Nothing can keep Gruff the black bear from curling up in his den to hibernate — not even a Hollywood film crew.
Gruff was scheduled to appear in the movie Land, staring Robin Wright and Demián Bichir. But when crew members arrived at Innisfail’s Discovery Wildlife Park in October 2019 to shoot the black bear’s scene, Gruff was already tucked into his den to wait out the winter.
Zookeeper Serena Bos said Gruff has always been an early hibernator, but Charlie, another black bear at the park, stepped in to fill the role of a wild bear in wilderness.
People can now see Charlie in action in Land, by Focus Features, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 31, and was released to the public on Feb. 12.
Bos said Gruff is widely known for his “open your mouth and look scary” pose.
“That’s what film people always want. Films portray a bear standing with its mouth wide open as aggression,” Bos said.
But she said it’s not natural behaviour for bears.
“Bears don’t stand up and roar at you in the wild. Wild bears don’t do that.”
But bears at Discovery are trained to open their mouths so their teeth can be checked to make sure they’re healthy.
She said when Gruff opens his mouth, he also likes to shake his head. It’s not as easy to check his teeth, but it makes for exciting action on film.
She said Charlie doesn’t open his mouth very wide. He doesn’t look scary, and actually looks a little silly. But for Land, he simply had to walk from one spot to another, and sniff the air, and he made the park proud.
“He’s not a diva. He did everything as expected. They got the shot in the first take for each action. It was perfect.”
She said in the film it appears as if one of the actors is in the same scene as Charlie, but he actually worked alone.
Charlie, who is 19 years old and weighs about 315 kilograms (700 pounds), was filmed at the park in an outdoor area with trees.
She said he likely received some avocado as his reward.
“The best thing you can give him is avocado. That’s his favourite beyond anything else.”
She said Charlie is not a busy actor. His main focus has always been educating park visitors on safety and recycling.
“Charlie can actually pick up water bottles and pop bottles and put them into a recycling bin to show kids — if bears can do it, you can do it too.
“We don’t go out seeking film work. We really want to focus on doing on educational presentations for the public when we’re open, and continue animal training for their medical needs.”
Bos said Discovery’s Nissa the wolf will appear in another film, which has not yet been released.