Hollywood's always been full of jackasses.
But never more than this awards season, where donkeys appear in three Oscar-nominated films. Best picture nominees "The Banshees of Inisherin" and "Triangle of Sadness" both feature beleaguered burros in memorable scenes, while best international film contender "Eo" follows an affable ass on his travels.
Why can't filmmakers get enough of these adorable equines? Put simply, "their whole appearance is friendly, comical and ultimately sympathetic," says "Triangle" director Ruben Östlund. "To me, the donkey is the court jester of the animal kingdom."
Here's your guide to the bray-kout stars of this year's Oscar-nominated movies:
Jenny the Donkey stars in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'
In "Banshees," an Irish tragicomedy vying for nine Oscars, a sweet little donkey named Jenny gets caught in the crosshairs of a rift between former best friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Pádraic, Jenny's owner, turns to his four-legged companion for comfort: taking long walks together through the countryside and letting her sleep in his house.
The diminutive donkey makes a big impression – so much so that Farrell thanked his animal co-star, also named Jenny, in his best actor Golden Globes speech last month. Martin McDonagh, who wrote and directed the movie, says she was part of the story from its inception.
"Part of it is as silly and simple as I like cute animals on screen, and I always hope nothing bad happens to them," McDonagh says. But also, donkeys "represent innocence. By the end, we almost start seeing (the story) through their eyes: how they observe the violence and craziness of this conflict between the two men."
The gentle creature is a mirror of sorts for Pádraic, whose blissful, easygoing nature is destroyed by the end of the film when – major spoiler alert! – Jenny dies. "It's the death of Pádraic's innocence. Jenny represents that," Farrell says. "(He's) lost too much at that point. The heart is closed off from then on."
Six donkeys play 'Eo' in the Oscar-nominated Polish film
"Eo" traces the sometimes treacherous journey of a soulful, melancholy mammal. After his circus is shut down by animal rights activists, Eo sets off wandering through Italy and Poland, meeting the very best and worst of humankind along the way. Inspired by Robert Bresson's 1966 donkey drama "Au Hasard Balthazar," the movie aims to change people's attitudes about meat consumption and animals – reminding moviegoers that they're not just objects but living creatures.
"The opinion about donkeys is that they are stubborn and stupid," director Jerzy Skolimowski says. "Stubborn? Yes. Stupid? Not at all. They are very clever, very sensitive, and if one finds the way to collaborate with them in a friendly manner, then they are willing to do whatever one wants them to do."
Eo is portrayed by six different donkeys, although one particular burro, Tako, has roughly 60% of the screen time. The key to "acting" with donkeys is to always be shooting and observing them, Skolimowski says, trying to capture moments that can later be edited together to "express a certain feeling." Food also comes in handy to help coax out performances.
On the set, "carrots were ubiquitous," says Ewa Piaskowska, Skolimowski's wife and the film's co-writer. "But there was one Italian donkey, Marietta, who wasn't a big fan of carrots at all. She liked cornetti, which is a croissant, so she was actually fed croissants. We tried giving her carrots and she'd be like, 'What is this?' "
'Triangle of Sadness' has a squeamishly silly donkey scene
In "Triangle," a class satire up for three Oscars, a group of hapless tycoons are left to fend for themselves on a deserted island after their luxury cruise is attacked by pirates. In a comically uncomfortable three-minute sequence, tech billionaire Jorma (Henrik Dorsin) is forced to kill a donkey with a rock in order to feed his fellow castaways, who all look on in horror.
"It takes great effort and is quite traumatizing to kill another living creature, especially if it’s the size of a donkey," Östlund says. "The first version of the scene was probably seven minutes long, but in test screenings, the audience was terrified and I had to cut it down."
The film's donkey was created using a combination of computer-generated imagery and a puppet, which was maneuvered by two puppet masters hiding in bushes. The agonizing moment was inspired by an episode of Bear Grylls' reality series "The Island," where contestants struggled with their fear of killing an alligator.
In this movie, "it felt more interesting to me if the group was faced with a more domesticated animal," Östlund says. "Something about donkeys felt exactly right.”
Contributing: Brian Truitt
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donkeys get their Oscars moment in 'Banshees,' 'Triangle of Sadness'