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Interview: Meet The Big Star of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

The 9,000 pound veteran of such films as Bigger Than Life, The Jungle Book, and Operation Dumbo Drop, spent most of her time training and shooting with Robert and Reese.  Word on the set is Tai took a liking to the Twilight star.  Tai's trainer Gary Johnson of Have Trunk Will Travel Inc. sets the record straight with Cinemovie on the rumored affair and gives us insight into this giant movie star.

As Gary Johnson spoke with CineMovie at a recent event in Santa Monica, Tai enjoyed a break from the photo opportunities to snack on some hay.  

CineMovie: How long do elephants live?
Gary:  About 60 or 70 years.

At 42, do they slow down?
Gary:  Not really.  She's still pretty active.  She gets plenty of exercise, a good diet. . . so she' s in good shape.

It's hard to believe this 9,000 pound animal fills up on hay.
Gary:  But she eats about 200 pounds of food a day. And it's mostly hay. A little bit of grain.  Some fruits and vegetables.

Reese Witherspoon's daughter and son were just here feeding Tai M&M's.  She seemed to enjoy them.
Gary:  She has a little bit of a sweet-tooth.  She likes jelly beans and some M&M's. . .  peanut M&M's.

That doesn't have any negative affect on them?
Gary:  Not at all.
Robert Pattinson and Tai in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS

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We heard Tai took a special liking to Rob on set.
Gary:  Well, they spent a lot of time together. He did feed her a lot of jelly beans.  So I think she liked him.

Robert mentioned to us that to get Tai's attention, he pasted candies on his body. Is that true or was he joking?
Gary:  [Laughing]  Well, he feed her a lot.  So she was interested in him.

They say elephants have great memories.  Would Tai remember Robert, for instance?
Gary:  Rob came down yesterday and I think she knows who he is.  Yeah!  They spent enough time together, certainly.

Are animals restricted as far as how many hours they can work?
Gary:  The American Humane Association is always on the set when an animal was being used in a film or commercial or what have you. So yeah, there is rules and regulations that you have to go by.  But she got plenty of rest.  Plenty of break time.  And actually, she had a couple of days off the way they had the shooting schedule.  She was great.

While on set, where do you stand off camera?
Gary:It depends what the shot is.  Obviously I like to be as close as I can, then she'll take direction a little better. Sometimes we have to be a little far away. So it just depends how the shot is set up. And Frances, the director, was very good about taking into account that the trainer needed to be there.

Do you have to use the bullhorn at times?
Gary:  They have very good hearing.

Do she recognize you more by sound or vision?
Gary:  Probably both.  She knows my movement. The way I walk. She knows my voice very well.

In the movie, Reese somersaults over Tai while she's at rest. Was that Reese or her double?
Gary:  No, it's Reese. She did it all.  She trained a long time to be able to do that, and came out to the ranch to ride Tai a lot.  She rehearsed with her.  So she did a great job.

What about the stunt when Tai raises her front legs?
Gary:  Yes, she did everything. When the elephant goes on the pedestal on her hind legs and then Reese stands up on Tai - Reese did it all.

Did they harness her to something else?
Gary:  No, there's a head piece on the elephant so that gives her something to hold on to. I think she got pretty comfortable doing it and she did a great job.

Wow!  Reese said she screamed when she first met Tai at your ranch.
Gary:  Yes, she did.

water-for-elephants-pattinson-witherspoon
How long did it take Reese to get used to Tai's enormous size?
Gary:  Right away.  She came out and right away she started doing stuff with Tai.  She's pretty gutsy.  If she was afraid, she didn't really show it.

Any of the actors hesitant about coming close to Tai?
Gary:  I don't think so.  They all had the opportunity to be around her and kind of get used to her a little bit.  It doesn't take too long.

What other animals do you train?
Gary:  We just have elephants. That's all we do. We have six elephants.

So she has companions at home?
Gary:  Yes. She lives on a ranch in Perris, CA.

Are they related?
Gary:  No, they are just friends.

When you introduce a new elephant, are they territorial or welcoming of the newbie?
Gary:  No, they're a herd animal.  So it just depends.  Each one has their personality and they're individuals, so it just depends on them.  But like Tai, for instance, she likes all elephants [that] she's ever come in contact with.

Catch Tai alongside Reese Witherspoon and her favorite leading man Robert Pattinson in WATER FOR ELEPHANTS in theaters now.

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