Patrick Donahue, a core roustabout, had a wonderful experience on the set of Water For Elephants and he graciously shared it with us. Let’s have at it!
First, thanks so much for the chance to share the experience! Very flattering; that meant a lot!
To say working on the movie was awesome would be a great understatement. There was so much stuff to see and experience, this won’t do any justice to it, but I’ll talk briefly about some of the highlights!
I was cast as one of the core roustabouts, and was thrown into one of the most eclectic and wonderful groups I’ve ever met. From day one of training in Piru, to the last day when we got to do some fun photoshoots, it was quite an adventure.
In addition to the on-set camaraderie we all developed, it was incredible getting to watch most of the shots; whenever I wasn’t being used, I often watched the monitors to see exactly what you’ll all be seeing on the big screen. Between Director Francis Lawrence and Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto, the shots were nothing short of gorgeous every time. My favorite is a bit of a montage of the rousties setting up the circus, with a lot of rubes watching in the fields as the roustabouts hammer tent stakes into the ground (an epic shot). With the sunset (called ‘magic hour’, as there is so little time to film with -just- the right amount of natural light), and pollen blowing in the air; it’s just breathtaking.
As for the stars, it was awesome getting to see them work.
I was greatly impressed with Rob on two counts; one, he can switch accents between takes so fast! He’d talk in his British dialect while not working, and go right back into his American, and you’d never know he was acting it. He also was great with taking stunt falls. I watched as he was thrown off a train platform in a fight scene a good dozen-plus times, some of which he landed square on his back. But he took it and just rolled with it. Great stuff.
I was most excited to get a chance to see Christoph strut his stuff, and hopefully absorb some of his Oscar winning aura. He couldn’t be more humble either. One day, my friend and I were getting food during a break, and we were near the front of a long line inside the crafty tent (crafty is the term used for where the food is). Christoph came in and just got at the back of the line behind all of the extras. As with most sets, it’s expected that extras let cast and crew go first in food lines as they have the least amount of free time to eat; my friend and I offered to exchange spots with him, and he just waved us off with a smile and said, “no, thank you, please, eat.” I love it when stars are nice, and I will always remember that when I’m the star, talking with an extra on the set of one of my movies someday.
A quick note about Queenie; the dog was so incredibly well trained and cute! So fun to watch him and Mark (Kinko) work together.
One of the last days of shooting was some of the stampede scene, and I got to run next to a llama. That was interesting. He just kept staring at me the whole way wondering what the hell he’d gotten into as dozens and dozens of people were screaming and running.
It was also fun running into some of the wardrobe crew from The Social Network! I had worked on that for a few months helping out as second team, and landed my first line as well! In that time, I got to know a lot of the people on set fairly well, and they couldn’t be nicer, so it was awesome seeing them again. And wait ‘til you see what the wardrobe team put together for this movie; everyone looks fantastic!
The crew couldn’t be nicer either. Some sets can have such a negative energy going around, and everyone is always stressed out and yelling. But here, for the most part, everything was pretty easy going. Everyone was on their A-game and wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly and safely.
And I can’t finish without mentioning the biggest star (literally and figuratively) of the movie – Tai the elephant, who plays Rosie. What an incredible animal. So intelligent. She knows so many commands and is so friendly. She’d often lovingly tap Rob or Resse’s head with her trunk before they started working for the day.
What’s hilarious is knowing what went on during filming, and what you’ll see on the big screen. For example, there is a scene where Christoph’s character beats Rosie mercilessly. On screen, it’s going to look so very dramatic and painful. Meanwhile, I’ll be picturing the trainer off screen saying “Tai move forward. Tai move back. Tai open your mouth” between Christoph’s lines. She’s completely safe and happy, and on screen it will look vicious and horrible. The magic of Hollywood. Love it!
This brief message doesn’t do it justice at all, but it was an incredible experience! Good friends, good times, an amazing cast and crew… I know all of you are going to be thrilled come next April!