This article originally ran in early March, when First Cow first debuted in limited release, shortly before movie theaters across the country shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. We are re-running it for the film’s VOD release on July 10th.
In First Cow, director Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, a reserved loner cook named Cookie (John Magaro) and an enterprising Chinese immigrant named King Lu (Orion Lee) develop a friendship in the barely-settled Oregon Territory of the 1820s. It’s a tender and moving portrait of an unlikely bond between two outsiders, the intimacy of their relationship contrasted against the austere and unforgiving frontier setting.
It also stars an excellent cow.
The cow character, the first of her species to arrive in the area, belongs to a wealthy landowner, but Cookie and King Lu make a habit of surreptitiously stealing her milk to make biscuits. The actress behind this measured and nuanced performance as “cow”? Eve, nicknamed Evie, a handsome Jersey who was two years old at the time of filming. She was scouted by trainer Lauren Henry, who told GQ that Reichardt had outlined specifications based on breeds that were prevalent in the film’s time period but are no longer around today.
Henry first encountered Eve at a hobby farm in Washington State, and though the young cow didn’t have any previous acting experience, she immediately seemed destined for the role. “When we went to visit Eve to see what her personality was like, she was pacing and seemed a little agitated. And the lady who was her owner said, ‘Oh, she’s a little antsy right now. We didn’t milk her until you got here. She’s used to being the first cow [who gets milked],’” Henry recalled. When she heard the phrase “first cow” used coincidentally in relation to Eve, Henry got “chills.”
She added: “And then we found out her name is Eve, so, first woman too. And we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is all the stars aligning. This is the cow for the job.’”
“She is a very fine cow,” Reichardt told GQ in an email.
Behind the scenes, Eve was known for being sociable and popular. Henry tends to avoid too much contact between people and animal talent on set, so as to not overwhelm the non-human actors, but Eve couldn’t get enough of it. “She loves people more than just about anything else, other than apples. If you’re not paying attention to her, she’s running around and bucking and waving her head, trying to get your attention so that you’ll come in and play with her,” Henry shared. “She thrived on people coming and petting her and brushing her and giving her treats and telling her how beautiful she was.”