Even two of the world’s most famous Hollywood A-listers can be intimidated when they meet a brand new co-star. Especially when the co-star in question is nearly nine feet tall and weighs 9,000 lbs.
Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson admit to being a bit overwhelmed when they first encountered Tai, the 42-year-old Asian elephant who plays Rosie, the seemingly untrainable circus pachyderm in their new film “Water For Elephants,” director Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel.
“Francis and I went out and visited Tai probably three or four months before shooting and he brought a camera,” recalls Witherspoon, whose character performs stunts under the big top with her prodigious partner. “I was like ‘I wonder why he’s bringing a camera?’ And then he took pictures of me of every moment of the first experiences I had of meeting her, and then her picking me up. And then he sent me the pictures and I was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ So I really had this memory of the first time. I was terrified. I screamed. I like animals but this was a completely unique experience.”
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Pattinson, however, was more awestruck than fearful at first. “I don’t think I was scared at all,” he says. “There was only one moment when we first saw the whole pack of elephants, the herd together, and Gary, Tai’s trainer, said ‘Sit!’ – literally as if you were talking to a dog – and she sat down in exactly the same way a dog would. And just seeing that – I mean, it’s totally incomprehensible when you see it. I basically decided to do the movie at that point. I hadn’t read the script or anything. It’s very powerful, thinking that you can have a relationship with these huge beasts.”
Pattinson’s no stranger to addressing rumors about his romantic life, and he takes great pains to clarify the true nature of his relationship with Tai following frequent reports that the two were quite smitten with each other.
“This is insane – I don’t know who started this thing!” he laughs. “It sounds really disturbing. It’s like you’ve been flirting with the elephant. I think I had a relationship with the elephant and it was based purely on candy. I strategically placed mints – like I’d suck a peppermint for a minute and then stick it onto my body, under my armpits, covering my entire chest – all the time 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.” I think she was just sniffing around for the treats.”
Witherspoon and Pattinson also address their own on-screen chemistry in the film, which was achieved with a little off-screen aid – she’s 5’2” and he’s 6’1”. “What’s it like to kiss a tall guy?” says Witherspoon. “In the movies, they put you on a box and then you can kiss the taller guy!”
It was simpler for Pattinson, he admits. “I’ve got quite bad posture and she’s the perfect height. I’ve got a big, heavy head so I just slump down and she’s in the right spot naturally.”
Witherspoon also admits that, after an extensive regimen of acrobatic and gymnastic training, she didn’t resist donning Marlena’s various sparkly but skin-baring '30s circus costumes. “I was training a lot, riding the elephant and riding horses,” she says. “I’ve made a conscious effort all my career to not end up in a bathing suit in a movie, and here I was in this movie wearing a leotard in the majority of it. It was horrifying! But it was inspiring to have Jacqueline West designing them and they’re beautiful. It was a different time when women loved their curves and enjoyed being voluptuous and all that sort of thing. All the costumes I think are very flattering for women in the film.”
Pattinson’s Depression Era wardrobe items aided him as well, even if they went unseen. “Authentic period underpants do actually help!” he reveals. “I actually wore them every single day. Jacqueline West’s costumes were unbelievable, some of the stuff. Almost everything was real. Every pair of jeans everyone had, those were all from the 20s and 30s. It’s crazy.”