Over the past fifteen years, Crystal has worked alongside a lot of big stars, who’ve tended to describe her in the tone of a jocular, anthropomorphizing shtick. During the press tour for Night at the Museum, in which Crystal stole Stiller’s character’s keys, bit his nose, and, most memorably, slapped the bejesus out of him, Stiller recalled that on set, Gunderson would shout, “ ‘Get him! Get him! Hit him harder! Hit him harder!’ And then they give it a treat.
“I really dislike the monkey,” Stiller added. “There’s no way to feel great about having a monkey slap your face on any level.”
“It combines the worst aspects of working with children and animals when you have an animal that looks like a child,” said Robin Williams, who played Teddy Roosevelt in the movie, and whom Crystal went to the bathroom on in an unscripted moment (Williams, also on the press tour, seems to have been confused about Crystal’s gender, possibly because she can play both male and female). “He overacts like crazy. If he made those faces as a human, we’d be like, ‘What’s he on?’ Plus, what human can [defecate] on you in the middle of a scene and people would be like ‘Awww, great’?”
“She pretended not to know me on the first day of shooting,” recalled Hangover Part II co-star Bradley Cooper, “even though we worked together on Failure to Launch.”
Gunderson advises actors who are going to work with Crystal to ignore her, The Rules style. “Play hard to get,” he says. “Seriously. If you’re trying to solicit her attention in the beginning, she’s going to shy away from you, like, What are your intentions? But if you just play it cool, like she’s not even there … within five to ten minutes, she’ll be on you.”
When Crystal isn’t working, she lives with Gunderson and a small menagerie (dogs, horses, a cat, another female capuchin, named Squirt) at his home in Antelope Valley, in northern Los Angeles County. At night, Crystal joins him in bed. Gunderson puts your average Park Slope family to shame, sharing his mattress with (in addition to his wife and, sometimes, his kids) not just Crystal but Squirt and a Chihuahua. “It gets pretty crowded,” Gunderson says. Crystal sleeps at least eight hours a night.
The original Animal Practice pilot script called for a chimpanzee, but the people at Birds & Animals advised the producers that chimps have a narrow age window when they can be worked with, before they become too aggressive to risk putting with actors. And they’re more expensive, because of the cost of acquiring and training them. As Kirk points out to me, “by age 6, males will tear your face off.” A capuchin’s average life expectancy, on the other hand, is 40 to 50 years, with a professional life span nearly as long—Crystal might work into her forties, at which point Animal Practice would be in its record-breaking 25th season.
Plus she was already known to several of the creative team, who were crazy about her. The Russo brothers had worked with her on Community, where she played a recurring character called Annie’s Boobs. Armstrong, who co-wrote The Hangover Part II, had met Crystal in Thailand. “Once you work with Crystal, you think, ‘Oh, there’s going to be some other great animals we can work with that are just as well trained,’ ” Armstrong says. “And really, as soon as we started thinking about it, there’s nowhere else to go but to Crystal. She’s just the best. She’s really a uniquely talented animal.”