I Am Legend may have been one of several films that helped Will Smith establish himself as a serious actor in the mid to late 2000s (along with The Pursuit of Happiness and Seven Pounds), but we all know who the genuine star of the apocalyptic sci-fi blockbuster was.
The sequences between Robert Neville (played by Smith) and his beloved German Shepherd, Sam, who was given to him as a puppy by his daughter before she died in a helicopter crash, were by far the most moving in the film.
They were frequently poignant, occasionally humorous, and, at one point, completely tragic. But, before you cry yourself to sleep thinking about how that narrative ended for Sam (spoiler alert: not well), it’s worth noting that the actual life story is much, much happier.
Despite the fact that the film was released more than a decade ago, Abbey, the dog that played Sam, is still alive and well. Even better, she’s still living with her trainer’s family, Steve Berens, who told LADbible that the 13-year-old dog is now enjoying retirement with his daughter and her children. “She’s older now, and she doesn’t hear much,” he explained. “But she’s still kicking, and she still enjoys a ball and a bone.”
Abbey has ‘always been part of the family,’ according to Berens, who owns the animal training firm Animals of Distinction, since film producers requested him to source and train a female German Shepherd for the role of Sam.
He elaborated: “We received her in the middle of July and shot her at the end of September, so it was a really short changeover.
She didn’t come from a training background, and she knew nothing.” She was schooled in many of the fundamentals required for film work, and then immediately for certain moments “It was nerve-racking at first, but she really came on strong. She’s a nice dog who learnt quickly.” Berens said working with Smith as ‘wonderful,’ and Abbey was also a huge admirer of her human co-star.
He stated: “When you deal with a lot of performers, they’re not that interested in the animal; they see it as something the public would be looking at instead of them.
“Will, on the other hand, was not at all like that. He realized this was his co-star, and he really enjoyed it and got into it. He was a pleasure to work with.” I believe she liked him, and this made a difference.
I think the connection in the picture was one of the things I was most pleased with and proud of.”
“He had stated it via the channels, but he didn’t actually say it directly to me,” he explained. “I didn’t want to see it end poorly – you know how a lot of these celebs fall in love with their co-stars, and then once they go on to the next film, they’re gone.”
“I don’t know if he would have come to me directly.” When you exercise and spend that much time with someone, you build a strong bond. She’s always been with us, in the house and with our other pets. She’s always been an important part of our family.”
Abbey’s training continued after I Am Legend, as she went on to get several little roles, adding, “Nothing of much depth or was particularly distinctive, but she had tiny bits here and there.”
Aside than that, she’s been a pet, a family dog. “There are larger firms that turn things over more frequently.” We’re a smaller corporation, so it’s a little more of a personal scenario. She’s really in the front yard right now.”
Berens claims his firm is little, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t generate huge things. In addition to Abbey’s work in I Am Legend, the trainer has worked on other Adam Sandler films and even provided and trained the dog Milo in The Mask. While he mostly works with dogs, automobiles, and birds, Berens is used to going a bit off-piste.
“As an animal trainer, you always have your own stock, and you always want to work with those because they’re your animals,” he explained.
“But it doesn’t always work that way, and especially with Adam, he’d write something so out of the ordinary that we’d have to go out and get it, prep it, and put it together for the picture.” It wasn’t always the same thing.
” But he also believes that every animal can be trained to some extent.”
That’s the problem about animal training: it’s an art of deception.