FILM / Interview: Unadulterated mutt: The star of Beethoven is much more than a hairy chest and a gold medallion. John Lyttle reports on a dog's life in Hollywood

The star of the hit comedy Beethoven bounds from the bedroom of his Dorchester hotel suite a step ahead of a pack of burly minders and immediately adopts the attack posture. Chris St Bernard foams at the mouth: 'What sort of country is this? Your immigration policies suck. I fly here to do publicity and they want to quarantine me for six months. Six months] Then I learn how my fellow artistes are treated. Your National Theatre's Midsummer's Night Dream is dragging some poor mongrel through a mud bath every night. Regular walks are fine, but hasn't the director heard of the extending leash? The RSPCA's been called, but where's Equity when a professional needs help? Uh?

'And I fell to pieces when I read that some poor pup up in Scarborough had actually been cut into bits and hung from a ceiling in the name of art. That's not art, baby, that's a torso murder] You guys make the Koreans look good. Thank God I'm a thoroughbred, American and famous.'

Very famous indeed. Beethoven, the story of one dog and his man, has taken over dollars 50 million at the US box office. Audiences and critics alike have hailed the birth of a popular new icon. The expression 'Doing a Beethoven' - being a bad dog - has even entered the language. Yet with celebrity has come a certain snappishness. When a bodyguard goes to sit on the sofa, St Bernard barks, 'Hey] How many times have I told you about sitting on that sofa? How many times?' The bodyguard jumps at the sound of his master's voice and skulks away, obviously humiliated. St Bernard shrugs and orders a steak from room service. 'Gee, what do you have to do? Rub their noses in it?' This isn't the lovable pooch the public has grown to adore.

It's all a long way from those early brandy and dog food commercials. Perhaps a touch of arrogance is to be expected. 'Arrogance? Don't believe all you hear, cupcake. I'm a real pussy cat. (He laughs.) Saying I'm arrogant is like saying Lassie was a bitch.'

But Lassie was a bitch.

'You know what I mean.'

So rumoured stories of on-set clashes with co-star Charles Grodin should be discounted?

'So you read his piece in Premiere? Listen, I thought Charlie and me were buddies. I wouldn't say I was the man's best friend, but I didn't realise he expected me to roll over and play dead. To tell you the truth, he's never recovered from the time the pig snatched all the notices in The Muppet Caper. But I did not bite him. That is a downright lie. And whatever he trod in on the way to his car had nothing to do with me. I'm studio-trained. Ask Stevie (Spielberg).

'Yes, I did have the best accommodation. I'm a big guy (St Bernard weighs 185lb); that's why I was given Brando's old trailer. I did look sexy in the rushes. Women couldn't wait to get down to some heavy petting, get my drift? And, unlike some actors I could mention, all my hair is my own. I was better with props. I mean, I've done some of my biggest business with trees. The writers started putting more and more tricks in for me, though I'll be honest and admit there was a stuntman for the slobbering sequence. Charlie saw the focus shift. He didn't like it. But the movie is called Beethoven, not Charles Grodin and I play Beethoven. Look, Hollywood is a dog- eat-dog town and no one is gonna eat me. Not unless she's a cute little French poodle.' The bodyguards chuckle on cue.

Perhaps St Bernard's aggression is explained by a widely publicised insecure childhood. Shortly after the film opened, the National Enquirer unearthed the unhappy details. 'The National Enquirer] I wouldn't pee on it. So I come from a broken home. So what? My brothers and sisters and I were separated when we were eight weeks old and sent to various homes. I never knew who my real father was. For all I know it could have been Cujo. But it's my business. That's why I'm suing. The Enquirer said my background made me unbalanced. The headline was 'Barking mad'. And they intimated that I habitually lick my own genitals] Outrageous]'

Despite this professed distaste, St Bernard has courted controversy. There have been attacks on rivals - 'Bruce Willis is living proof that I'm not the only dog on the A-List' - a series of arrests for threatening behaviour and fouling the footpath, and a one- night stay at the Los Angeles pound for allegedly doing something obscene to a cop's leg.

All this before the romantic entanglements. Madonna has been a regular companion. 'We've attended obedience classes together a few times, yeah. Her obedience classes I hasten to add.' Small wonder, then, that his Beverly Hills mansion is known locally as Cupid's Kennel. Our hero demurs. 'Oh, please. I must be the only guy in California who hasn't been engaged to Julia Roberts. Do I bury my bone? Sure. But I'm careful. Everyone should be. There are so many diseases out there. Hardpad. Distemper. Mange. Worms. A friend of mine died of rabies last year. That was a learning experience.'

The industry will be forgiving as long as Beethoven plays fetch at the box office. 'At the moment I'm hotter than a Pekinese in a parked car in July,' St Bernard agrees. 'I'm no Rin Tin Tin yet. It might happen though. I have to make sure that my talent isn't muzzled. So far most producers can't see beyond the fact that I'm a dog. I saw how they used Jerry Lee (the star of K-9) and Hooch (star of Turner and Hooch).' St Bernard's neck hairs bristle. 'Hollywood is very species-ist. People need to see me as an actor first and a dog second. Yes, I occasionally drool, roll in dirt and break wind. So does Micky Rourke. They say he's a genius but I'm an animal. If Mel (Gibson) can play Hamlet, why not me? But what am I offered? The Postman Always Rings Twice. Stereotyping.

'On the other hand, I don't see why I should be a role model, carrying the aspirations of every dog. Yes, we are discriminated against. No Dogs Allowed. All Dogs Must Be Kept On A Leash. Keep Off The Grass. That sort of thing really gets to you. It isn't us who need to be 'fixed', it's the system. If not, one day L A will explode. I've been out there on the streets, looking for a fire hydrant, and I can tell you the brothers feel they have nothing left to lose. The pooper-scoopers are always on their tails, and they ain't gonna take it no more. But the system has to change slowly. I'd like to see a water bowl at every script conference as much as the next canine, but it's gonna take time before man and dog can live in harmony. But maybe I'm just howling at the moon?'

The steak arrives. The interview is obviously over. St Bernard rises to return to the bedroom, pauses, ambles back, and licks my face. His breath stinks. I head for the door to a final growled complaint. 'Did you hear that? He asked me if I had an owner. Me] I don't have an owner. I have an agent.'

'Beethoven' is on general release.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral