LOS ANGELES — Like many of the “Twihard” fans who have devotedly followed the blockbuster film franchise, Taylor Lautner has grown up with “The Twilight Saga.”
The youngest of the series' trio of lead actors, Lautner, 20, has worked hard over the past few years to soak up every experience — from the vital on-the-job training to the strange fan encounters — inside the pop culture phenomenon, which is coming to a close with the opening of the fifth movie, “Breaking Dawn — Part 2.”
“It's been like four or five years, but at the same time, it seems like it was just beginning yesterday, and it flew by, and so many things have happened,” he said in a recent news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel.
“I've just grown up a ton, because I did start this when I was 15 years old. So I mean that's kind of just bound to happen, but it also is kind of at an accelerated rate. ... I love the fact that we had different directors for each movie, except for these last two. I mean, that was amazing to play the same character but be directed in a different way every time and have different input.
“It's kind of an actor's dream because of that, and to play one character for so long because when you do a normal film, you play the character for three months, and then you say goodbye to them. Then you watch the movie, and you're like, ‘Oh I wish I could have done that differently. I wish I could have added this to it.' And with this you had four more movies to play with. So it was an amazing experience.”
The final film picks up right where last year's “Breaking Dawn — Part 1” left off, with heroine Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) adjusting to her transformation into a vampire, with the help of her immortal husband, Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
Bella also reunites with her best friend, Jacob Black (Lautner), who is a werewolf, and is surprised to learn that her pal has imprinted on her half-human/half-vampire baby, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), which means that Jacob and her daughter are destined to be soul mates.
“Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer worked as a producer on the “Breaking Dawn” movies, and Lautner was particularly grateful for her guidance when it came to playing the imprinting storyline.
“It's a fine line, and I was worried about it,” he said. “She basically told me, ‘Stop overcomplicating it.' She's like, ‘Just think here and now. That's all you really have to focus on, and it's simple.' She said, ‘It's a lifelong bond between two people and that's it. At this point ... it's more of a protective thing like a brother-sister.'”
Bonding with a supernatural, fast-growing baby wasn't the only awkward “wolf thing” the Michigan native had to do in the course of the fifth film. As with the previous “Twilight” movies, preparing to transform into Jacob's werewolf form required Lautner to strip off various articles of clothing.
“It's always uncomfortable when I have to take my shirt off or something because I'm always the only one doing it. The weather conditions, we film in (in Vancouver), everybody is bundled up in like seven layers, and I'm the only one in jean shorts,” he said with a wry grin.
The success of “The Twilight Saga” has transformed Lautner into a movie star and led to some unusual encounters with the famously fervent “Twihard” fan base.
In particular, he remembers signing a fan's arm and learning later that she had his signature tattooed where he'd scrawled it.
“These fans are passionate, and they continue to blow my mind every single day,” he said.
He is particularly grateful for the fans who supported keeping him in the role of Jacob. Prior to filming of the second movie, “New Moon,” recasting was considered since the character grows tall and muscular as he develops into a werewolf. Lautner packed on 30 pounds of muscle to ensure he remained part of the “Twilight” universe.
“Thinking back to every day in that gym, every burger patty shoved down my throat, every protein shake, all that stuff; it was worth it,” he said.
“Moving forward, I can't be more thankful for this franchise and everything it's given all of us. It's given us the opportunity to do things that we love, and be able to pick and choose to a certain extent certain ways that we want to challenge ourselves, and I wouldn't be able to do that without this.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Summit Entertainment.