today. “It does take a lot of work to accomplish what looks natural on screen,” adding that it “would bring attention to the profession itself.”

Messi the dog at the 96th Annual Oscars held at Dolby Theatre on March 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Polk/Variety via Getty Images)

But deep down Messi is more interested in chasing balls than accolades, and lives a normal life like any other dog.

“We live in the countryside and Messi loves going for walks and playing ball,” Martin Contini told GQ. “For him the ball is sacred! Otherwise at home he is a fairly calm dog. The quiet force.”

Whether or not Messi ever gets an Oscar of his own, he gave truly one of the best performances of the year, and in one of the year’s best films. We’re glad he got his big moment in the Hollywood spotlight!

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