By KJ Doughton | November 21, 2008

I’m cold to “Twilight.”

As cold as a vampire’s pale, undead flesh. I’ve never read a page from the series, but my wife and daughter have devoured all four books. Someone out there is digging Stephenie Meyer’s story of Romeo and Juliet-caliber forbidden romance, which sounds like a bouncier, more cuddly variation on the more decadent vampire tomes of Anne Rice. However, this is an assumption made by a 43-year old non-fan. I literally know nothing about the phenomenon that is “Twilight.” And as I walk into a press junket interview promoting Catherine Hardwicke’s much-anticipated onscreen adaptation, I’m not in any big hurry to embrace the franchise. It sounds like young girl stuff.

But what do I know? The rest of the world seems fixated on everything related to the sensationally popular love story between human heroine Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart, of “Into the Wild” and “Panic Room” fame) and hunky vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). “Twilight” is hotter than “High School Musical” and more in demand than Type O Negative at a blood bank. The books have sold over 17 million copies worldwide. “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth book in the series and released on August 2, sold a staggering 1.3 million copies during its first 24 hours in release. Is “Twilight” an accessible-yet-edgier teen variation on past youth mythologies like “Harry Potter,” safe for mall bunnies yet grotesque enough for goths?

More importantly, how is the film? I haven’t seen the movie, even as I prepare to interview three of its young stars (It’s an unusual case of press interviews being offered before the actual screening). The choice of Hardwicke as a director seems an inspired one. Hardwicke helmed 2003’s “Thirteen,” a disturbing, unflinching look at girls growing up in New Millenium teenage junk culture. “Lords of Dogtown” (2005) tackled the underage, seventies skater societies of Venice, California. The filmmaker knows young people. She doesn’t whitewash.

So here I am, uninformed and un-hip to Meyer’s universe of “good” vampires (those who pledge to a vegetarian-like refrain from human red stuff, content to feast only on animal blood), and “bad,” human-hunting, nomadic vampires. I study the downtown hotel where the round table interview is slated to begin in a few short minutes, trying to assemble some kind of angle.

Astonishingly, the garish lobby conjures forth a real vampire vibe. Decadent gold trim slathers every curtain, chandelier, and handrail. Roman pillars rise up from an earlier era, pushing against gravity to ensure that the lofty hotel roof doesn’t plummet downward into its airy, open space. The floor and elevators are forged from marble slabs. Oh, yeah – those elevators. They’re very “Shining” like. Suddenly, I’m leaning to the left, averting a potential wave of red plasma from their opening doors.

A publicist guides me onto the elevator (no “Shining” blood to be found) and up several floors. He ushers me to a hotel room, opens the door, and points toward a small coffee table surrounded with chairs and couches. The other two writers in attendance are young women, both obviously in-the-know fans. One is wielding a microphone larger than Dirty Harry’s handgun. I’m a middle-aged guy, brandishing a scratched-up, antiquated cassette player older than Nosferatu. I feel prehistoric and out of place.

Weird. But perhaps being an older, male “Twilight” newbie can work to my advantage. Certainly, many filmgoers – especially post-adolescent, action-craving guys – will scoff at seeing the film, with its illicit teenybopper love theme and commercial, youth-market buzz. Can the “Twilight” cast persuade me that the movie has something to offer my demographic? Is their film more than a fanged chick flick? Perhaps I can find out.

A pouty-lipped redhead named Rachelle Lefevre approaches, tearing foil and paper from around a chocolate bar. “Have some,” she offers me with a smile. Although Lefevre plays villainous, nomadic vampire Victoria in the film, she confesses to having not yet screened a final cut of “Twilight.” Taylor Lautner, a 16-year old with dark, Eddie Munster hair and a teen-heartthrob smile, plays Jacob. His character is a Quileute tribe member whose role in the books starts out small, but builds steam later in the series. He’s seen the film, and is convinced that it works as both an emotional character study and an action epic. Edi Gathegi, cast as nomad Laurent, seconds the notion that Hardwicke not only nailed the spirit of the books, but added a new dimension.

“For my part, I knew that Katherine was a director I wanted to work with. She had an energy and eagerness to get work done. That’s something that you want your director to have. It’s that sort of energy that brings great performances out of younger actors who are operating on a more energetic level. You know that from her previous work, like ‘Lords of Dogtown’ and ‘Thirteen.’ She has a great history with younger actors. She also brings a unique design background. She has a great eye for visuals, time, space, and action.”

I ask the actors whether they were huge fanatics of the “Twilight” book series before walking into the project, or, like me, they had very little background familiarity with Meyer’s mythology. “I actually had no idea what ‘Twilight’ was,” admits Lautner with a sheepish grin. “I heard it was a book series. I had never seen a ‘Twilight’ book before in my life. As soon as I was cast, I found out how big this was, and what the potential was. Originally, I was excited just to work with Katherine Hardwicke and Kristin Stewart. Then, when I found out what a phenomenon this was, it was crazy for me.”

“I read ‘Twilight’ right before my audition,” explains Lefevre, the most gregarious and poised of the three thespians. A gold, three-inch long ring etched with two hummingbirds covers much of Lefevre’s left hand, reflecting her larger-than-life personality.

“I’d heard of the books, but hadn’t read them. As soon as I read ‘Twilight,’ I went into the audition. I didn’t have the pressure of, ‘Oh, everybody’s expecting something. Do I have to be what they are imagining?’ But I already had a vampire thing. I was already in love with the genre. Then, having read ‘Twilight,’ I did go into the project with a certain amount of, ‘Oh, I really want this job!’ After the audition, I read the other two books. As soon as “Breaking Dawn” came out, I read the fourth. So I’m definitely a fan.”

Gathegi chimes in to proclaim himself a “Twi-guy,” defined as a long-term, die-hard fan of the series. “I think I would have been in trouble if I had read the books right before auditioning. Especially since when I was cast, there was a backlash from the fans. They didn’t really see Laurent as being African American. He’s described as being olive-toned. I addressed the issue head-on in an interview. I said, ‘There’s many types of olives. Black olives, anyone?’ Instantly, all they naysayers became believers. They could tell that I was a genuine fan of Stephanie Meyers’ novel, and that I was going to do my best to bring this character to life. I was invested.”

With two of the three “Twilight” cast members confessing to very little previous knowledge of the “Twilight” universe, I suddenly don’t feel so out of place.

I move on to the next order of business. Is “Twilight” a film that transcends female romance status, with something to offer testosterone-powered Alpha Males as well? Gathegi, sporting a moss-green cap emblazoned with the term Co-Exist, pleads with men to consider the following.

“If you’ve got a girlfriend and take her to this movie, you’re gonna get points,” he insists with a mischievous grin. “If you’re single, go to a ‘Twilight’ event, and there’s gonna be nothing but girls. This is a goldmine for guys to tap into.”

“From the female perspective,” offers Lefevre, “if your girlfriend says she really wants to see ‘Twilight,’ and you go, ‘Oh, okay (sigh) – I know you really want to see it,’ you won’t get any points for that. If you’re a guy, say to your girlfriend, ‘Hey, I know you really like this ‘Twilight.’ Why don’t we go on Saturday night?’ It’s gotta be the guy’s idea.”

I ask them what the film holds for people completely out of touch with the series. People like me.

“It has a very lovely story at its core,” confirms Gathegi. “For those who haven’t read the book, (the film) stands on its own. There’s also a lot of action. About halfway through the film, it gets ramped up and it’s nonstop, go-go-go. You really feel like you’ve enjoyed a moviegoing experience.”

“I know that all of my guy friends would totally love the film,” insists Lautner. “I tend to like romance films. But this one is not just romance. It’s got action, and this little twist of horror.”

Fair enough. But what about the other side of the coin? Will purists balk at omissions from the book, or cringe at added scenes that weren’t in the original text?

“I don’t think there’s anything in the movie that’s not in the book,” claims Lefevre, lifting her left arm and revealing the phrase “Invictus” tatooed beneath the wrist. “There might be a couple of things that link two scenes or two story points because they had to condense the story. Or, because it’s Bella’s point of view, there are things that happen where Bella doesn’t have the exact viewpoint. So she misses a lot of the action, because it moves too quickly for her human eyes. So there’s a lot of action in the movie that is in the book. It’s just that we’ve actually shown it to you, rather than Bella going, ‘I got hit on the head, then I woke up and heard there was a fight.’ We actually show you the fight.

“The movie also moves at a faster pace, because it has to. The book is 600 pages, and the movie script is 100 pages. That’s just what happens with an adaptation. But I think we were really true to the book.”

Like some shape-shifting creature of the night, recent vampire mythology has appeared in an astonishing variety of forms and styles. On one end of the spectrum is the hip, winking, “Juno”-esque dialogue of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” At the other extreme is “Let the Right One In,” all quiet, carefully framed mise-en-scene. Is “Twilight” energized by the word-heavy sarcasm of a Joss Whedon series, or does its power come from a moodier, subtler place?

“I think it’s both,” suggests Lefevre. “The reason the dialogue is so important is that so much of its is stuff that Stephenie wrote from the book, which is really our Gospel. There’s a line where Edward says to Bella, ‘You’re my particular brand of heroin.’ There are these poetic lines that Stephenie has written that get into the movie. Those are super important.

“Also – and I haven’t seen the finished film, but when I read the script, and from what I saw in our filming, there’s so much quiet intensity in the relationships where nothing is said, yet everything gets said.”

“Absolutely,” confirms Lautner. “You have that visual intensity with the romance, when they’re just making eye contact, to the baseball scene where the (nomadic) vampires show up. There’s nothing said yet, and it’s already intense. You’re sweating it.”

A journalist from asks each actor to describe his or her favorite scene. Most single out a climactic “ballet studio” scene with some intense confrontations. Another popular moment begins in a baseball field. According to the trio, the scene plays out as a prolonged, suspenseful chase. Definite action-freak eye candy, I’m assured.

Publicists give us the signal that our interview time is almost up. I ask the pivotal question. Is there anything to recommend from “Twilight” for guys, other than the potential that you’ll score with your date if you’re willing to take her to the film? Is there enough action to satiate those repelled by moody, touchy-feely emo vibes? Are there any real red-meat moments to go along with the sensuous crimson bloodsucking?

“I don’t think there’s a question,” pipes up Lautner. “It’s the ballet studio scene. I think that’s the number one scene that guys will love.”

“They’re gonna get drawn in from the beginning of that entire sequence, that starts in the baseball field,” elaborates Gathegi. “They’re gonna go, ‘Okay, this is what I came here for! And that goes on for an hour.”

“Yeah,” agrees Lautner. “Right when it starts, with the baseball scene, that is when the hunt is on. That is exactly when the guys sit up and go, ‘Okay!’ It’s nonstop action and intensity until the very end.”

Lefevre has a different, more feminine take. “I know I’m not a guy, but I’m gonna take a stab at this anyway. I’ve been thinking about this. One of the things that I think I so great about what Stephanie’s done, is her great descriptions of Edward’s anxiety and struggles, even if it’s from Bella’s point of view. I hope so badly that she’ll go back to work on “Midnight Sun,” (Meyer postponed completion of this latest “Twilight” book after rough drafts were posted illegally online).

“I think this really comes across in the movie. Rob does a great job of portraying his frustrations, passion, and experience trying to be with Bella. I think that guys are gonna relate to that. Guys are having experiences with relationships, just like girls are. It’s equally as intense, and passionate, and frustrating for them.”

The discussion comes to an end. Posters are signed. The trio announces its plans to jet off to an autograph session at a nearby mall, where thousands of fans have reportedly assembled. 750 promo shirts printed up for the event have already been claimed. This whole “Twilight” fever is fascinating, even if I’m still not entirely convinced the film would ever be my particular cup of blood.

Will guys like the film? After spending time with Lefevre, Gathegi, and Lautner, here’s my expectation. Girls will flock for the characterizations, relationships, and romance heaped into the early reels, while guys get their fix of kinetic thrills later on. In this sense, the movie sounds a bit like “Titanic” in terms of structure and appeal. As Lefevre pointed out, the onscreen version has a male-winning advantage over the books. By emphasizing action sequences described less directly in passages described from Bella’s human perspective, the movie becomes more of a magnet for the male, mayhem-loving demographic.

Still not sure what to think? Don’t take the word of an un-hip, middle-aged non-fan who still hasn’t seen the film. Haunt your local multiplex this weekend to assess whether or not “Twilight” has bite.

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