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Water for Elephants Director, Francis Lawrence, Gives Props to Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon

>> 2011/03/28

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" opens locally in May.
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Biography

Robert Thomas-Pattinson was born on May 13, 1986, in Barnes, a suburb of London, the capital of England. His mother, Clare, worked for a modeling agency, and his father, Richard, imported vintage cars from the U.S. Robert is the youngest of three kids in the Pattinson family, and the only son. He has two older sisters. Elizabeth is three years older than he is, and Victoria is five years older. Pattinson became involved in amateur theatre through the Barnes Theatre Company. After some backstage experience there, he took on acting roles. He caught the attention of an acting agent in a production of Tess of the D'Urbervilles and began looking for professional roles. Since then he has performed in an amateur version of Macbeth at the Old Sorting Office Arts Centre, as well as trying his hand at modeling. more

Musical career

Pattinson plays guitar and piano, and composes his own music. He also appears as the singer of two songs on the Twilight soundtrack:
"Never Think", which he co-wrote with Sam Bradley,
and "Let Me Sign", which was written by Marcus Foster and Bobby Long.
The soundtrack for the film How To Be features three original songs performed by Pattinson and written by composer Joe Hastings.
Listen to Rob's music

Cosmopolis 2012

Water For Elephants 2011

New Moon 2009

How to Be 2008

Bad Mother's Handbook 2007

Filmography

# Maps to the Stars (2014) ... Jerome
# Hold on to Me
# The Rover (2013) .... Reynolds
# Mission: Blacklist
(2013)
# Cosmopolis (2012) .... Eric Packer
# Bel Ami (2012) ....Georges Duroy
# The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 (2012) .... Edward Cullen
# The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (2011) .... Edward Cullen
# Water for Elephants (2011) .... Jacob Jankowski
# The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) .... Edward Cullen
# Remember Me (2010) .... Tyler Hawkins
# The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) .... Edward Cullen
# Twilight (2008/I) .... Edward Cullen
# Little Ashes (2008) .... Salvador Dalí
# How to Be (2008) .... Art
# The Summer House (2008) .... Richard
# Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) .... Cedric Diggory
# The Bad Mother's Handbook (2007) (TV) .... Daniel Gale
# The Haunted Airman (2006) (TV) .... Toby Jugg
# Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) .... Cedric Diggory
# Ring of the Nibelungs (2004) (TV) .... Giselher
# Vanity Fair (2004) (uncredited) .... Older Rawdy Crawley
PRODUCER
# Remember Me (2010) .... executive producer

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