When rumors surfaced last year that 17-year-old Taylor Lautner would not appear in the Twilight sequel because he was too physically slight to portray a bookworm-turned-werewolf, a great shriek rose from Fangirl Island. “Noooooo!!” wrote one obsessive on a Twilight discussion board. “omg. Pleezze let Taylor come back,” implored another. Some were more militant: “If they don’t put him in . . . there will be a massive Twilight fan attack!”
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The producers opted not to mess with their core constituency. While Twilight was ringing up $380 million at the box office and becoming one of the top pop-culture phenomena of the past year, Lautner was busy packing on 30 pounds of -muscle at the gym. His character, Jacob Black, the platonic best friend of heroine Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart), transforms in New Moon from a likable klutz into a member of a wolf pack. Likewise, the film gives Lautner a chance to bust out of more than his shirts, challenging co-star Robert Pattinson’s dominance of both the teen mags and the movie’s monster love-story narrative.
After an unusually chaotic post-release period that saw Pattinson shear off his -vampire hair (noooooo!), Stewart photographed on the steps of her L.A. apartment smoking what appeared to be weed, and director Catherine Hardwicke replaced by American Pie helmer Chris Weitz, the cast reunited—a lot more famous—in Vancouver last March to begin -filming New Moon. The sequel shakes up the central trio—teen vampire Edward (Pattinson), his devoted Bella, and her best friend Jacob—sending Edward packing, turning Jacob into a werewolf, and heating up the love–triangle element as Jacob makes a play for Bella in Edward’s absence. Frost/Nixon’s Michael Sheen joins the fray as a vampire leader, and the sequel’s scoreboard reads werewolves vs. vampires.
Lautner grew up in Michigan and L.A., a youthful karate star who transitioned at the age of 12 from martial arts to acting in benign cinematic family fare like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. He was excited to talk about shooting New Moon, dirt biking, his new set of muscles, and playing up the sexual tension.MICHAEL MARTIN: How is the Twilight phenomenon sitting with you?
TAYLOR LAUTNER: It’s the weirdest thing. Nobody really saw it coming. I mean, we knew we were making a movie of a very popular book, but we didn’t know how well it was going to do. When it opened, it exploded, and that was not something any of us saw coming. Filming New Moon is a lot different than the first one because this time we know what we are getting into.
MARTIN: Do all the expectations psych you out?
LAUTNER: I don’t think so. It puts a little more pressure on us than it did before. But for the most part, it’s been a blast.
MARTIN: So what’s in store for Jacob?
LAUTNER: He’s a lot different than he was before. He transforms mid-story—in the first half, he’s Twilight Jacob. I’m wearing a wig. My character’s very clumsy, outgoing, and friendly. When he transforms into a werewolf, he becomes something very different. It’s like I’m playing a split personality. Which is tricky, because sometimes I’ve had to play pre- and post-transformation Jacob on the same day of filming.
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MARTIN: Is the premise similar to the book’s?
LAUTNER: The coolest thing about the series is that we stay very true to the books; it would be silly for us not to, because the books are exactly what the fans want to see. There’s an action side to it, which I love, and there are werewolves now. There aren’t just vampires. There’s a wolf pack.
MARTIN: What does it mean to turn into a werewolf?
LAUTNER: I think the most important thing with Jacob is that pre-transformation, he’s clumsy. He trips over his own feet. As soon as he transforms, he’s very agile. At one point, he flings himself through Bella’s window and lands at her feet, and that’s the first time Bella realizes this is a new Jacob: He never used to be this agile. I loved bringing out that side of him. The bummer is, when he becomes a wolf, that’s not actually me. When he does the cool fight scenes, he’s transformed into CGI.
MARTIN: You had to bulk up for the part.
LAUTNER: Absolutely. As soon as I finished filming Twilight, I knew I had to get to work right away; there could be no waiting involved. The day I finished Twilight, I came home and started bulking up. For New Moon, I’m 30 pounds heavier than I was in Twilight.
MARTIN: Do you feel like you’re walking around in a different body?
LAUTNER: I don’t at all. I haven’t noticed much of a change. I grew out of a lot of my clothes, though. I went from a men’s small to a men’s large.
MARTIN: Are you turning more heads?
LAUTNER: I don’t know. I should pay more attention to that. I hope so.
The whole cast is really close. It would be difficult for our characters if we weren’t. It’s a love triangle, and we need to understand each other.Taylor Lautner
MARTIN: What was your training regimen?
LAUTNER: I was in the gym five days a week, two hours a day. At one point, I was going seven days straight. I had put on a lot of weight, and then I started losing it drastically, so I was worried. It turned out I was overworking myself. My trainer told me that I couldn’t break a sweat, because I was burning more calories than I was putting on. The hardest thing for me was the eating. At one point I had to shove as much food in my body as possible to pack on calories. My trainer wanted me to do six meals a day and not go two hours without eating. If I would cheat on eating one day, I could tell—I’d drop a few pounds.
MARTIN: Are Twilight fans as intense as they seem?
LAUTNER: They are very intense, but it’s cool that they’re so dedicated and so passionate. They’re the reason we’re here doing this sequel. So I’m thankful for the fans. I like meeting them. But, yeah, they’re pretty intense. Sometimes it becomes a little overwhelming.
We’ve met many different fans: the criers, who come around quite often; the hyperventilators who stop breathing and have to have a medic come. We’ve definitely seen some passion.Taylor Lautner
MARTIN: Do they scream and rend their garments?
LAUTNER: We’ve met many different fans: the criers, who come around quite often; the hyperventilators who stop breathing and have to have a medic come. We’ve definitely seen some passion.
MARTIN: How does it feel to be the source of that sort of worship?
LAUTNER: I don’t even know. I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet. They’re just passionate for the series and for the characters, and we’re just lucky enough to be a part of this. I don’t think it has much to do with me personally; it’s more because I’m playing the beloved Jacob Black.
MARTIN: Were you a Twilight fan before?
LAUTNER: I was not a vampire or werewolf fan at all. I’d never even heard of the series. I auditioned for the role, and as soon as I got it, I started reading the books. I’m not a reader, but I really did get hooked on them.
MARTIN: Do you hang out with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart?
LAUTNER: The whole cast is really close. It would be difficult for our characters if we weren’t. It’s a love triangle, and we need to understand each other. So the fact that we’re close and can talk things through in rehearsals, and if we’re out at dinner, we’ll just randomly start talking about the scene we’re shooting the next day . . . If we weren’t able to do those things, I don’t know where we’d be.
MARTIN: What’s in store for that love triangle?
LAUTNER: Twilight develops the relationship between Edward and Bella. In New Moon, Edward leaves, and Bella needs someone to bring her out of this depression she’s in, so she turns to her best friend, Jacob. It looks like it could go past friends. Bella’s very confused. Jacob wants nothing more than to be more than friends. He wants Edward to get out of there so he can move in for the kill.
MARTIN: So to speak . . .
LAUTNER: Yeah. Bella’s torn. She’s still in love with Edward, but she’s kind of fallen for Jacob, too. When I read the books, I felt bad for Jacob, because he can’t have what he wants. I understand Jacob’s pain but also Bella’s pain—how she’s confused and torn between the two.
MARTIN: You understood that from personal experience?
LAUTNER: From getting into the character and being surrounded by these really talented actors.
MARTIN: What would you like to do next?
LAUTNER: I love action films. I’d love to do an action drama. I’m always looking to give my character something action-oriented to do.
MARTIN: Is the third Twilight movie happening, and are you in it?
LAUTNER: Yeah. We’re all staying focused on New Moon right now, but that’s in the back of our minds.
MARTIN: What would you be doing if not acting?
LAUTNER: I always played sports when I was young. I played football and baseball for eight years. I loved football. So maybe I’d be doing some kind of sport. I also loved writing and directing. So maybe that could be in my future too. I’d love to get into that.
MARTIN: You want to be a screenwriter?
LAUTNER: Possibly. Right now I’m an actor. But I could see that in my future.
MARTIN: You’ve got some time.
LAUTNER: Yeah, I’ve got a few years ahead of me.
Michael Martin is a New York City–based writer and frequent contributor to Interview.