“Ladies and Gentleman!” His hand stretched toward us and traced the circular bleachers. He wore a bright red jacket neatly stuffed with a crisp white handkerchief. The black top hat fit snugly and in his left hand he held a long black baton. “… The most spectacular show on earth!!” He shot his baton toward the entrance of the tent and the crowd erupted with applause. I clapped my hands and whooped. There were no animals entering the tent as suggested. In fact, absolutely nothing happened but we continued to cheer. Christoph Waltz had made an announcement that caused our hair to stand on end and imaginations to run wild.
By the third take some of the magic had worn off but Christoph continued the performance like it had been his first. Once the shot was complete we returned to our holding tent. I found an area of the tent where a steady breeze of air came through and wrote song titles inspired by the story of Water for Elephants.
The AD returned about 45 minutes later. “Ok, I need some nimble people. If you think you’re nimble, follow me!” I closed my notebook and stuffed it in my open backpack. The AD wore a bright blue shirt that was easy to follow to the entrance of the tent. He lifted the flap and one by one we passed into the Big Top. The AD suddenly blocked the entrance. “Woah woah woah. I said nimble. Come on now.” A gentleman that was probably in his early seventies froze like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The AD continued, “Go back to holding please. This is for nimble folks only.” The man turned with his head tilted toward the ground and walked away. For a second I felt bad for the man but why had he joined a group of twenty-somethings for an action shot?
Inside the tent four horses were harnessed to a tall carriage stuffed with men holding band instruments. The horses were pointed toward the entrance of the tent. Our gang of “nimble” Rubes were placed precariously in the bleachers near the carriage while Francis Lawrence and Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematographer, stood close-by discussing the angle of the next shot. Our instructions were to look shocked. This turned out to be very easy. On “Action” the horses took off like cavalry. As the carriage tipped side-ways the stunt musicians were strategically thrown from the cart and instruments went flying in all directions. My mouth opened and my muscles tightened. I stared at the men spread across the dusty circus floor in shock – no acting skills necessary.