From Cinemania Magazine - April 2011
Water for Elephants: Life is a circus.
Wild animals, trains, dwarfs and acrobats. This is what Robert Pattinson’s life has turned into: a circus
It’s the time of the recession in the United States, during the 30’s in the XX century. The inhabitants of Weehaken, New Jersey, wear the clothes of the time: the men with hats, ties, suspenders and coats, the women with long flower print dresses; the children with crops and caps. The crowd maintains itself in expectation of the parade of the fabulous Benzini brothers’ circus, whose promotional posters announce it as “The most fabulous show on earth!” Everything would be perfect of the technicians and production team of a film was not walking on the same street, which break the illusion of a trip to the past.
This is the Water for Elephants set, film shot in the 20th Century Fox studios, in Los Angeles, under the direction of Fancis Lawrence (Constantine, 2005: I am Legend, 20007), and is one of the most anticipated productions of 2011 due to its appealing story of romance, based on Sara Gruen’s best seller (adapted by Richard LaGravensee), and above all for its stellar cast: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Patinson and Cristoph Waltz.
The story is centered on Jacob’s history (Pattinson), who, about to graduate as a veterinary, abandons his studies upon his parents deaths. Chance unites him t a traveling circus, where he will become sentimentally involved with Marlena (Witherspoon), star acrobat and wife to the abusive tamer August (Waltz), which will create a fiery love triangle.
THE CIRCUS OF FILMING
Before interviews, reporters are placed in a convenient place to observe the circus parada, composed of a musical band, the clowns, the strong man, the dwarves, the tumblers and trapeze acts, as well as the different animals; a giraffe, a lion, two camels, two lamas, three ponies, three zebras, some mounting horses, a hippopotamus, and trained dogs. However, the main event is Reese’s revelation, mounted on Rosie the elephant, accompanied a few meters away by Waltz and Pattinson. The corwd of about 300 extras which have been called for this job, applaud this circus troop.
The filming of this scene, with three cameras, is repeated several times, until finally, the director is satisfied. Then, some shots are filmed in silence in which the extras must simulate the hand and facial gestures of their cries. Later, the principal camera changes locations and the fields and backgrounds are filmed, along with the foregrounds and details. The execution of all this is the result of long work of planning alongside the director of photography, who is none other than Mexican Rodrigo Prieto (Amores Perros, Secreto en la Montana, Biutiful), whom at any given moment makes himself visible giving instructions to his assistants, with script in hand and focused on the monitor of what is shot on steady cam.
There’s a time in which Reese shows off her gymnast and animal training gifts. She has become great friends with Rosie. She gracefully hangs from her trunk to reach the ground, and then to get back on, she receives the elephant’s help, which shows an advanced training job.
“Of course I was scared,” she confeses later. “The first time I got on I screamed, but it went away afterwards. I learned her personality and earned her trust.”
Reese comes to our interview accompanied by Pattinson who wears his characters clothes: knee high boots, tight pants, button up shirt.
“Its very gratifying participating in a film like this,” says Reese, “where there’s authentic sets, with real characters and a good story. There’s no computer effects, except for a few. I think the audience is hungry for authentic stories that they can relate to. Besides, every specialist that has participated in this film is a craftsman: the set designer, costume designer…its beautiful watching the work they do.”
Photo captions: top – The circus tops were raised with the same techniques used in the 30s.
Bottom- Reese Witherspoon does not lose her glamour any second. Her costumes were designed by Jacqueline West, also responsible for the costumes in Red.
This visit during filming turns out to be very illustrative – to which Cinemania was exclusively invited – each time that one of the most colorful and spectacular scenes of the film is enacted: the circus parade through town. At first look, one is dazzled by the wardrobe, and the first level ambiance, in this old set that has been used by Fox to film classic films like The Grapes of Wrath (1940), or Hello Dolly! (1969).
“I always had a fascination with the circus,” Reese tells us. “I was a gymnast, did some acrobatics, trapeze tricks, stuff like that.
“Yea, me too,” says Pattinson, “although I wasn’t particularly obsessed with that world. I think I was afraid of it when I was younger. I supposes circuses caused a more profound effect during the time that was recreated in the film, when there was no Zoo or television.”
Both protagonists are very friendly towards each other, because despite the age difference, they’ve known each other a long time and make a good pair onscreen, due to Reese looking younger than her age. “ I hate this story, it makes me look old (laughs). We met in a movie. I was 24 and they needed a younger woman that had a child. Reese blushes joking with Pattinson to whom she cedes the floor. “She was my mom,” he comments between laughter, “it was in Vanity Fair.”
Whatever the case was, they are both very enthusiastic with their roles n Water for Elephants, because in it some very rich and intense roles. “My character has a very intense and interesting journey,” describes Reese, “because she starts to work very young, during the Great Depression, when everyone is looking for a way to survive. She has a true survivors attitude. On the other hand, she finds herself in the middle of an abusive relationship from her husband, and Rob’s character (Pattinson) makes her see that there are better things out there and that it’s possible to have a better life.”
“What I’ve enjoyed the most about my character is being surrounded by animals,” says Pattinson. “I’ve never interacted with an elephant. There’s something very peaceful in her (Rosie), that I enjoy,” he states.
ONCE AGAIN THE VILLAN
In another conversation, Christoph Waltz shares a similar opinion: “One fascinating thing about the older circuses was the animals. There are hardly any circuses like that because they are under greater projection (luckily, we say). If you whip an elephant it’s more likely you’ll receive one in return. Having spent three months with a paqyderm is the most incredible experience you can imagine, because they are very intelligent, “comments the Austrian actor.
He also jokes when remembering the training session before filming. “Rosie, the elephant, did everything she was required with precision – mentions Waltz – She’s very obedient and intelligent. So I told the director, ‘Wouldn’t you love if all the actors were like her, patient and focused? They are the ideal actors!” he laughs.
Waltz has a strong personality, a European elegance, a firm attitude and a subtle humor that is evident in all his replies. “I can’t describe my character,” he replies to my query,” I don’t do it because what I do for a living is to interpret the character and what you do for a living is to describe the character. So, let’s keep our positions.” Late on he gives us some hints to understand the difficulties of his job. “It’s a therapeutic exercise to have sympathy for an unsympathetic character,” explains Waltz about his role. “I wouldn’t say this character is detestable because that would be a judgment. What I do is translate his rhythm into actions and emotions. If I gave you an opinion about my role, frankly it would seem boring. I think the opinion should be formed observing how he develops,” he states.
Photo captions: top – Robert Pattinson had to get very dirty during this shoot, due to a nomadic life and cleaning animal cells don’t favor cleanliness.
Middle – Love blooms between Jacob and Marlena: it was difficult for both actors to be serious when filming romantic scenes.
Bottom – Christoph Waltz once again appears as a brutally intelligent but violent man.
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