How time flies.
It was only back in January that it seemed unclear if Taylor Lautner would be back reprising his role as Jacob Black in “Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
It wasn’t that fans didn’t like Lautner’s interpretation of the role or doubted the young actor’s ability to transition the character from a youthful best friend to Edward Cullen’s (Robert Pattinson) potential rival for Bella Swan’s (Kristen Stewart) affections. What some doubted, though, was the 17-year-old actor’s ability to suddenly become believable as a brooding hulk-turned-werewolf.
The recasting was rumored, but never occurred and 11 months after his return was announced, Lautner has played the buffed-out Jacob in both the upcoming “The Twilight Saga: New Mood” and next summer’s “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” and the sight of the topless star in the new film’s trailer has been yielding audible reactions from teenage girls and grown women alike.
So how close did Lautner actually come from being squeezed out of this lucrative franchise?
“I would say there was a brief possibility where that could happen, but I was always convinced that that he was going to be able to do it,” says “New Moon” director Chris Weitz at the film’s Friday (Nov. 6) press day. “The doubts came up because he had very few scenes in the first movie and also because he’s described as being 6’5″ in the second book. So there were some reasonable facts that we had to come to grips with. I liked the sweetness of his character and I knew that it was easier to take an actor in the direction of anger and rage than it was to find someone who was kinda a hunk or 6’5″ Native American and somehow turn him into that very sweet-natured persona that Taylor brings out so well to boot.”
Adds producer Wyck Godfrey, “Once audiences identified with Taylor when they saw ‘Twilight,’ he’s in their minds. He’s Jacob. So it became less of an idea to recast once the movie opened and people were like ‘He’s Jacob.’ It certainly helped that he had spent the last eight months really working very hard to physically adapt himself to the role.”
Indeed, Lautner’s physical transformation is so shocking that the first question the actor faces is a joint query about whether he actually thought he was going to lose the part and whether steroids played any role in his growth.
“Definitely not,” Lautner says, taking the second part first. “Honestly, I knew where my character went on ‘New Moon’ and that’s all I tried to stay focused on. I couldn’t control things outside. I couldn’t control the media. But I could control what I was doing to portray Jacob Black correctly, so that’s what I stayed focused on the whole entirely time.”
So how, then, did Lautner add a reported 30 pounds of muscle? Well, sure it helps to be an already athletic 17-year-old, but you have to put in the time and effort.
“I was in the gym about five days a week, because it’s important to get your recover time and not overworking yourself… I was trying to put on weight and if was in the gym too much, I’d be burning the calories I’m trying to take in,” Lautner says. “The most important thing was the eating side. Everybody thinks it was the actual getting in the gym. That was easy. I was motivated. So getting in the gym was easy for me. But the eating was pretty hard. It was just eating a lot. We found out that I had to consume at least 3200 calories a day just to maintain and I’m not trying to maintain. I’m trying to gain. So I had to eat more than that and putting something in your mouth every two hours and I’m busy. I’m in downtown LA going from meeting to meeting, so there’s not time for me to be eating. So I literally would have to carry a little baggy full of beef patties and raw almonds and sweet potatoes. So it’s not like every two hours I’m eating ice cream. It was difficult.”
Whatever Lautner did, it worked, catching the attention of a co-star who isn’t exactly doormat, if the squealing fans are to be believed.
Cracks Robert Pattinson, “I didn’t see Taylor until just a little bit before we started shooting, so when he came back, I had the same reaction as everybody else. It’s like ‘Geez… Now I have to go to the gym.'”
Also noticing was Weitz, which may explain why Lautner spends half the movie with his shirt off, including a particularly gratuitous moment where he whips off his top to help a wounded Bella.
“I start laughing so hard every time I see that scene,” Lautner admits. “‘Oh, look, you’re bleeding? OK. Let me fix it.’ It’s so embarrassing.”
It’s also totally motivated by the story. Totally. Don’t believe us? Ask Lautner.
“Here’s the thing. There’s a reason that he’s not wearing clothes all the time,” Lautner explains. “One, when he transforms, all his clothes get shredded. He can’t help it. And when he goes into the woods to get something to put on, so he’s not naked, it’s just a ripped pair of jean shorts. He’s also hot. He’s 108 degrees. So that’s another reason. And the thing is, I love this character and I love the story and putting on the weight and not wearing much clothing was required by the role. A year from now, if I love a story and I love a character that requires me to lose 40 pounds, I’m ready to do it.”
And one co-star knew Lautner could do it all along.
“I always knew that Taylor could do that but we just needed to make sure because it was so important,” Kristen Stewart says. “So once he actually proved himself which wasn’t hard to do, even seeing him walk around on set was like a different experience. He’s literally become a different person. He’s just grown up. He’s so confident and the nicest guy that I’ve ever met. I know that I’m using this grammatically incorrect but he’s the funnest guy I’ve ever hung out with. So he’s great. I’m so proud of him.”
“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” opens on Nov. 20.