B.C. polar bear Agee bringing realistic touch to films in age of CGI

B.C. polar bear Agee bringing realistic touch to films in age of CGI

Agee is 800 pounds, blond and cranky

Canadian film star Agee is a bit of a diva at work.

She travels to movie sets in a 12-metre-long trailer that has a wading pool on hot days, and doesn’t like co-stars or crew near her while she prepares for her scenes.

The 24-year-old also gives “stink eye” to anyone onset who talks to her manager, Mark Dumas, except for his wife, Dawn, the only other person Agee will tolerate while working.

“I have a wife and a mistress,” says Dumas, referring to Dawn and Agee.

“My mistress is 800 pounds, blond and cranky.”

Agee’s behaviour is understandable. After all, she is an apex predator — a polar bear, to be exact.

The Abbotsford, B.C.-based bear has starred in a variety of screen projects, the latest being the survival drama “Arctic,” directed by Joe Penna.

Opening Friday in Toronto and other cities in subsequent weeks, “Arctic” stars Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as the sole survivor of a plane crash in a remote and snowy area of the frigid North.

But work for Agee and other animals is slowing down in the film world as CGI takes over.

“Which is a shame,” says Dumas, who feels viewers are missing out on seeing “the majesty of such an incredible animal.”

“CGI, to me, is a cartoon. The animals don’t look as real.”

In “Arctic,” Agee appears in a scene involving a cave and, while she looks ferocious, it’s all an act.

“She’s trained to open her mouth and show her teeth. She doesn’t make any noise,” says Dumas, noting her roar in the film was added in post-production.

READ MORE: Abbotsford Goes Hollywood with Gibson, Carell and a polar bear highlighted 2017 filming

She does have sass behind the scenes, though.

“She’s very selective on who she likes and who she doesn’t like,” says Dumas, noting no one is allowed into her working space that’s surrounded by a thin electric wire fence onset.

“When I go away, she is a little upset and when I come back she’ll actually blow me off. If Dawn’s there she’ll go over and say hi to Dawn, love up to Dawn and then look at me like, ‘You’ve been gone.’”

Agee shot her “Arctic” role about a year ago in a warehouse in Abbotsford.

Her other credits include the 2014 Norwegian children’s drama “Operation Arctic” and 1996’s “Alaska” with Charlton Heston, which was her first movie. She also has her own Facebook page, Agee the Polar Bear.

Dumas, who has been an animal co-ordinator and trainer for 47 years, got Agee specifically for “Alaska” when she was two months old from the Kolmarden Wildlife Park zoo in Sweden in 1995.

He trained her through positive reinforcement, with the primary goal of making her a part of the family.

“I make a commitment to these animals,” says Dumas, who has had various creatures on his four-hectare property over the years, including a grizzly bear, cougars, deer, wolves and eagles.

“They work for me and then I work for them. You just don’t work ‘em and throw ‘em away. You’re with them or they’re with you for the rest of their lives.”

Agee has her own swimming pool and pen on the Dumas property, with the option to roam around on the grass as she sees fit.

She’s never been bred, and enjoys a diet of everything from chicken and salmon to pizza and Thai food.

Agee views Dawn like a “sister” and is so close to Dumas, he’s been able to stick his head into her mouth. The couple also sometimes swims with Agee.

When asked what he has to say to animal rights groups who think such creatures shouldn’t be in captivity, Dumas said: “If you saw the relationship I have with Agee, you’d be a fool to say that she is having a hard life. She really has it nice.”

“If Agee were ill treated, I wouldn’t be able to lay down with her, swim with her and train her,” he added.

“When I pull her trailer in front of her cage, she gets excited. It’s something that she likes to do. That happens because she is treated with a lot of respect.”

Dumas was born in Los Angeles and says he “fell into” animal training while working on the lion ranch of an acquaintance’s father.

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Dumas, adding he’s not in it for the money. ”If I figured out what I’ve made throughout my life, I’ve probably averaged about five cents an hour.

“You raise the animal from a baby, you spend a lot of time with it and no one’s paying you to do it, you just do it. And it’s a love you have.”

WATCH: Oscars to air without a host

Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Ladysmith area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

The Ladysmith Health Care Auxiliary donated $23,044 to Ladysmith Seconday School. From left to right: Steffen Toxopeus, Larry Shaw, Dave Travers, and Duck Paterson. (Cole Schisler photo)
Ladysmith Health Care Auxiliary donates $23,044 to support health of LSS students

The money will go towards funding the Hunger Bites program and purchase emergency supplies

(File photo)
LETTERS: Responses to Pateron’s Perspective

Jacqueline Leitch-Murphy, and Richard Tarnoff respond to Duck Paterson’s column

The RCMP are reminding drivers to find alternative ways home if they have consumed anything that impairs their ability to drive. (Black Press file photo)
Impaired Ladysmith driver flees road check twice on the same night

The officer issued the driver numerous violation tickets, and a four-month driving suspension

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Mowi Canada West’s Sheep Pass salmon farm, the company’s final B.C. operation to receive certification from the Aquaculture Steward Council. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) is questioning a government decision to phase out salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. (Photo supplied by Mowi Canada West)
Canadian Federation of Agriculture backs B.C. salmon farmers

Letter to prime minister calls for federal “champion” for aquaculture growth

Most Read