Nothing sucks the life out of a good ol' fashioned Hollywood star tour than a bunch of angry paparazzi. Left to stand in the shade under the toothy grin of Sydney's Luna Park, those that weren't bemoaning the 9am photo call were still whining about the night before, when Water For Elephants star Robert Pattinson dodged fans and photogs alike upon arrival at Mascot Airport.
In town for the Australian premiere of the film, Pattinson, co-star Reese Witherspoon and the film's director, Francis Lawrence, finally made an appearance on the harbour foreshore. Adding to the carnival-themed ambience that distributor 20th Century Fox had manufactured was a trucked-in elephant, though its jittery demeanour and constant parading of its back-end to the assembled shutterbugs drew most of the attention away from the beautiful Oscar-winning actress and her dashing co-star (who got into the spirit by posing close to the pachyderm's posterior).
Shepherded indoors for the awaiting throng, Pattinson copped the first barrage of questions, none of which had anything to do with the film (“As someone twice voted world's sexiest…”, that sort of thing). Much was made of Witherspoon's comments that the sex scenes were very unsexy, due to R-Patz's sniffles; the stars played along to the thrill of the giggly tabloiders (“Reese is now saying that some journalist made the whole thing up,” said Pattinson. “For me, it was one of the most erotic moments of my life!”)
Lawrence, who had watched the silly goings-on with a detached bemusement, was drawn on Witherspoon's involvement in the project. “She was the first and only person that I pitched for the role of Marlena. I knew I wanted a very American actress and Reese is smart, sexy and funny but also very tough underneath the smile. The character is a bit of a survivor and I wanted to draw on some of that toughness.”
He was just as ebullient about Pattinson's casting, which was not set in stone until the director met with the British actor (whose jaunty accent and self-deprecating sense of humour a far cry from his surly screen persona). “Rob is a lot like the character of Jacob Jankowski. There's purity in his heart and warmth; he pretends to be cynical most of the time but he is not. I knew if we got some of that onscreen we'd be in good shape.”
The perceived age difference between the leads in Water For Elephants has drawn much critical debate and all three principals had strong and, surprisingly, differing opinions. “One of the things that really interested me about the dynamic of the love triangle was the age differences,” said Lawrence. “August, played by Christoph Waltz, is a lot older than Reese's character and Reese is a bit older than Robert; I think if all the ages had been perfect it would have made it all seem to easy.” Pattinson drew on the age difference as justification for his character to woo Marlena, who would remain childless with ageing ringmaster, August.
Witherspoon was a little non-plussed by all the fuss about the age difference. “I'm playing 30 and he's playing 24, so it's not that big a difference. Nobody has made a big deal about me and Christoph, who is, like, 24 years older than I am!,” she declared, her voice pitching upwards. “Nobody talks about that!”
The press conference petered out with a few more probing questions like “Are you a romantic, Rob?” and “Has Twitter ruined your life?” Witherspoon, her mass of Southern-belle hair and taut jawline painting her every inch the Hollywood beauty, let her attention wander to the harbour view; Pattinson, who slipped his jacket back on in anticipation of things wrapping up, rubbed his face tiredly; Lawrence had disappeared from the stage already, his absence largely unnoticed. One got the impression that recreating the circus world of Depression-era America was a whole lot easier to accomplish than shilling the finished product to the fawning foreign press.