Friday 20 October 2017

Total Eclipse

He piled on the muscle to keep his role in the Twilight and isn’t bothered by the crazy adoration from fans, but — sorry girls — hunky Taylor Lautner is staying tight-lipped about his private life, says Declan Cashin

Declan Cashin

Taylor Lautner needs a moment. He leans back in chair, pondering the trickiest of questions. "Strangest fan experience so far?" he repeats aloud. "It's so hard to choose just one.

"The most recent was at a fan signing in Australia. I was going down the line signing books, paper and even arms. So I get to an arm with a massive 'Wolf Pack' tattoo, like the one I have in the movie. The girl was like, 'Can you sign it right here in the middle?'

"I replied, 'Yeah sure', and I felt something was a little suspicious about it. That night Kristen [Stewart, his co-star] said to me, 'I bet you that girl is going to get your signature tattooed'. I was like, 'No way! That will stick with her for the rest of her life'. Sure enough, the next day it was all over the papers that this girl got my signature tattooed on her arm. That just shows the amount of passion our fans have."

However, on this particular scorching hot June afternoon, Lautner is sitting in a cool and dimly lit suite on the 14th floor of the Four Seasons hotel in LA, talking exclusively to Day & Night about his beefed-up role -- in every sense of the word -- as half-man/half-werewolf Jacob Black in Twilight: Eclipse, the third flick in the ongoing Twilight vampire saga.

Adapted from author Stephenie Meyer's 100 million-plus selling books, the movies have grossed well over $1bn so far, and made Lautner and his co-stars Robert Pattinson and the aforementioned Kristen Stewart idols in the eyes of the franchise's indefatigably devoted Star Wars-ian fanbase, affectionately known as 'Twi-hards'.

Lautner, all of 18 years of age (yes, yes, you are old), already seems like a pro when it comes to the making and selling of movies. Militantly on-message, unfailingly polite, inherently humble and relentlessly affable, Lautner is also impressively-slash-frustratingly unflappable and, perhaps as a consequence, a master of deflecting personal questions.

Dressed in a snug, dark-grey T-shirt and jeans, with his chopped, black hair pushed to one side, he greets Day & Night with a firm handshake. There's no getting away from it: he is an almost egregiously handsome man-boy. His skin is tanned, with light traces of stubble on his chin and lip, and he possesses a toothy grin so expansive and bright that it runs the danger of mistakenly diverting flights from LAX airport.

In Eclipse, Lautner has his biggest role yet as Jacob becomes more determined to win the heart of the movie's heroine Bella (played by Stewart), and he admits that the leap to full-blown leading-man status is not without its pressures.

"Yeah, there's definitely a little more pressure because you want to please the fans and live up to their expectations," he says. "We're lucky, though, that the fans are so supportive. It's almost more comfortable because we know we have that support system behind us."

He goes on to defend Twilight's female protagonist from Day & Night's argument that you just want to grab conflicted Bella and shake some sense into her.

"You know, I feel for her situation, and I wouldn't want to be in it," he says. "She has two guys madly in love with her who are complete opposites. How do you make that decision? I wouldn't be able to if I was in a situation similar to that."

So is it safe to assume that Lautner, who up until recently was romantically linked to singer Taylor Swift, hasn't been in a similar triangle-shaped love drama?

"No, I haven't," he replies with a shy smile. "Definitely. And that's a good thing."

Born and raised in Michigan, Lautner was a prodigious martial arts student as a child, which led to him being discovered by an acting talent scout at age nine. His family relocated to LA to support his nascent career, and roles in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 soon followed, before Twilight landed in his lap.

Even though he's been working for most of his young life, there is no greater demonstration of Lautner's work ethic and commitment than the physical transformation he underwent to keep the role of Jacob Black.

Any discussion of Lautner's body is impossible to conduct without sounding like the narrator in a Mills & Boon novel: all sinewy arms, rippling pecs, washboard abs and so on and so forth. When rumours emerged that the part would have to be re-cast to match the narrative of the second Twilight movie, New Moon, Lautner gained 30 pounds of muscle and a men's-magazine-cover-model physique in order to keep the job.

Lautner is topless for most of Eclipse, prompting the current edition of GQ to posit that this marks the precise moment it became acceptable for Hollywood to sell a male star's physique in the same way it does, say, someone like Megan Fox's.

In one of the movie's few moments of light relief, his onscreen rival Pattinson, playing brooding blood-sucker Edward Cullen, remarks: "Doesn't that guy own a shirt?"

"I think the shirt matter definitely needed to be addressed," Lautner says with a chuckle.

"The thing is, it was very hard to get in shape for New Moon, but then I found out that it was just as hard to maintain it as it was to put it on in the first place. For some reason, I thought 'if I put it on, it just stays with me'. That's not the case, unfortunately. I can't stop working out as long as I'm filming this franchise. It's tough to stay strict, and keep away from all the fun stuff like ice cream and cake."

Still, looking that good can't hurt when it comes to impressing the ladies, surely?

"Erm, yeah ... " is the infuriatingly vague response, followed by the artful deflect: "It keeps you healthy too. I did a lot of martial arts and sports when I growing up, so I'm used to that kind of discipline."

While Pattinson and Stewart often appear miserable due to the attention the movies' success had heaped on them, Lautner seems to positively revel in it. And why shouldn't he? After Twilight (which has one more movie to go, possibly split in two a la Harry Potter), he will move straight on to headline another potential franchise: a big-screen treatment of Stretch Armstrong.

What's more, his fee for that role is rumoured to be $7.5m, making him one of the highest paid young stars in the world (in contrast, Zac Efron earns around $6m per movie). By Lautner's own admission, he would like to follow the career trajectory of Tom Cruise.

"These past two years have been amazing and I'm so thankful for this franchise," he gushes. "It's been an incredible platform for me, and Rob, Kristen and I have become really good friends. We get to travel the world promoting the movies and meeting new people. It's a dream come through."

Is that even the case when any sense of privacy has been completely obliterated? On any given day, there are at least 12 paparazzi vehicles parked outside his home.

"Of course, sometimes you get frustrated with paparazzi and all that other stuff that comes with it, but everything has pros and cons to it. In this case, there are many more pros."

Regarding his private life, Lautner remains tight-lipped and refuses to be drawn on whether he's single at the moment. But he does say that he is currently living "two lives".

"I have this life, which is amazing, but I also have the same life I had before. Nothing has changed in it. I spend time with the same people: my family and friends. I do the same thing."

What about meeting new people?

"You need to be cautious and careful," he replies slowly. "You need to take things slower and get to know somebody, and be able to build that trust before you give yourself to them." He pauses. "I will take all that stuff just for this opportunity, but I admit that it's different. This isn't a normal situation at all."

Twilight: Eclipse is released on July 9

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