Category Archives: Francis Lawrence
Setting a moving love story during the Great Depression might prove quite a challenge, especially considering it unfolds in this whole mysterious world of a traveling circus, no less. But director Francis Lawrence turns Sara Gruen’s acclaimed novel into a sweeping, cinematic drama for the silver screen, and one that promises to take its audience into a world beyond the thrill of the circus and into the life under the Big Top.
“Water for Elephants” follows the story of Jacob (played by Robert Pattinson of “Twilight” fame), whose world changes dramatically after his parents die in a car accident. Boarding a train out of town, he soon realizes he inadvertently joins a circus train where he meets equestrian star, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).
The love that develops between Jacob and the married Marlena is compelling, and Lawrence is grateful that his main cast has truly been up to the task. In casting Witherspoon in the role of Marlena, Lawrence says, “Reese was the first person I cast in the film and she was a great creative partner in the early days when we were putting this project together.”
But Witherspoon holds an allure that Lawrence describes as “a timeless beauty.” As Marlena, Witherspoon also has to work with a graceful elephant and Lawrence thankfully notes, “She loves animals and has no fear of trying anything. [But] also, Marlena is a bit tough and hardened. She isn’t a victim and Reese… she is very strong.”
Opposite Witherspoon, Lawrence cast Pattinson, a decision he’s made after sitting with him for just a couple of hours. “I thought he was naturally perfect for Jacob Jankowski. It was tough to try and find a young man of 23 or 24 who didn’t feel like a boy—and Rob was already becoming a man. He is thoughtful, intelligent, emphatic, strong and confident while still being a bit uncomfortable in his own skin.”
In order to play the two roles well, both actors had to understand the nature of the relationship between Jacob and Marlena. “There is a nice slow burn to their growing passion,” Lawrence notes. “I think Jacob falls instantly for Marlena… but she is guarded, and doesn’t trust many people. Through his actions in the movie, Jacob starts to break through that wall and she discovers that he is unusual and quite exceptional in this world of the circus. I think she falls for his morality.”
So the bond that forms between Jacob and Marlena is the core of the movie, and it is crucial that his two leads are believable in this world. Lawrence admits, “Chemisty is always something that one worries about, but the worries went away in rehearsal. I saw it immediately.”
And more than the chemistry with each other, Witherspoon and Pattinson also had to worry about acting with the circus animals. Lawrence reveals, “We worked with quite a lot of animals and our actors were going to be around them a lot, so I thought that it would be a good idea for them to spend a lot of training time with them and getting comfortable with them.”
Witherspoon, in fact, had to have the most training, because “she had to perform with the animals as well. She needed to rehearse the horse act and the elephant acts. It was a lot of work for her but she really worked hard and it paid off.”
On the whole, when asked to name his favorite scene in the movie, Lawrence says he has a lot. But aside from Jacob’s scene alone in the forest when the train arrives, the director notes, “I love the scene when the circus is setting up for the first time and I love the dinner sequence where Jacob and Marlena dance for the first time.”
And it is these interactions between his leads and the reactions people get from watching scenes like this that Lawrence hopes would resonate with viewers. “One of the reasons I wanted to make this movie was that it has hope, magic and beauty. I really hope people respond to that,” Lawrence says.
“Water for Elephants” (April 22)
“I Am Legend” director Francis Lawrence aims to capture the magic in Sara Gruen’s best-seller about a traveling circus. Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson put on the show, while Richard (“Fisher King”) LaGravenese wrote the script that convinced “Inglourious Basterds” discovery Christoph Waltz that this was a better way to go than David Cronenberg’s next picture.
For Robert Pattinson, it was the elephant that sealed the deal.
The Twilight star, 24, was on the fence about taking the role of Jacob, a veterinary student who joins a traveling circus in the upcoming Depression-era romantic drama Water for Elephants – until the actor met Tai, his 42-year-old, nearly 9000-lb. costar.
“Rob was non-committal until he saw the elephant,” recalls the film’s animal coordinator Paul ‘Sled’ Reynolds. “After he met Tai, he knew he wanted to do this movie. He absolutely adored that elephant.”
PEOPLE has a first look at some of the film’s rich images – and Pattinson’s near smooch with Tai.
The adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel, which arrives in theaters on April 22, tells the story of a love triangle that develops between Jacob, Reese Witherspoon’s Marlena, who is the show’s bottle-blonde star performer, and her husband August, the circus’s abusive ringleader, played by Oscar-winning Inglourious Basterds star Christoph Waltz.
While it was important to the filmmakers that Pattinson bond with Tai, their chief concern was making sure sparks flew between him and Witherspoon, 34.
“I saw early on that those two had a real on-screen chemistry,” the film’s director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) tells PEOPLE. “There was just this thing that happens between the two of them when they are together as those two characters that was very exciting.”
A Sensitive Guy
Lawrence became convinced that Pattinson could pull off the challenging role of Jacob shortly after a meeting with the British heartthrob to discuss the part.
“When I sat down with Rob, I found that despite his success, there was a real sense of humility with him,” says Lawrence. “I found that he was kind of uncomfortable in his own skin, and maybe even uncomfortable with everything that was happening to him. Rob is a very sensitive guy who very much loves animals.”
Adds Lawrence, “I found that, wow, this guy kind of already is Jacob.”