Thursday, August 13, 2009

'New Moon': Secrets From the Set

Kristen Stewart lies on a beige carpet, surrounded by a mess of pink roses and broken crystal. Her sweater is ripped, revealing a bloody gash on her right arm. It's April in Vancouver, and the New Moon cast is filming Bella Swan's climactic 18th-birthday celebration — the one cut short after an innocent paper cut turns the Cullen family, in one split second, from civilized ''vegetarian'' vampires into six beastly creatures hungry for sweet human blood. Director Chris Weitz wants another take of Edward (Robert Pattinson) fighting off his vampire brother Jasper (Jackson Rathbone), as Stewart lies injured in the background. This is the third freezing night in a row that the cast has worked until dawn, but that doesn't stop the set from feeling warm and jovial. Pattinson mugs for the movie camera between takes and teases his costar for just lying on the floor in the midst of all the vamp-on-vamp violence. ''Do you want Kristen to give us a little life back there?'' he jokes to the director. Kristen smiles. ''I'm just writhing down here,'' she says. ''A lot of writhing. I writhe really well.'

So do Twilight fans. Right now, for instance, millions of them around the world are writhing in delicious agony as they wait for New Moon to hit theaters on Nov. 20. Last year Twilight, the first adaptation of author Stephenie Meyer's series, grossed close to $400 million worldwide and set Stewart and Pattinson on the road to superstardom — and superscrutiny. Now the team is back with New Moon, though the sequel is a different beast — and one that's not as easy to tame. Meyer's second book is steeped in heartbreak and sadness, focusing on Bella's road to recovery after Edward smashes her heart into a million pieces and then vanishes. In addition to the melodrama, the movie has to make do with very little of the dreamy Edward Cullen. Instead, it mainly concerns the burgeoning relationship between Bella and her friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), who transforms into a gnarling werewolf. Pattinson couldn't be happier with his downsized role. ''It was a stress-free job for three months,'' says the actor, 23, in his charming British lilt. ''All the pressure was on Taylor.''

In truth, no one in Twilight-world should be feeling any pain. Sure, there have been some minicontroversies. First, director Weitz (The Golden Compass) replaced Twilight helmer Catherine Hardwicke. Then Lautner publicly campaigned to keep the role of Jacob as the character grew deeper (and taller). And recently, actress Rachelle Lefevre, who plays the vengeful redheaded vampire Victoria, was replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard for the soon-to-be-shot third film in the series, Eclipse. Each of these flaps rattled fans — but seemingly only strengthened their commitment to the franchise. Could anyone doubt that New Moon will be a hit come fall? Perhaps that's why the set feels a bit like summer camp — albeit a very cold, very dark summer camp filled with vampires and blood. ''In a weird way, there is less pressure this time around, since it's something we know people want to see,'' says producer Wyck Godfrey. Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the movies, has already proved that it will stay as true to Meyer's vision as possible. ''I told Summit that they could probably get a talking chimp to direct New Moon, and it would still do well,'' says Weitz.

Weitz replaced Hardwicke mere weeks after Twilight became a box office sensation last November. Depending upon whom you talk to, Hardwicke left the franchise either because of a scheduling conflict or because she wanted, among other things, a bigger budget for New Moon and more time in which to shoot it. What no one debates is that the studio needed a director who could handle the expanded scope of the sequel, which called for hulking werewolves and a location shoot in Italy. Summit also wanted a filmmaker well versed in special effects, particularly after the first movie was ridiculed for the scene in which Edward's skin is exposed to sunlight and begins sparkling like he's in a weird body-lotion commercial.

Weitz had the right F/X cred for the job. The Cambridge grad had spent three years overseeing the otherworldly creatures in his 2007 adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. The film didn't score with most critics, but its visual effects won an Oscar. So, with the exception of being, you know, male, Weitz seemed a good fit for New Moon. Aware that his gender is a sticking point with many fans, the director, talking on set between takes, downplays his testosterone levels. ''I've always made movies for women,'' he says. ''I'm in the more girly gradient of male directors. The thing I'm least interested in is blowing stuff up.''

The moment Weitz was hired, he was thrown into the debate about whether Lautner should reprise his role as Jacob. Was this eager young actor right for such a steep character arc, and able to transform from wide-eyed boy to beastly monster? ''If there was one thing that we were petrified of, going into New Moon, it was the casting decision of Jacob,'' says Godfrey. The filmmakers eventually tapped Lautner again, partly because he had a fan not just in Weitz but in Kristen Stewart. ''It's completely understandable why they wanted to make sure he was right,'' says the actress, 19. ''He was so young, 16, so I got it. But I knew he had [to do] it. Just because of how I felt around him. I literally saw Jacob in him.'' And how did the Bella-Jacob chemistry play out on set? ''We have that relationship,'' she says. ''It's lamely cute. I love that kid. I would do anything for him. I would kill for him, literally.''

Needless to say, Lautner — who played SharkBoy in Robert Rodriguez's 2005 The Adventures of SharkBoy and LavaGirl in 3-D — is thrilled to be on board. He talks giddily about standing shirtless under freezing rain towers, and about the number of stunts he gets to do, but it's clear that the biggest challenge was turning werewolf. ''Sometimes we'll film two scenes in one day, one pretransformation and one post-,'' says Lautner, now 17. ''So I have to change my mind-set: Okay, I'm little Jacob-poo — and now I'm a big bad wolf.''

From the looks of things on the set, Lautner will delight the contingent of fans known as Team Jacob. The Michigan native has packed 32 pounds onto his frame, downing protein shakes and other high-calorie foods during an intense 11-month training. But what may shock moviegoers — if they can stop gazing at his abs long enough — is that it seems the guy can actually act. ''I think that Taylor is really going to surprise people in the movie,'' says Weitz over coffee, three weeks before he's due to finish editing the picture. ''People have seen his body and all that stuff and it's a shocker because it's hard to believe that anyone can be quite so carved. But he actually delivers a really great performance. He wasn't just exercising all day, he was also reading the book quite a lot.''

Stewart can be a pretty serious bookworm herself. At this point, she may know Bella as well as Meyer does, and, like many on the set, she won't let anything, not a director nor a script, trample on the author's original intentions. ''We definitely feel protective of the series,'' says the actress, who has no problem stopping a scene if a note rings false. ''The directors are interchangeable, so while it's exciting to have new opinions, at the same time it's like, 'Look, this has way more to do with what we have already created.'''

While making the first movie, Summit kept urging Stewart and Pattinson to ease up on the teenage angst. Now Stewart's diving headlong into heartache. She says she reached her breaking point one long, cold night in the forest while filming the pivotal scene where Edward abandons her. ''Before the scene, I was sitting in my car, like f---ing crying — crying so hard you can't breathe,'' she says. ''Because I was really overwhelmed and intimidated by the scene. Everyone says, 'She better be able to pull off the emotion in this movie!' And it's such an important moment in the book, when he leaves.'' The scene exhausted her. ''I'm thinking, 'We have to be done now,''' she remembers. '''Just tell me we're done.'''

Despite the heavy emotional weather in New Moon, director Weitz remained calm and contemplative, as different from the driven, frenetic Hardwicke as Jacob is from Edward. On particularly tough days, Weitz wore a shirt bearing the WWII British propaganda slogan ''Keep Calm and Carry On.'' Sometimes he'd sit in the 
 director's chair and read sci-fi novels while the crew readied the next shot. ''[Making Twilight] was much more of a fight,'' says Stewart. ''Everyone was a little more scared. We needed to make something commercial but stay true to the book. We didn't have as much money. It was all very impulsive, and that's what I love about that f---ing movie.''

She pauses. ''But I think New Moon is gonna be even better.''


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