In between walks with our clients, I recently had the opportunity to work as a background actor on the Robert Pattinson/Reese Witherspoon film Water for Elephants. I was on set for five days in Valencia, California, surrounded by hundreds of extras, crew, and circus animals.Â Now don't get me wrong — I'm as big a Twilight fan as any 28-year should be (aka I'm not all 13-year-old-girl about it, but I dig those little vampires. I admit it). So imagine my surprise when the actor I couldn't take my eyes off of wasn't Rob, or Reese, or even Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz. I was amazed, enthralled, mesmerized…with Tai. The elephant.
I'd never seen an elephant up close before. My experience was limited to trips to the Milwaukee Zoo as a little girl, where you're lucky if the animals even come out from their faux habitats to make an appearance. I don't remember having a particular affinity for elephants. When filling out my All About Me Dr. Suess book at age five, I believe I listed the Cheetah as my fave. But on a hot July day in a dusty circus tent, our eyes met. I was in love.
The most amazing thing about Tai is her professionalism. She is undeniably aware of her surroundings, and really seems to get what she is doing and why she is there.Â While shooting a scene where hundreds of extras stampede out of the circus tent, Tai didn't just not panic — she acted as if she was! Hundreds of screams didn't spook her, and she was able to pretend that she was spooked by moving her body back and forth, all the while making sure Ms. Witherspoon stayed safely on top of her. The intelligence this requires is not seen in young children. It takes a certain amount of understanding to be able to â€˜play pretend;' to know that the actions and events happening around you are not real, and that pretend danger cannot hurt you. Compared to the horses, who got spooked, broke free and nearly injured their trainer, Tai faked her freak out over and over, take after take. When the cameras stopped rolling she was completely calm.
Many times between takes Tai would curl her trunk up into her mouth, creating a sort of cinnamon roll, thumb-sucking picture.Â I thought dogs were cute until I saw the trunk-in-mouth. We asked one of Tai's trainers why she did this, and they explained that it was comparable to a person crossing theirs arms across their chest — its comfortable.
As friendly as Tai was with everyone on sit, she truly had an undeniable connection with the film’s star, Robert Pattinson. In between takes when Pattinson would give Tai an affectionate pat, Tai would tip her head, rubbing it against the actor in a gesture of intimacy that none of the other actors seemed to enjoy.
In addition to Water for Elephants, Tai has appeared on over 20 films, numerous television commercials and live events.