The drama Water for Elephants, based on the acclaimed best-selling novel of the same name and opening in theaters on April 22nd, tells the story of a veterinary student, named Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson), whose entire life changes when his parents die in an accident and he ends up jumping a random train that happens to belong to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Once he is discovered, he is put to work with the animals, where he meets the circus’ shining star, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), and her charismatic husband August (Christoph Waltz), the often violent and abusive owner. This magical world serves as the backdrop for an epic tale of forbidden love, between two individuals hoping for a second chance at happiness.
At the film’s press day, actor Robert Pattinson talked about the impression the novel made on him, his affinity for the time period of the 1930s, working alongside an elephant as a co-star, and how he personally identified with his character’s journey. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What was the impression you got from reading the book that made you want to do a film adaptation?
ROBERT PATTINSON: I think I’ve just always had a bit of an affinity for that era. I always wanted to do a movie around that time. And, I think it was just very solid, how she (author Sara Gruen) created the world there. I just wanted to be a part of it.
How did you approach becoming a person from another time?
PATTINSON: There was a comprehensive creation of the world. I’ve never worked on anything so detailed. There was an embankment with a train track on the top. All the trailers were on one side, and then the circus world was on the other. Once you walked over the tracks, there would be a camera, but that was the only thing from the 21st Century. You could stand on the tracks and look over at everything, and you were in the ‘30s. We were out in the middle of the desert in Fillmore, and there was nothing else around. There was an orchard. We were in the ‘30s. Jack Fisk, the production designer, used authentic pegs and the ropes. Every single thing which built the world was all totally real. And, authentic period underpants do actually help, as well. I actually wore them every single day. Jacqueline West, the costume designer, was unbelievable. Almost everything was real. Every pair of jeans were all from the ‘20s and ‘30s. It was crazy.
What do you love so much, about that time period?
PATTINSON: There’s a wildness to it. I think that’s why I like that period. After that, it’s just white picket fences. It just gets progressively more boring. But, it’s the end of the Wild West. It’s why kids still want to be cowboys, even in England.
What was it like to work with Tai, the elephant, especially in the beginning?
PATTINSON: I wasn’t scared at all. There was only one moment, when we first saw the whole herd together and Gary, Tai’s trainer said, “Sit,” literally as if he were talking to a dog, and it sat down in exactly the same way a dog would. Just seeing that, it’s totally incomprehensible. I basically decided to do the movie, at that point. I hadn’t read the script or anything. It’s very powerful to think that you can have a relationship with these huge beasts.
It’s been said that the elephant took quite a liking to you. How does an elephant flirt?
PATTINSON: I don’t know who started that. I’ve been asked about it all day. It sounds really disturbing. I wasn’t flirting with the elephant. I think I had a relationship with the elephant, but it was based purely on candy. I strategically placed mints. I’d suck a peppermint for a bit, and then stick it onto my body, under my armpits and covering my entire chest, and not tell anyone. So, every single time, the elephant would be constantly sniffing me and I’d be like, “I don’t know, she just really likes me. It’s crazy!” But, I think she was just sniffing around for a treat.
In the film, your character Jacob lies about being a vet to get a job in the circus. Have you ever lied to get an acting job?
PATTINSON: Oh, yeah, all the time. I don’t know if there’s the same thing in America, but there’s a thing called the Spotlight Form in England, where you have all your talents and accents and everything. You just tick these boxes, saying what you’re capable of, as an actor. I just tick everything. I can do any accent in the world. I can literally do any technical skill. I think it’s still like that. I ticked that I can do Lithuanian accents, fluently.
What was it like to do the kissing scenes with Reese Witherspoon, who is so much smaller than you are?
PATTINSON: It’s really easy for me. I’ve got quite bad posture and I’ve got a big, heavy head, so it just slumps down and she was in the right spot, naturally.
How was it to do the scenes where you have to shovel the animal poop?
PATTINSON: I don’t mind working with poop, at all. I have a natural propensity to work on big piles of poop. I’m very familiar with it. I don’t know why I wasn’t grossed out by it, at all. Because everything felt so authentic all the time, you just accept it, as part of the world. The scene where we were in that train car, there were like 10 billion flies. On any other movie, I think I’d be like, “Let’s just do one take!” But, I was perfectly happy to make a little mound and sit there and eat my lunch.
Did you enjoy getting to shoot some of the film in Tennessee?
PATTINSON: There was an amazing moonshine day. It was one of the best days of the shoot. Drinking moonshine in 120 degrees, half of the crew was passed out, after one sip. It was amazing!
Was there anything about Jacob Jankowski’s journey in the film that you, personally, could relate to?
PATTINSON: I don’t know. I guess I had an experience, when I did a Harry Potter film, years ago, and I was just starting to realize that I wanted to be an actor, even though I had already finished three movies, by that point. I remember being in Tokyo and looking out the window and seeing the Tokyo skyline. It made me reflect on what had happened in my life, and I was in awe of what road I had taken, by accident. In terms of being mesmerized by a girl, like he is, I guess that happens.