Water for Elephants - Robert Pattinson
Jacob (Robert Pattinson) whose unexpected career path leads him to forbidden love and to heroism © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox, Photo by David James

Yes, there is life after The Twilight Saga for Robert Pattinson! The young actor who portrays vampire Edward Cullen in the cult series, now stars opposite Oscar winning actress Reese Witherspoon in the film adaptation of Sara Gruen’s popular novel, Water for Elephants, and more than holds his own.

Set in the 1930s, he plays Jacob, a veterinary student from the wrong side of the tracks who joins the Benzini Bros. Circus and falls in love with Marlena (Witherspoon) the star attraction, who is under the oppressive thumb of her husband, August (Christoph Waltz), the circus’s owner and ringmaster.

What was it about this film adaptation that made you want to do it?

Jacob (Robert Pattinson) gets acquainted with Rosie the elephant © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

Someone sent me the book, and I immediately connected to it. 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 Sara created the world there. I just wanted to be a part of it.

Somehow, it seemed like (director) Francis (Lawrence) and (screenwriter) Richard (LaGravenses) had added even more to the story. Jacob is mysterious and quiet; he’s an observer. He’s always watching people and he has an intuitive relationship with animals, and a deep understanding of human nature.

Jacob notices Marlena’s beauty and charisma right away. He also notes her strong bond with the animals she works with during her performances; that’s another thing that they share.

Was there anything about Jacob Jankowski’s journey in the film that you, personally, could relate to?

Veterinary school student Jacob (Robert Pattinson) meets and falls in love with Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), a star performer in a circus of a bygone era © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox, Photo by David James

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.

How did you approach becoming a person from another era?

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.

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?

Jacob (Robert Pattinson) portrays Jacob, an idealistic young man who finds his destiny in a magical place © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

I wasn’t scared at all. There was only one moment, when we first saw the whole herd together and Gary (Johnson), 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.

Rosie’s demeanor is so fascinating that it magnifies the characters’ experiences with her. And I felt exactly the same way working with Tai. I’ve never been next to such an enormous animal that is so graceful and careful around people.

It’s been said that the elephant took quite a liking to you. How does an elephant flirt?

Against all odds, Jacob (Robert Pattinson) and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) find lifelong love © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox

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 didn’t 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?

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.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane