Excerpt from Vogue.com Awesome interview with Reese Witherspoon and lots of Water for Elephants talk. Rob weighs in on working with Reese too.
It’s far less of a stretch to imagine Witherspoon as the scrappy ingenue who will do whatever it takes to survive in the Depression-era circus world of her latest film, Water for Elephants, based on the best-selling novel and directed by Francis Lawrence. That role is the reason, a couple of days before our lunch, I find myself inside a giant circus tent pitched in a dusty lot near the train tracks in Riverside, California. Witherspoon appears in front of me and asks, “Wanna see something?” She leads me over to one of her costars, Tai, the 42-year-old elephant she spent six months with last summer, and coos, “Hiiii, laaaady,” and then runs a hand down her trunk. “I love that her trunk is both her nose and her hand,” says Witherspoon as the 9,000-pound creature begins sniffing around to see what sort of treat is in the offing. “She has this incredible dexterity; she can pick up a log, but she can also pick up something this tiny.” Witherspoon holds up one blue peanut M&M and then flattens out her palm, and Tai gently plucks it from her hand and puts it in her mouth.
Set in the early thirties, the story follows a young Ivy League veterinary student played by Robert Pattinson, who, left with nothing after his parents die in a car accident, joins the circus, where he falls in love with Witherspoon’s character, Marlena. Marlena is not only the star of the circus, whose act with four horses and then an elephant is the show’s big attraction; she is also married to the charismatic, controlling ringmaster, played with sinister menace by Christoph Waltz.
Lots more after the jump. Rob talks more about the animals and Reese’s toughness.
Witherspoon has made more than a few films where she has had to train for months to learn an entirely new skill set before a single frame was shot: most famously learning to sing like June Carter Cash in Walk the Line. Now the circus. “About three months before the movie started, I went to circus school,” she says, “doing trapeze and acrobatics with Cirque du Soleil performers. A lot of it is flexibility and learning to bend your body backward. I had been a gymnast when I was little, so getting that flexibility back was really fun.” Then she went to a ranch to train with Tai; she was slightly nervous the first day. “She could crush you with her jaw, but she knows the exact right amount of pressure with which to pick you up but not hurt you. It’s really incredible. I trust her more than any other animal I have ever been around.”
Interestingly, the elephant in the room turned out to be the least of anyone’s troubles. (As Pattinson puts it, “She was the most consistently professional creature I have ever worked with.”) It was the horses—two white Andalusians and two black Friesians—that turned out to be high-strung and unpredictable. “Reese grew up around horses,” says Lawrence, “and she owns a couple that she rides now, and even she was scared of them.” Says Witherspoon: “I’ve always been a little bit of a tomboy that way, so I just always enjoy the thrill of doing something dangerous.”
She got more than she wished for. Not only did she get thrown from a horse one day, Pattinson tells a story about shooting a scene in which one of the horses is lying down in a train car with Witherspoon curled up on the ground next to it when suddenly the horse jumped to its feet and stepped on her leg. “I could see in Reese’s face that it must have hurt more than anything, and she played it off like it was absolutely nothing,” says Pattinson. “And then the next day she had this enormous bruise. It could have quite easily broken her leg, but she didn’t mention it to anybody. She is just incredibly brave that way.”
Witherspoon’s toughness was one of the main reasons Lawrence cast her in the film. “What I liked is that there’s that determination, but there’s also a sense of humor and a sense of vulnerability. It must come from her family and upbringing. You sort of feel like if she sets her mind to something, it’s going to happen—nothing is going to get in her way. And that’s part of what keeps her interesting—and oddly a little dangerous.”
Pattinson, too, thinks there’s more to Witherspoon than meets the eye. “In terms of public perception, she’s thought of as America’s Sweetheart. And she kind of is in a lot of ways. But I think that she’s a lot bawdier than that, a lot more raucous. It did actually shock me to see that. She’s tough. You wouldn’t want to get into an argument with her at all.” He laughs.
“You can always tell that she will be incredibly nice to anyone who’s not an idiot, but it’s always very clear that there’s a line you really shouldn’t cross.” (When I tell Witherspoon that Pattinson said this, her response is classic Reese: “Oh, yeah. I’m a little junkyard dog.”)
If only she had brought some of that edgy danger to her performance. Although her scenes in the ring with the horses and the elephant are breathtaking, not least of all because you know that she is doing all of the stunts herself, and she looks fantastic in 1930s cut-on-the-bias evening gowns (and even committed to dyeing her hair platinum for the movie), it unfortunately feels like she’s holding back in some way. Perhaps it was hard to compete with the director’s overheated take on an already melodramatic story, in which terrible things happen to everyone, animals and humans alike. A feel-good movie this is not.
Read the full article at Vogue.com