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.
The Internet is popping with loving reviews for Gore Verbinski’s Rango, but might Water for Elephants be the first great, no-caveats-like-it’s-animated film of the year? If the second trailer for the Reese Witherspoon-Robert Pattinson three-hanky weeper is any indication, quite possibly.
I know: You’ve probably got
fangs knives out for Water for Elephants, if only because of the presence of Edward Cullen and director Francis Lawrence (he of the immortal I Am Legend), but we’re now two trailers deep into the marketing campaign for this thing, and it still looks kinda great. Well, it looks good, thanks to Lawrence and his cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Brokeback Mountain, Biutiful), but it actually seems like a worthwhile adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestseller. Pattinson makes for a winning-but-tortured protagonist, Witherspoon has a great classic movie goddess (not goddesses, Charlie Sheen) vibe, and Christoph Waltz seems perfectly capable of pulling off the mustache twirling villainy that Water for Elephants needs. Considering how bad this early crop of 2011 movies has been — and how the prospects for March don’t look that much better — isn’t it possible for Elephants to be the best film of 2011*? Here’s hoping…
Yesterday I posted a scan of the cover of the new Vanity Fair featuring Rob . Here’s the pic from VanityFair.com plus the article.
The Article from VanityFair.com
Robert Pattinson doesn’t like to fly anymore, because flying means airports, and airports mean encountering people who might go bananas when they see him, screaming and crying and trying to touch him and asking him to bite their necks. Shy, for an actor, Pattinson, who turns 25 next month, says he finds the hysteria that has surrounded him ever since he first appeared as the gallant teenage vampire Edward Cullen in the first Twilight movie, in 2008, “quite strange.”
“This thing with everyone knowing you,” he says one day in Baton Rouge, where he’s filming the fourth and fifth installments in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn: Part I and Part II, “it’s weird, because people have this one-sided relationship where they look at your picture and feel they know you more than someone they actually know.” And, Pattinson adds, “I don’t really know myself that well.”
And so—given his aversion to air travel, and his feeling that he could use some time to get to know himself—Pattinson decided that, when he had to get from Los Angeles to New Orleans to join the Twilight cast in November, he would drive. “It was awesome,” he says of the trip, which he made with two friends from London. “I went on service roads the whole time. I navigated it on an iPhone.” This updated Kerouacian adventure took them through Arizona and New Mexico, where they came upon the tiny Native American town of Zuni. “It didn’t seem like America at all,” Pattinson says nostalgically. “Me and my friends were the only white people.”
They stopped in a bar in Lubbock, Texas, where, for the first time in as long as Pattinson can remember, he sat and had a beer, undisturbed by paparazzi or fans. “No one recognized me or anything,” he says. “And I was like, Ah, this is really cool, sitting there eating chicken wings and stuff.” He’d been searching for a place where he could feel what it’s like to just be himself, and thought he had finally found it.
But then something happened. Word got out. “They always find out somehow,” he says resignedly. Suddenly there were a thousand people in the street, and the police had to come and control the crowd. A bouncer asked him, “You want us to go and knock someone out?,” and Pattinson says, “I was like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t need to hit anybody.’ ” Now he and his friends were trapped in the same bar that had been an oasis of anonymity. A police escort had to take them back to their hotel.
A few months later in Baton Rouge, Pattinson says he doesn’t feel like going out, as there’s no telling when a simple trip to a restaurant might ignite another riot. “And I’ll just be like this,” he says, putting his head down on the table, hiding in the crook of his arm. He picks his head up again and—oh, wow. He can’t escape his looks any more than he can escape the attention of his fans. His face has a kind of gorgeousness one sees in the faces of children, with its perfect pale skin, red lips, large eyes. It’s hard to say it any other way: he’s beautiful.
But such superlatives are probably just the kind of thing that would make him cringe and sweat even more profusely than he’s doing now, through his light-blue cotton button-down. He seems nervous; he says he’s nervous. This interview thing isn’t his thing. “I’m just so boring,” he says, running his hands repeatedly through his thick brown hair until it stands on end. “I’m just so dried up.” He’s chain-smoking American Spirits, drinking coffee and water and Snapple iced tea, nibbling at chocolate-covered pretzels left in a bowl for him by his assistant.
Outside, we can hear the growling of dogs. “I hope they’re not killing poor Martin,” says Pattinson, getting up from the kitchen table and peering out the window. Martin is a stray, the underdog of a pack of dogs belonging to the assistants for Pattinson and his Twilight co-star Kristen Stewart. The assistants are sharing this cozy rental house in a quiet residential section of Baton Rouge. They’ve lit a crackling fire and scented candles to keep Pattinson comfortable while he does his interview.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Pattinson says, returning to the table. Ever since he came back to the Twilight set, he says, he doesn’t feel—well, quite himself. “My brain doesn’t work anymore. I haven’t any memory. I can’t write. All I can do is sign my name. I tried to write the other day—it looked like I was writing in Braille.” I ask him to write something on my notepad; he does, and it’s illegible. “See?” he says. “It looks like spiders have written it.”
There’s a joking element to his bleak description of his state of mind, but he’s being serious as well. It seems the restrictions of living in the bubble of his immense fame are starting to get to him. “I’ve just kind of stopped doing everything,” he says. “I never change the channel in my trailer. I just watch reruns of House of Payne and Two and a Half Men. I love Cops—I think it’s my favorite TV show.
“God,” he says, laughing, “I sound like such a loser.”
MORE AFTER THE JUMP
“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.”