When Hollywood needs a huge bear — over 9 feet tall, three quarters of a ton, roar that could strip the bark off a sequoia — the A list consists of one cagey old Kodiak: Bart the Bear, currently chewing scenery (and people) in The Edge.
”He’s like John Wayne,” says The Edge director Lee Tamahori, referring not only to Bart’s presence but also to his years of experience. Bart started his film career in the early ’80s with Windwalker and The Clan of the Cave Bear, then landed his first lead in 1989’s The Bear. Having shown his villainous side in White Fang and Legends of the Fall, Bart was the natural choice to play The Edge’s massive man-eater.
Not only is Bart bigger, he’s also smarter than your average bear. He’s the only one, says trainer Doug Seus, who can handle the kind of close contact with actors that makes The Edge’s attacks so convincing. ”When you’re up near him he’s like a truck,” says star Anthony Hopkins, who also acted opposite Bart in Legends. ”We were never allowed very close to him — there were all sorts of rules: no food, no smoking. Bears get very angry and very bored very quickly.” Of course, when the contact gets real close, Seus trusts Bart with only one stuntman: himself.
Bart and Seus have been together for most of the bear’s 20 years — ever since Seus adopted him from a zoo and took him back to his Utah ranch, where he and wife Lynne also own nine wolves (six of whom appeared in White Fang) and two younger bears. Bart is the breadwinner (reaping $600,000 for The Edge), but he’s comfortable sharing the wealth. Part of his earnings go to Seus’ Vital Ground Foundation, which provides habitats for wild bears. Says Seus, ”Bart’s saved a lot of wild brothers.”