If Reese Witherspoon ever gets tired of acting, it sounds like she could have a circus career, for real. At least, that’s the sense one gets when talking to “Water for Elephants” choreographer Sebastien Stella, who spent weeks training Reese and Christoph Waltz for their circus performances in the feature that also stars Robert Pattinson. He tells us that both stars were “great, just awesome” to work with. Reese especially so. “She was willing to do anything asked of her, and we made the most of her background in gymnastics and tumbling when creating her act. Pretty quickly I was expecting her to do difficult tricks, pushing her to do more and more,” says Stella, whose background ranges from starring stints with Cirque du Soliel to serving as aerial choreographer and co-performer with pop superstars the likes of Pink. (He’s also seen performing in the film.)
In fact, Stella says the only challenging part of working with Reese was trying to find rehearsal times. “She’s a very busy lady.” Challenges of choreographing the movement in the film included authentically recreating a 1931 circus experience — complete with old-fashioned rigging — while making sure it had enough wow factor “to connect emotionally for 2011 audiences.”
He not only dealt with the human performers involved, but all the animals.
“Of course, the story of the movie has to do with violence with the animals, which is terrible” — and the reason veterinarian Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) enters the picture. But behind the scenes, “Everyone took amazing care of the animals,” Stella assures. “They were treated like stars, respected as artists.”