Maine Coon cats don’t only make great pets, sometimes they also make great cat actors. Do you remember in the Harry Potter movies, the cat that wandered the halls at Hogwarts? Her name was Mrs.. Norris and she was the trusty cat of the castle’s caretaker, Mr. Filch played by David Bradley. Mrs. Norris was played by not one, but at least four different Maine Coon cats.
Mrs. Norris is an important animal character in the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling described her as a scrawny, dust-colored creature with bulging, lamp-like eyes.’ Mrs. Norris belonged to Mr. Filch, the caretaker of Hogwarts School of Wizardry. She was more than just a pet or companion though, she seemed to have an almost telepathic connection to her owner. Mrs. Norris would wander the halls checking for any mischief and foolery. If she found any of it, her owner Mr. Filch would be close behind to catch the perpetrators.
Mrs. Norris found Harry and Ron out of bed and sneaking through the halls in The Chamber of Secrets, permitting Mr. Filch to catch them in the act. After the group acquired the Marauder’s Map, it was easier to stay away from Mrs. Norris & Mr. Filch. The caretaker and his cat had different moving spots on the map and, that way, the kids always knew where they were.
J.K. Rowling commented that she named Mrs. Norris after an odious character in the Jane Austen novel, Mansfield-Park. A very fitting name for such a malevolent cat character.
When it was time to cast Mrs. Norris the cat for the Harry Potter movies, the art directors and producers decided that she would be played by a Maine Coon cat. The description of Mrs. Norris in the books was of a scrawny and messy cat but Maine Coon cats are stocky and usually large. To keep the original feel of Mrs. Norris with a Maine Coon, the trainers and cat animal makeup artists kept their the hair messy and prickly with special products while on set.
The casting and training of Mrs. Norris were done by Birds & Animals Unlimited. They are a team of animal trainers who prepare animal actors for movies. The search for the cats that would play Mrs. Norris covered most of the United Kingdom. They visited lots of Maine Coon catteries and shelters and ultimately used around four or five cats. The most memorable of all the cats that played Mrs. Norris were three rescued cats; Alanis, Cornilus and Maximus and a retired older cat from a UK breeder, called Pebbles.
Most animals in movies are played by more than one animal. This is because most of the time one animal won’t respond to all the commands that trainers teach them. For example, in regards to the cats that played Mrs. Norris, each of the cats had a specific role. Alanis was always the one being carried because she was great at staying still, Pebbles was the one that walked the long hallways because she learned to stop at a specific mark, Maximus was trained to jump on Mr. Filch’s shoulders, and Cornilus was one of the extra cats that was trained to sit still, look around on command and other such actions.
Even though cat training is tough and takes a lot of work, no Maine Coon cats were hurt in the filming of the Harry Potter movie series. Neither were all the other animals that acted in the films.
Of the four cats known to have played Mrs. Norris, only Pebbles has a published backstory. Pebbles belonged to Dawn Talman from the Kittycoonz cattery in southern England. Pebbles was a breeding Maine Coon who had two complicated pregnancies which resulted in caesareans. Her owners and veterinarians decided that she needed to be spayed for her own well being. After that, her life in a cattery became difficult as he couldn’t breed any longer. She became bored and started acting up. Her owners decided it was time to find Pebbles a better home.
Before Dawn Talman and Kittycoonz could place Pebbles somewhere, they received a called from Gary Gero from Birds and Animals Unlimited. These are the same trainers behind the new cat movie, Keanu. Gary and his team where contacting lots of Maine Coon breeders in the UK asking if they had any cats in their family which could potentially do well in a movie. Dawn told Gary about Pebbles and the team went to meet her in person. The trainers from Birds and Animals found that Pebbles was perfect and a cat star was born!
Pebbles was trained for weeks to walk to a mark and stop. This became her expert trick and therefore was chosen to be the cat actor that would star in the scenes in which Mrs. Norris wandered the long halls at Hogwarts School of Wizardry. In the first few movies, Mrs. Norris was given red eyes with digital editing, but in the last of the movies she had blue eyes.
Pebbles and her companion cat actors who played Mrs. Norris, were tested to see what commands they responded to best. All the cats were probably taught all the commands but were then separated for training in the ones they performed better at. Animal trainers use a series of clicking and buzzing sounds along with treats and rewards to train the cats to do certain things.
Pebbles was trained to hit a mark, which is walking in a specified direction and stop at a mark on cue from the trainers. For scenes in which the cat must sit in a specific place and move its head in a certain direction, trainers use long pointing sticks with a treat attached to the end of it. Attention and response to commands with clicks and buzzers are always rewarded with treats. After a while, all it takes is for a spoken command and a set of clicks for the cat to do what the trainer asks him or her to do.
When a number of cats are used to play the same role, the trainers do their best to find a group of animals that look extremely similar to each other. But sometimes there can be minimal differences in color patches for example. To fix this problem, makeup artists help the trainers to match the colors between the cats with animal friendly makeup. It’s a rumor on the internet that for Mrs. Norris, the FX department created a special collar for the cats to wear which had a longer tuft of hair that would look the same on all the cat actors. This is called film costume continuity and is also used with humans sometimes.
As one of the important cats in the Harry Potter universe, Mrs. Norris has plenty of appearances in all of the movies. In some cases she is the center of attention in a scene.
In the first movie, The Sorcerer’s Stone, Mrs. Norris first appears in the sorting room when all the kids come in to be sorted into the different houses. She then shows up in the third floor hallway, causing Hermione and the boys to hide quickly before Mr. Filch finds them. Another time as Harry was sneaking into the library with the invisibility cloak, Mrs. Norris followed him almost causing an accident. She was very quickly portrayed as a mean and sneaky character inside the Hogwarts Castle.
In the second movie, The Chamber of Secrets, Mrs. Norris is the first victim of Basilisk, the Serpent of Slytherin when the chamber of secrets is opened. Mrs. Norris sees the reflection of the Basilisk in a water puddle outside the abandoned bathroom which serves as the entrance to the chamber. She is paralysed as an effect of seeing the Basilisk. Ginny, possessed by Tom Riddle, hangs her by the tail from a hook on the wall. Thankfully, after much suffering by Mr. Filch, Mrs. Norris was revived with the help of a mandrake root at the end of the school year. The petrified cat in the movie was most definitely not played by a real cat, but rather by a cat puppet.
Once, Mrs. Norris was put inside a suit of armor by Peeves the ghost and Mr. Filch had to rescue her. She was also seen swatting at the owls escaping from the fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts. In the fourth film, Mrs. Norris is seen dancing with Mr. Filch, portraying the closeness of their relationship.
Not only does Mrs. Norris hate the students and is always watching them, she seemingly also spies on Harry Potter particularly. None of the students like her, or Mr. Filch for that matter. Hagrid said on occasion that he would like to introduce his dog Fang to Mrs. Norris, probably so that Fang would attack her!
Harry Potter fans love speculating things about the story and the characters in both the books and the movies. The theories revolving Mrs. Norris are mostly about how she can find someone sneaking around all to easily. Fans asked in Harry Potter forums if Mrs. Norris was maybe half Kneazle, a creature known for being able to track people and beings doing sneaky things. Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks (played by ginger Persians) was half kneazle but J.K Rowling confirmed, through a tweet, that Mrs. Norris was definitely an ordinary cat that simply had an uncanny ability to find wrong doers around the Hogwarts castle hallways.
Another fan theory is that Mrs. Norris is actually Mr. Filch’s wife reborn as a cat, or somehow in a cat’s body. One of the first pieces of proof about this theory is that Mrs. Norris shows up in the Marauder’s Map. She is the only animal to show up on the map, which actually shows humans and some ghosts. It can be argued that when the map was created, Mrs. Norris was included because she is the complete opposite of wrongdoing and that is the map’s main purpose. Either way, this fan theory has not been confirmed nor denied by any Harry Potter official commentary.
Fans were also quick to notice how Mrs. Norris’s physical appearance in the books does not match that of a large and furry Maine Coon cat. In the books she is meant to be scrawny, with yellow eyes and grey colored fur. Maine Coon cats are essentially the opposite to that, so it must have been a decision from the art department to give the mean cat a fluffy look instead of a mean skinny demeanor, much like her owner. Having chosen a Maine Coon cat, the art department of the Harry Potter movies gave the character a deeper and more interesting role.
No Harry Potter character is free of a little fan fiction. There is one that tells a story of how Mrs. Norris and Mr. Filch are actually twin brother and sister, she a wizard, he a squib. As they grew up in Hogwarts School of Wizardry, she learned all the things about being a wizard while Mr. FIlch wandered the halls. She then learned to turn into a cat like an animagus but then couldn’t turn back into a human. Then Dumbledore offered Mr. Norris the caretaker role in the castle and the rest is history.
Cats have always had an important role in wizarding history. Black cats have always been portrayed as the companions of witches since the middle ages. In the era of the Salem Witch Trials, many cats were mentioned as familials of the tried witches. Familials are animals that serve a purpose to a witch or wizard, either as messengers or companions or even servants.
In a written piece inside Pottermore, the famous Harry Potter website about all things Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling published a piece about Familials. In the Harry Potter books and movies, there aren’t really any familials, all the animals taken to the castle by the students are essentially pets. The only one that fits the bill somewhat is Mrs. Norris. Ironically enough, Mrs. Norris’s owner Mr. Filch doesn’t even have magic. Some fans do argue that the owls are familials since they deliver and receive the magic mail.
Other cats in the Harry Potter universe are the animagus of Mrs. McGonagall, a grey cat which she can turn into, and Hermione’s half cat, half kneazle Crookshanks. All played by cats trained by Birds and Animals Unlimited, the trainers of the Maine Coon that played Mrs. Norris.