LOS ANGELES — Robert Pattinson wasn't worried about his dramatic acting chops while making "Water for Elephants," but he is now.
The 24-year-old actor and "Twilight" heartthrob trades his pale skin and vampire fangs for a role as a veterinarian on a 1930s circus train in "Elephants," based on the 2006 bestselling novel, in theaters Friday.
Pattinson plays Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student forced to fend for himself after his parents are killed in a car accident. He hops a train and begins his life in a traveling circus. He quickly sets his sights on the star of the Benzini Bros. show, played by Reese Witherspoon, but lives under constant watch of her husband, an ambitious and often cruel circus owner and ringmaster played by Christoph Waltz.
"There are about 15 Oscar winners at every level of the production," Pattinson says. "I had such an incredible time making it. I would love it if you could make movies and they were never released. That would be so cool. That would be the best job in the world. I'm only nervous now."Story: Can Pattinson put a stake through Edward with 'Water for Elephants'?
The soft-spoken British star became an instant international sensation when he was cast as romantic vampire Edward Cullen in "Twilight." He was named People magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" and one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people. "Water for Elephants" is the biggest production Pattinson has appeared in post-"Twilight."
"The only thing you can do is try and work with the best people," he says.
His two Oscar-winning costars have already given his latest performance a thumbs-up.
Witherspoon calls him "the heart of this movie."Video: Watch the 'Water for Elephants' trailer (on this page)
"I think people will be excited to see him in a different type of role than his 'Twilight' role," she says. "He takes you through and you see the movie through his eyes. It's a really beautiful experience to watch him start as an innocent and become a man through the film."
Waltz, who won the supporting actor Oscar last year for his role in "Inglourious Basterds," says Pattinson's work in "Elephants" is "extraordinary."
More Entertainment stories
Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
In a popular YouTube video, the beaming little ballerina dances an entire four-minute routine seemingly perfectly, matchin...
- Every on-screen drink in 'Mad Men' in 5 minutes
- See the 'Dancing' stars' most memorable moves
- Emmy's biggest snubs? Cranston, Hamm, more
- 'Toy Story' toys burn up in prank on mom
- Autistic ballerina dances her way into hearts
"He's making an effort to get out of this treadmill that he is famous for," Waltz says. "He is smart and he does this and takes preliminary steps for what's going to happen afterwards. That's a wonderful next step. It's not his first step, but next step, and he will establish himself as a serious actor."Slideshow: Robert Pattinson (on this page)
Pattinson says one of his co-stars helped him secure the part. But it wasn't Waltz or Witherspoon; it was Tai the elephant.
Director Francis Lawrence brought Pattinson to meet his giant costar before the actor even read the script.
"We went to meet Tai, and I just have a thing with animals," Pattinson says. "I think Francis already kind of made his mind up."
The actor wouldn't mind working with more animals in the future, but he's also shooting for more action roles.
"I like the idea of working with little kids and working with animals because it is always unpredictable and always fresh," he says. "But I also want to do a movie where I shoot a butt-load of people, just because it's cool."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.