If any part of what you see in the supernaturally superserious Twilight movies is to be believed, then there is no shortage of brooding, good-looking young men in the American Pacific Northwest. But when it comes to the pool of eligible teenage bachelors in the town of Forks, Washington, which provides the setting for much of the series, it seems that each and every one of them comes with an at times hidden but ultimately undeniable set of baggage (e.g., the hottest guy in school, Edward Cullen, is a vampire and actually very old; the nonthreatening friend and love interest, Jacob Black, wolfs out).
The situation, though, is not likely to improve this summer with the arrival in June of the world-engulfing franchise’s third installment, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse—and 26-year-old Australia-born actor Xavier Samuel, the latest good-looking young man to appear on the Twilight scene. In Eclipse, erstwhile love-triangle mates Edward (Robert Pattinson), Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and the object of their mutual affection, the irresistibly over-it Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) confront a bloodthirsty army of murderous “newborn” vampires created by witchy redhead Victoria (played in Eclipse by Bryce Dallas Howard, who replaces Rachelle Lefevre). Samuel plays Riley, Victoria’s lead newbie and main pinch, who aids the vampiress in her attempt to once and for all vanquish the holy trinity. “I initially saw a Quicktime movie of Xavier auditioning for Riley and immediately knew he had something,” says David Slade, who directed Eclipse. “It was that intangible something that you can’t quite describe but that you know is worth watching.” Indeed, Samuel has already become a bit of a thing among Twilight fans (who are peerless when it comes to creating things), inspiring all manner of tortured Internet-discussion-board threads. “I will forever be Team Edward in my heart. . . . Xavier [Riley] just confuses the issue a little,” wrote one blogger in August, wrestling with the 21st century’s great postmodern teen-worship dilemma: In a world where one is forced to choose between evilness and hotness, can any sort of moral framework ever exist?
In addition to Eclipse, Samuel—a veteran of a handful of indies down under—recently completed work on Roland Emmerich’s forthcoming political thriller, Anonymous. His Eclipse co-star, Howard, reconnected with the actor, who was back home in Australia, visiting family and preparing for the deluge.
BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: So now that you’re almost on the other side with Eclipse, how has everything been for you? It’s all been a little wild, right?
XAVIER SAMUEL: Yeah, it has. It’s kind of like being struck by lightning in a way, because it all seems so improbable.
HOWARD: Eclipse is your first American film.
SAMUEL: It is. I’ve been doing American auditions for a while, and it always felt sort of like sending these audition tapes off into the ether. So just hearing anything back from anyone was kind of startling.
HOWARD: When we were shooting Eclipse, it was amazing for me to see how the girls all went berserk over you. These girls were totally losing their minds—and much like everyone else in the cast who experiences those sorts of things, you dealt with it really graciously and wonderfully. Were you at all startled by that?
SAMUEL: I mean, it’s kind of bizarre, isn’t it? Having that kind of attention. I’m not under the microscope in the same fashion that a lot of the other cast members are, so I think I can slide under the radar a little bit more, but getting any attention at all is completely new for me.
HOWARD: Well, it’s been interesting to see how these young women have responded to you and your hair and your accent.
SAMUEL: My hair and my accent are sort of my main assets.
Being in a film like Eclipse is such a great opportunity—and there’s a massive fan base with these Twilight movies that you need to respect. So I don’t think I could sleep at night if I didn’t give it my best shot. Xavier Samuel
HOWARD: It’s entirely possible that they are. Do you remember that one day when I tried to speak in an Australian accent? You were like, “If you want to be able to do an Australian accent, then we will have to start all over again. We cannot build on this foundation that you’ve created for yourself.”
SAMUEL: I can give you a few lessons.
HOWARD: [in Australian accent] G’day, mate! How the bloody hell are you?
SAMUEL: It’s lot better since the last time, actually. It’s getting there.
SAMUEL: Have you been practicing?
HOWARD: No. It’s just coming naturally to me. Something must have clicked. I know that you’re very well trained as an actor and that you’ve been actively pursuing theater work. But now you’re in this interesting place where you’re being offered film roles. How will you navigate that?
SAMUEL: Well, it’s about finding the time to be able to do some theater, which I’d really love to do. But I kind of feel like I’m at the mercy of this imagined schedule right now, so I don’t know when I could set aside some time to do it. Right now I’m just happy to work with people I admire and who will help me grow as an actor. But there are a lot of great emerging Australian playwrights who would be great to work with. I also think it’d be great to do another Australian film soon. I’d really like to continue to support what’s going on in Australia in general, so that’s a big priority for me. There are a lot of exciting opportunities. I just want to be involved in something that’s going to be an enriching experience. A lot of the roles I’ve played in Australia have been kind of introspective boy-next-door things, so it was juicy to get to play a villain who’s being manipulated in this bloody Macbeth scenario. But it’s also kind of intimidating, in a way, to step onto a big set like that for the first time. There was no real frame of reference for me, because most of the films I’ve been involved with in Australia have been smaller in scale.
A lot of the roles I’ve played in Australia have been kind of introspective boy-next-door things, so it was juicy to get to play a villain who’s being manipulated in this bloody Macbeth scenario. Xavier Samuel
HOWARD: So many great actors come from Australia—I just had the great pleasure of working with one recently who you’ve worked with, Mia Wasikowska. Do you find that Australian actors are sort of like a little tribe?
SAMUEL: Yes. We hold these secret meetings, like a cult.
HOWARD: Where you talk about how you’re going to take over Hollywood? I wouldn’t be surprised—that’s exactly what’s happening.
SAMUEL: I don’t know that many Australian actors in Los Angeles, but there are a few of us. I mean, we kind of get together occasionally, but I wouldn’t say it’s an alliance or anything like that.
HOWARD: I’ve found, just from working with Australians like you and Mia and Sam Worthington—actually Gus Van Sant, who directed the film [Restless] I worked on with Mia, also noticed this with Nicole Kidman—that you guys have such a sturdiness. I don’t know if it’s just the terrain in Australia or the kind of training you do or the way acting is taught over there, but there’s a sturdiness that we as Americans could definitely learn something from. There’s also a sense of gratitude.
SAMUEL: Well, I think it’s the training coupled with the fact that the films that get made are so few and far between. In Australia, getting an audition can be a rarity. There just aren’t as many opportunities. So I guess the mentality is that you kind of give your all whenever you get a chance to work. When you put that in the American context, where you’re getting a substantial number of auditions a week by comparison, I guess your strike rate is a bit better, in a way. I mean, being in a film like Eclipse is such a great opportunity—and there’s a massive fan base with these Twilight movies that you need to respect. So I don’t think I could sleep at night if I didn’t give it my best shot.
HOWARD: I felt the same way when I did my first job.
SAMUEL: And now you’re just kind of a bit lax about the whole thing, aren’t you?
HOWARD: No, I know—I’m a little type A. Before you travel back to the States, make sure to write out a list of everything you want to bring so that you don’t forget anything.
SAMUEL: Okay. I will.
HOWARD: Remember the time I did that for you?
SAMUEL: Yes, Bryce.
HOWARD: It’s great. You’re going so far, and you don’t want to forget anything.
SAMUEL: I will write a list. Do you want me to e-mail you the list to see if there’s anything that needs to be added to it?
HOWARD: Yes. And something in the subject heading that reflects the first line of the document you’re sending me. So before we go, please tell everyone about your experience in Vancouver with the raccoon.
SAMUEL: Well, I haven’t turned into some sort of raccoon vampire as of yet, but I was attacked in Stanley Park by a raccoon. I didn’t know that they were nocturnal.
HOWARD: You didn’t know that raccoons were nocturnal?
SAMUEL: No. And this one had a crazy gray eye.
HOWARD: It was also a lazy eye. You couldn’t tell where it was looking at any moment.
SAMUEL: Yeah. So, as you remember, I sat down next to this raccoon for a photo opportunity and you took two photos, one of which was me sitting happily next to the raccoon, and the other of which is me lunging back while this furry ball is lunging at me. It bit my finger.
HOWARD: It drew blood.
SAMUEL: It did. A raccoon bit my finger and drew blood.
HOWARD: That wouldn’t turn you into a vampire so much as a werewolf—or, like, a version of a werewolf. But if you remember, I didn’t even do anything to help. I just kept taking pictures with my iPhone.
SAMUEL: Yes. Instead of rushing me off for some medical assistance, you were just snapping away.
HOWARD: Well, they are good pictures.
SAMUEL: Maybe from now on we’ll just stay indoors when we see each other.
HOWARD: Well, in the wise words of Madonna, “You are not the owner of your talent. You are just the manager of your talent.”
SAMUEL: I like that. I’m going to remember that.
HOWARD: Isn’t that great? She said that on Oprah, I think.
SAMUEL: I must have missed that episode.
Bryce Dallas Howard is a Golden Globe–nominated actress. She will star alongside Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter, scheduled for release later