No, Salem, the black cat on “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” doesn’t talk, like his ’90s counterpart. But, as Sabrina’s familiar, Salem is still a very important part of the new Netflix series.
In the first episode, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is turning 16 and must decide whether to embrace her witch heritage. As a witch, she must naturally choose an animal as her familiar. Her Aunt Zelda (Miranda Otto) gives her a few handpicked options, including “a very handsome hedgehog and a noble-looking owl.” Or, a beagle, like Zelda’s familiar.
But Sabrina wants to choose her own via a summoning spell. And so Salem arrives. He’s not only chosen Sabrina, but his own name.
- There are five cats playing Salem
Vulture talked to animal trainer Ian Doig, who supplied Shaq, Boomer, Edward, Trevor, and Bobby for the show. Doig either adopted the cats himself or used Facebook to find owners willing to give their cats a chance at stardom.
- They’re all boys
As Doig explains, “We wanted a most robust cat and oftentimes, female cats can be a bit, you know, feminine.”
- Which cat gets the most screen time?
Says Doig. “Shaq really does carry the load because he’s just tremendous; like a majority of the shots are [the cats] sitting on set and he tolerates all the stuff going on so easily there’s no point in trying to better it with a different cat.” But if running is involved? “Trevor’s our guy because he’ll literally run through flames. He’s kind of a nut,” says Doig.
- Surprise: The cats didn’t like filming at night or outside.
“They like to be out prowling at night, just kind of lurking around and hunting,” Doig says of the challenges on filming the first few episodes. But they’re now pros: “The cats just needed some camera time to get adjusted.”
- What do they do when they’re not needed on set?
They’ve got a “five-by-nine-foot tricked-out cage on wheels with shelves and a litter box that transports them from sets.” Cushy!
- Kiernan Shipka is actually allergic to cats!
As the actress told Vulture, she didn’t even realize she was allergic until a month into filming, when she broke out in hives. “The cat is the one cast member I don’t get along with,” she said. That means that her hair and makeup teams can’t even pet the cats before they work on her. And that’s, alas, why we don’t see Sabrina and Salem cuddling much, except in the scene where Salem first appears.
- The cats are (probably) here to stay
It seems unlikely that any of the cats would have to be recast, unless the show runs more than 15 years. As Doig tells Vulture, “As long as they’re physically capable and their appearance is acceptable, then [cats] can work for 15 years.”