CHICAGO — Dashingly disheveled Robert Pattinson has an infectious, high-pitched laugh that would never do for his seductive vampire lover-boy, Edward Cullen.
Buff-and-polished Taylor Lautner is pocket-size compared with the looming stature of his werewolf counterpart, Jacob Black.
Casual yet cool Kristen Stewart can be a real chatterbox, unlike her moody Bella Swan, the high schooler in a romantic tug of war between these two supernatural objects of teen desire.
Lucky girl, right? "Yeah, but that's in the movies," Stewart says about bringing to life the modern-day Gothic heroine from the insanely popular Twilight book series (85 million copies sold so far). "I'm just the ultimate fan. If you read a story and you like it andconnect to it, it probably means you've inserted yourself in the story, and I get to do that on the most glorified level possible."
Hollywood fantasy regularly blends with everyday reality for these three blazing-hot rising stars. It has taken a while for a cultural navigator like Oprah Winfrey to zero in on the heat behind the literary-spawned phenom. But on this early May morning, Twilight fever is raging at Harpo Studios as the actors file into the backstage area after taping a show that aired Thursday. The occasion? Eclipse, the third chapter in an already billion-dollar worldwide franchise that arrives June 30.
The actors are unfazed by the shrieking adoration of a largely female audience, many in black Twilight T's — Team Edward and Team Jacob are duly represented — and all handpicked for their passion for the epic movie series based on author Stephenie Meyer's four-part saga.
"It's so nice sometimes, preaching to the converted," says Pattinson, 24, the London-born overnight sex symbol and primary reason for the screams. Thanks to his devoted worshipers, he has been elevated from a little-known Harry Potter supporting player to one of Time's 100 most influential people in the world in less than three years. They were out in force the night before at a Winfrey-sponsored screening of an unfinished print of Eclipse. Afterward, a firestorm of fan Tweets rife with "OMGs" gushed about the much-anticipated sequel to 2008's Twilight and last year's New Moon.
Once Stewart, 20, painstakingly signs Winfrey's guest book and Lautner, 18, stops practicing his grape-tossing parlor trick, the castmates settle into a buttery leather sofa to talk about such topics as the iconic moments that are re-created in Eclipse, run-ins with other celebrities and what the post-Twilight future holds.
The fame game
But, first, the pain of fame that comes from being on the paparazzi's most-wanted list is addressed. When New Moon opened last fall, barely a day went by without seeing a headline about Lautner and country cutie Taylor Swift or speculation on whether Pattison and Stewart are a real-life couple.
Although, lately, the frenzy has calmed somewhat, judging by the number of Twilight-free magazine covers at grocery checkouts. "I don't know if this is the actual reason why, but we have gotten better at hiding over the last year," Pattinson says.
"That's totally the reason," Stewart concurs. "They just make up a story to go along with the pictures. If they never get the picture, there's no story. We are just good hiders now."
Such subterfuge includes neither confirming nor denying that they are in a relationship. Yet there clearly is some sort of special connection between the two, what with their playful teasing and personal asides. Let's just say it wasn't Lautner who placed a hand on Pattinson's leg during a portion of the interview.
But all three take their Twilight-related duties to heart, whatever they might require. Stewart even leaps up in a panic at one point, fearing she misspelled a word in her salutation to Winfrey. She checks the book: "Believe — ie or ei?"
"I before e except after c," Pattinson responds. She checks. "Oh, yeah," she says with a triumphant fist pump.
Pattinson laughs. "I almost spelled Oprah wrong. I almost wrote Opera."
The actors are keen to know how Eclipse played to the crowd at the screening and are pleased to hear that every element has been heightened: the horror, the romance, the three-way interaction among their characters, the touches of humor that often come at the expense of Edward and Jacob's rivalry — especially after they forge a testy alliance to save Bella from a roving gang of rabid newborn vampires.
Stewart says of Eclipse's positive early reception: "It is a well-oiled machine at this point. We have had a lot of time to establish what this thing is about and a lot of time to consider it. And they gave us so much more money this time. So that is exciting."
Pattinson, looking bemused, quickly clarifies her statement. "For the film. The budget."
Stewart is chagrined. "Oh, my God. No, no. That didn't even occur to me. They gave us so much more money to make the film look good!"
The leads did get raises — Stewart and Pattinson are taking home a reported $7.5 million each plus a percentage of the gross, Lautner gets $5 million — while the production's price tag grew to $65 million, still modest compared with similar franchises.
Yet the few extra bucks seem to have paid off, especially with the effects. Even Lautner's CG wolf alter-ego is more adorable than in New Moon. "Yeah," says the actor, sheepishly. "It was very cuddly. I don't know if that's what we were aiming for."
He waffles over the wisdom of sharing an anecdote about the scene in which the vicious horse-sized beast sweetly nuzzles Bella and she scratches his ear. After a little coaxing, he relents.
"That day I came on set and put on this tight gray spandex suit ..."
"There is dialogue and I talk to him," Stewart explains. "I said, 'How am I going to do this without Taylor?' " So instead of the actress pretending that a massive computer-animated wolf was nearby, Lautner volunteered to be its stand-in.
"Basically, it looked like a Teletubby," he continues about his outfit. "I had this circle on the face but everything else was covered. It was weird. But, yeah, I stood there and would literally bend over ..."
"I would actually pet his head," Stewart adds.
Pattinson, meanwhile, struggled with Edward's rather formal proposal to Bella, which reflects the fact that although his vintage vampire looks 17, he hails from the turn of the last century.
"I was dreading the day it was coming," he says of the scene that was held until the very end of the shoot. "The first time I read the script, I thought, 'This is impossible.' " References to "promenades" and sharing "iced tea on the porch" as Edward explains how he would have courted Bella in the old days especially stuck in his throat. "It's so earnest. I finally convinced the producers that you can play it with a bit of awareness of not being a fictional character. I'm not trying to be part of a Gothic novel."
When Pattinson finally watched it, however, he was pleasantly surprised. "It seems different when you see it."
Their profiles have grown with each film, and celebrity status does afford them the chance to mingle with their own idols. Although, more often than not, the other stars are the ones bedazzled as they request autographs for their Twilight-crazed kids.
"I took a picture with Ron Howard last year at the Oscars," Pattinson recalls. "I thought it was the funniest thing. I asked, 'Is it for your kids?' He said, 'No, it's for me. I want to have it on my phone.' " Making the situation even odder: Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, is in Eclipse.
Alas, Pattinson has yet to run into his favorite, Jack Nicholson.
Stewart pipes up: "I have."
Pattinson: "What? When did you meet?"
Stewart: "At a screening for Into the Wild," her 2007 coming-of-age drama directed by Sean Penn. "He was exactly like you think he would be."
Pattinson, sounding peeved: "You never told me that."
Lautner joins in. "I didn't meet him but I sat next to him at a Lakers game."
Pattinson, utterly exasperated: "What?"
Life beyond 'Twilight'
Next subject. The three are actively trying to ward off post-Twilight typecasting by doing solo projects in between. Stewart and Pattinson, both bookworms and drawn to art-house fare, earned OK reviews but underwhelming ticket sales for their two recent releases, the girl-band bio The Runaways and the romantic melodrama Remember Me.
But they continue to be in demand for more mature roles. Stewart is psyched to be a part of a big-screen version of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which starts shooting in August. Pattinson recently wrapped his work on the London set of Bel Ami as a 19th-century social-climbing rogue opposite Kristin Scott Thomas, Uma Thurman and Christina Ricci. Does he bed all three?
"Yes, but they're not like typical love scenes at all," he says.
Adds Stewart: "They're all a little weird. A little edgy. And a little nude." Chuckling ensues.
Meanwhile, Lautner — a natural athlete who played a high school track star in the box-office-topping ensemble comedy Valentine's Day— seems to be angling to become the next big action hero with upcoming roles in the thriller Abduction and Stretch Armstrong, a 3-D adventure based on a toybox muscleman.
Did he ever own one of the dolls, whose limbs could be pulled and elongated like taffy? "I don't remember having one at my house, but I totally remember stretching that sucker."
Then there is the next Twilight feature, Breaking Dawn, opening Nov. 18 next year. The fourth and presumably final book is so jammed with life-altering events — a wedding, first-time sex between Bella and Edward, a grotesquely painful birth — that there has been talk of doing two films back to back. And it might even be in 3-D. But the actors can confirm only their involvement.
What has been decided is that Breaking Dawn's director will be Bill Condon, the filmmaker behind Dreamgirlsand Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Chicago.
Have they met Condon, who already posted a letter on Facebook reassuring fans of his appreciation of the material and that the film most definitely will not be a musical despite his résumé?
Lautner nods yes.
Pattinson: "When did you meet him?" Lautner: "One day." Stewart: "Did you have a meeting?" Lautner: "No, no." Pattinson: "I literally met him three nights ago."
Stewart, in a mock snit: "Well, he obviously doesn't want to meet me."