Armchair Casting Director: Water For Elephants

Published on May 30th, 2010 in: Books, Movies, Over the Gadfly's Nest |

By Lisa Anderson

Over a year ago, I saw that a friend of mine was listening to a book called Water for Elephants on audiobook. I did not know at the time that it had been a commercial and critical success, or that author Sara Gruen had orginally written it as part of National Novel Writing Month. I did, however, have a fascination with elephants at the time, so I asked her to let me borrow it.

water for elephants

It actually took me a while to get around to listening to the discs, but once I did, I enjoyed the story. It unfolds in the memory of Jacob Jankowski, a 93-year-old man living in a nursing home.

As a young man, Jacob abandons his almost-complete veterinary training and literally runs off to join the circus when a tragic accident claims his parents. He signs on as the circus’s vet, and quickly learns the reality of how the animals are treated, as well as the hierarchy between performers and crew. He also falls for Marlena, one of the circus’s star horseback riders, and she returns his feelings. The only problem is, Marlena is married to the head animal trainer, August, a brutal, manipulative man with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

Recently, I learned that not only is Water for Elephants being made into a movie, but Robert Pattinson is already cast as Jacob.

My first thought, believe it or not, was not, “Ugh! Not the kid from Twilight!” Or even “Ooh, goody, Edward!”

It was: “Hunh. He’d make a better August.”

And I’m quite serious. Putting aside the question of whether Pattinson has the acting chops for either role, some of his recent projects indicate his desire to be taken seriously as an actor: his turn as Salvador Dali in Little Ashes, the romantic drama Remember Me, and the currently-filming Bel Ami, based on a novel by Guy de Maupassant.

pattinson water

I think that a villainous role is what he needs right now to prove his range, and give his career some tone. He may have played moody or morally ambiguous characters before, but they were still protagonists. An actual antagonist—especially a mad one—might prove both startling and refreshing.

There are practical considerations, too. Jacob is supposed to have red hair—and, without going into spoilers, that’s an important plot point. I know there’s such a thing as hair dye, but Pattinson is one of those actors who is so familiar that such a change can prove distracting. Also, I would have to revisit the novel to be sure, but my mental image of August was someone who was, at most, ten years older than his wife Instead, he is being played by Christopher Waltz, who is a full 20 years older than Reese Witherspoon, who is playing Marlena.

I plan to see Water for Elephants anyway, and I hope for the best, but it will be hard not to wonder how more interesting it could have been with the teen-heartthrob lead in a riskier role.

Water for Elephants started filming earlier this month and is slated for a 2011 release.

2 Responses to “Armchair Casting Director: Water For Elephants


  1. Popshifter » My Top Ten (or is it 11?) For 2011: Movies To Look For:
    January 31st, 2011 at 12:06 am

    […] I’ve written about this one before. The book tells the story of a young veterinary student who literally runs away and joins the circus after tragedy leaves him alone in the world. Its story unfolds through the frame of his life as an old man. Whatever you think of the lead, Robert Pattison, the book leads me to believe that this may be some of the best material he’s had to work with . . . and the trailer makes it look like a tearjerker. […]

  2. Magda:
    February 2nd, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Have you ever had the thought that Pattinson is the the new Orlando Bloom? Granted, we are jumping from schoolboy mages and vampires to elves here, but I could see a career comparison.

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