LOS ANGELES — Getting cast in a movie that becomes a huge cultural phenomenon can be a life-changing experience for an actor, but as Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich of “Beautiful Creatures” see it, this is not always a good thing. Before they saw writer-director Richard LaGravenese's script and got excited about starring in the supernatural romance, both actors turned down “Beautiful Creatures,” fearing it could be the “Twilight” of their careers.
Englert, 18, the daughter of director Jane Campion (“The Piano,” “The Portrait of a Lady”), said she and Ehrenreich were given what she called a “generic brief” or pitch for the film, which is based on the best-selling Southern Gothic young adult novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl about a young witch's uneasy romance with a mortal teenage boy in rural South Carolina. At first blush, they said, there were plenty of reasons to look the other way.
“Yeah, it just sounded slightly like a remake of something that we thought was a little early to remake,” Englert said during a press day at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“It didn't feel like it had its own identity in the pitch we were given, which was ‘Twilight' meets ‘Romeo and Juliet,'” said Ehrenreich, 23. “That's really how they do it. It's always this comparative stuff, so when you try to get a movie made, it's always ‘It's-“Terminator”-meets-“Mrs. Doubtfire.”' It's always that kind of thing. And it's really limiting, because you might miss out on something really special. And luckily, in this case, we were both fortunate enough that it came back to us.”
Although the early pitch to the actors failed to make an impact, LaGravenese and the film's producers believed in the material and wanted “Beautiful Creatures” to be an object lesson in how to elevate a genre that became overcrowded after the success of “The Twilight Saga.” LaGravenese said he was certain that Englert, who is receiving early raves for her performance in “Ginger and Rosa” with Elle Fanning, and Ehrenreich, who was discovered by Steven Spielberg at a bat mitzvah and has since worked with both Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, were the right actors to bring Lena Duchannes and Ethan Wate to life.
“The first thing that attracted me to Alden and Alice is that neither one of them wanted to do it,” said LaGravenese, whose previous scripts include “The Fisher King,” “The Ref,” “Beloved” and “Water for Elephants.” “That put me at ease, because ... they weren't about celebrity, they weren't about trying to be the next ‘Twilight' team. They weren't about that at all. They were anti-‘that.' We actually had to go to London to talk Alice into considering it. I had to talk with her for about an hour, and she was like, ‘I don't want that world.' I said, ‘I don't either. Let me show you the script.'”
Sold on the screenplay
The screenplay did the trick, and not just with the two young leads. The script for “Beautiful Creatures” attracted prestige-level actors for the supporting cast, including Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, Viola Davis and Emmy Rossum.
“For me, when I read the script, within the first pages I knew I wanted to do it,” Ehrenreich said. “I knew from the writing. I think you can tell really fast.”
Ehrenreich said he actually relished the idea of being in a huge hit that could launch a franchise, mainly because it could create positive buzz for his career, and with three more novels in the series ripe for adaptation — “Beautiful Darkness,” “Beautiful Chaos” and “Beautiful Redemption” — the potential is there.
And neither actor necessarily had a problem with Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight Saga” or the films based on it, but the sudden rush of attention that engulfed stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson — much of it focused on their personal lives rather than their acting — was a turnoff for Englert and Ehrenreich.
“It means hairdressing salons and the magazines on the stack there,” Englert said.
That resistance to the paparazzi machine, LaGravenese said, will serve his stars well.
“This generation, I have a great deal of confidence in and faith,” he said. “It's like the post-celebrity/reality TV generation. These young people want to do really interesting things.”
Ehrenreich said, “You can be a celebrity without being an actor, and you can be an actor without being a celebrity.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.