M: As the first question I would like to ask you about your co-star Christoph Waltz. What was it like to work with the Austrian Oscar winner who plays the circus ringmaster in the film?
RP: Great. He’s a real role model for me, not only as an actor, but also on a human level. Christoph was always very helpful, just like Reese Witherspoon. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how to act around them, as they are both Oscar winners. I was worried about them being aloof. Luckily that was not the case. Christoph and Reese created a great atmosphere and working with them a real pleasure. I learnt a lot from both of them.
M: Reese Witherspoon plays Marlena Rosenbluth with whom you have a forbidden love affair in Water for Elephants.
RP: Love often tastes of something forbidden. In my opinion the difference between love in a movie or in real life is that love is used purposely in movies to increase the drama and the suspense.
M: How exciting was it to work with the Elephants?
RP: Working with the animals was my main motivation to take the role. At my first meeting with the director Francis Lawrence at the elephant enclosure, I didn’t even know for which film he wanted to hire me. Francis wanted to see how I interacted with the animals and how the elephant would react to me. I was allowed to ride on the elephant, she threw balls to me with her trunk and blew air through her trunk at me. I was totally amazed and I accepted the role at the end of the day, even if there was the danger that it would be the worst film ever.
M: Were there any injuries or incidents on set?
RP: There are always incidents when you work with animals. Once a lion snapped at me, while I was feeding him through the bars of the cage. That frightened me of course. The experience that moved me the most happened while we were filming with a baby giraffe. She should have moved between the cages of the lions and tigers but was very afraid, just stopped and wouldn’t move. I pushed her a little bit and walked very close to her. As soon as we passed the cages the giraffe moved her head toward me and licked me. I will never forget my reaction, I felt like the king of the animals.
M: But you are. You just adopted a dog. Does it have a name yet?
RP: Not yet. I got it at the animal shelter in Louisiana. They were going to put it down in two days, as the shelters are only allowed to keep the animals for 10 days. He made it from the shelter to a private jet – like in the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. Maybe that should be his name.
M: In Water for Elephants the circus world is quite brutal. Do you see parallels to the show business today?
RP: Luckily I’ve never been beaten up and I hope that cruelty against animals like it happens in Water for Elephants is in the past. There’s a certain roughness in show business. It must be a nightmare to work with mad people. Luckily that hasn’t happened to me yet.
M: Since the success of Twilight there’s probably a lot of circus in your private life?
RP: The circus is created by the paparazzi, but I’ve learnt to handle it better. I’m getting used to planning everything more carefully and doing things less spontaneously. My private live is quite boring, because I’m normally working all the time.
M: Water for Elephant is set during the Great Depression in the USA. How much do you know about that time in history?
RP: To understand the time of the Great Depression better I watched the documentation Brother, Can You Spare A Dime. I didn’t watch it to prepare for the role, but because I would have loved to have lived in the 1930ies. All the clothes from that time period also fit me very well, at the first fitting. I read some books about the Great Depression, because we live in a recession today and it was interesting to see how people handled the crisis back then. The despair can be seen in the faces, the posture and the clothes of the people. The Great Depression symbolizes the end of the Wild West for me. Until then America was known as the land unlimited possibilities. The Great Depression put an end to that myth.
M: Your next role in Bel Ami takes you to Paris during the Bel Epoque. You seem to like history.
RP: You can say so. Paris is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world and Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant is one of my favourite books. For this role I would have flown around the world. I really did give my best and hope the audience will like the film.
M: You sound a little doubtful?
RP: Bel Ami tells the story of the professional and social ascent of George Duroy. The drawback is that George aka Bel Ami is ruthless and greedy for power. How do you make a movie in which evil wins over good – who wants to see that at the cinema? That’s really difficult and at the first test screenings the audience admitted they didn’t understand the concept. Neither do I and that’s just what’s extraordinary about Bel Ami. It doesn’t meet the stereotypes and that’s the reason why the book is one of my top favourites. I hope the movie will be very successful.
M: What will you be working on next?
RP: Cosmopolis – a very cool script. It’s directed by David Cronenberg and my costars will be Juliette Binoche and Paul Giamatti. I’m sure it will be great. After that I would like to write a script myself and produce films.
M: What can you tell us about the last Twilight film Breaking Dawn?
RP: I am not allowed to tell you a lot, which is a new experience for me, but I can say so much: Breaking Dawn will be fantastic.
M: In Breaking Dawn Bella is pregnant and married. How is Kristen Stewart handling her new role?
RP: She’s handling it great. Breaking Dawn is totally mad and completely different from the three films before – it’s almost eerie.