The Cat

Co-writer/director Steven Zaillian discusses an important cast member.

Steven Zaillian: The cat in The Night Of has no name, not even “Andrea’s cat.” At most, it’s referred to in dialog as “her cat,” but more often just “the cat” or “it.” This was intentional.

At the beginning, there were no grand designs for the cat as a character. It was there in the first episode to establish in a natural way that Naz has asthma and uses an inhaler. That and one other thing.

But once the cat had served its purpose, then what? You can’t just forget about it, have it disappear, thank you for helping with plot, now goodbye. Its owner has been killed, but it’s still around. What do you do with it now?

Instead of abandoning it, perhaps it could be integrated into the story. Like other characters, it too had suffered loss. What might happen to the pet of a murder victim who has no close family? Maybe it could become involved in attorney John Stone’s story.

Stone does what most people who are allergic to cats would do with a stray in this situation. He takes it to an animal shelter and begins asking around if someone wants to adopt it.

When he, and we, first see the shelter, its stark walls and cages resemble a prison cellblock. This, too, was intentional. And as the cat with no name is carried by a volunteer past the chain-link cages housing loud dogs, it’s an experience not unlike Naz’s when he’s first taken into Rikers by a corrections officer. The outlook for both of them is grim.

From there it was a matter of asking, “now what,” “what if,” and “then what,” and “then what if.” This is what writing is.


The Real Cat

How do you choose a cat actor? How do you audition cats? I certainly wasn’t going to have them come in and do scenes. All I could think of was to do what I’d do if I were looking to adopt one — to meet and spend some time with them as you would at a shelter, to try to get a feel for their personalities, and, in this case, their comfort around people.

Unlike the cat in the story, the real cat, of course, has a name. His name is Bam Bam, and he was brought to meet me by Diane Bove and Dave Frischenmeyer. Bam Bam was adorable and engaging and expressive — and entirely unimpressed with all the activity on a film set.

I fell for Bam Bam right away, and so did everyone else, no one more so than John Turturro, which was important, obviously, since John would be acting with Bam Bam in far more scenes than anyone else. He was very fond of Bam Bam.

There are actors who people say are naturals. I would say there are also animal actors who are naturals. Bam Bam was not some circus cat trained to jump through hoops; Bam Bam was a natural actor. All you had to do was create a nice environment for Bam Bam, turn the cameras on, and marvel at his work.

We all adored him.


All eight episodes of ‘The Night Of’ are available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.