Let’s be honest, when Reese Witherspoon sits down to discuss her new film, Water for Elephants — an adaptation of the best-selling book about a young veterinary student (Twilight star Robert Pattinson) who joins a travelling circus and finds himself in a love triangle with the star performer (Witherspoon) and sadistic ringmaster (Christoph Waltz) — what inquiring minds really want to know is what it’s like to kiss R. Patz?
“Rob possibly had the most hideous, horrible cold of any co-star I’ve ever had to do a love scene with ever in my entire (life),” Witherspoon admits with faux repulsion. “I’m talking green, infectious, disgusting! He was literally snorting and snotting through every second of it and it was not appealing. I was just trying not to get sick the whole time,” she laughs.
While her rendezvous with Pattinson was less than ideal, Witherspoon forged another very deep connection on set with Tai, the film’s titular pachyderm. Growing up in Tennessee, the 35-year-old Oscar-winner was used to riding horses but admits nothing prepared her to “ride (an elephant) bareback, in a leotard, holding on with one hand.”
“I worked with Tai closely and intensely for a while, developing the routine and practicing,” she explains. “It was a very emotional experience for me. One of my favourite stories, which speaks to the intelligence of (Tai) … was when we were shooting a night shoot really late one night. The next day she was so tired and I asked the trainers, ‘Why is she so tired?’ And they said, ‘Well, she stayed up all night telling all the other elephants what she had been up to.’ She lives with six other elephants, who talk to each other by roaring. … The trainers said the elephants roared for nearly an hour before they went to bed.”
Perhaps one of the things Tai was trumpeting about was how glorious Witherspoon looks in the film, channelling Jean Harlow in tight platinum curls and luxurious satin dresses, that slither over her body. Witherspoon says she watched hours of old films to research her role, changing the way she walked, spoke and stood.
“I had this whole dream of doing an incredible ’30s accent,” the actress giggles, “and then after the first day (director Francis Lawrence) said, ‘I don’t think you should do that anymore. It’s really hard to understand what you’re saying.’”