Ewan McGregor's Elephant Co-Star Had A Surprise In Store For The Big Fish Crew

Tim Burton's 2003 film "Big Fish" is a Hollywood weepie of the finest order. The plot concerns a young man named Will (Billy Crudup) attempting to reconcile with his ailing father Edward (Albert Finney). Edward is a fantabulist — notorious for obfuscating the truth and hiding behind tall tales and stories that Will has long since lost patience with. The bulk of "Big Fish" is devoted to Edward's description of how he met the love of his life Sandra (Jessica Lange), whom he met while working at the circus as a young man (young Edward is played by Ewan McGregor, young Sandra by Alison Lohman). 

In typical Burton fashion, Edward's autobiographical stories are told with an element of carnival-like unreality. Some stories could be true, such as when Edward rescues a pair of conjoined twins from Korea during the war. Others are probably false, like the "fact" that the circus ringmaster (Danny DeVito) is actually a werewolf. The film culminates with Will finally coming to understand the purpose and function of Edward's wild stories, and how much love and imagination is required to live. The final sequence in "Big Fish" will most assuredly have the audience lunging for the tissues. 

There is a detail of "Big Fish," however, that was most certainly not faked, as McGregor enthusiastically explained in a 2012 interview with IGN. It turns out that one of McGregor's co-stars during the circus scenes — a live, trained elephant — was able to commit, thanks to some good timing, to a piece of acting that cannot be simulated. 

Copious amounts of poop

W.C. Fields once famously said that no actor should work with animals or children, as they — among other reasons — can upstage even the greatest comedic performance. In McGregor's case, he was certainly upstaged by an animal, although it was thematically important to the scene. At a low point in Edward's journey, he is standing in front of a line of elephants when one of them begins defecating. McGregor was not dismayed, but quite excited about the pooping elephant: 

"How amazing was that moment when the elephant craps on screen? We'd shot the wide shot where you see the two elephant's bums and then me. We'd shot that and we'd moved in to do a close-up, so they were setting the camera here, so you just see a bit of elephant's leg. You didn't see his bum or anything. And as we were setting that up, it lifted its tail and we all went, 'Quick!' and they widened the camera out, I got ready, and there was no turnover. They just turned the camera on and I played the scene as it dumped next to me. Genius! And none of us thought it would make it to the film, but it's genius that it did. There's not many elephants pooing on the big screen that I can remember. Not enough, actually. I'm trying to bring it back."

Fact: Elephants poop between eight and ten times each day,

No elephant has pooped in any subsequent Ewan McGregor projects, leaving 19 years of unrealized promises.

Playing with elephants

For many, the experience of meeting an elephant in a zoo is a formative one, and McGregor seems to have that same childhood affection for the giant beasts. Thanks to American Humane's Humane Hollywood project, the treatment of the elephants was recorded in great detail to assure protection groups that they were as happy and comfortable as possible. McGregor, meanwhile, was just stoked that he got to feed it:

"Working with the elephant was a real treat. You don't meet elephants every day and we were shooting the circus stuff for a couple of weeks. It was lovely that big elephant lumbering through. It was just beautiful and you got to go up and give it an apple."

"Big Fish" was nominated for one Academy Award for Danny Elfman's score, but it lost to a fantasy film with a wizard in it. Love for the film lives on, however — a "Big Fish" Broadway adaptation is reportedly in the works. McGregor's TV series "Obi-Wan Kenobi" is currently airing on Disney+. Pooping elephants still forthcoming.