The "Twilight" saga may be behind Taylor Lautner, but a new dawn is breaking in his acting career.
Lautner, of course, earned insta-fame through his role as lycanthropic heartthrob Jacob Black over the course of the five-film series, and now he's focusing on perfecting his chosen craft in as many formats as possible: he's discovered a facility for comedy that he's put to work first in the quirky BBC series "Cuckoo" and currently in the second season of Fox's horror/comedy "Scream Queens"; next he takes on the leading role in the gritty, emotional drama "Run the Tide," playing the eldest of two young brothers struggling to get by during their mother's stint in prison for drug charges, and her impending return only threatens to upend the life they're clinging to.
In a candid conversation with Moviefone, the 24-year-old actor reveals why he's chosen to pursue creative challenges over celebrity, keeping up with "Scream Queens'" endless curveballs, and living up to his early fanbase's faith in him over the years.
Moviefone: This is probably the most challenging role, I'm guessing, that you've had to take on?
Taylor Lautner: Absolutely. No question.
How did you start prepping? Not just for this role only -- it's clear see that going deeper as an actor, digging deeper and coming up with new approaches to your technique. Tell me where you were, coming into this.
When I read the script, I fell in love with the story, and you could really tell that the writer just put his heart on the paper. It's based off of his life. I fell in love with Rey's character, and all of the characters really, but it was intense, and it scared me. I recently have noticed that when I take on something that scares me, and I'm not sure if I can do, that's when I find the most fulfillment.
I used to like look for projects that I thought were cool, and entertaining, or something I could really, really relate to. There's a lot about Rey that I can relate to, but there's just as much that I can't. So to be able to have to dig deep and find things within yourself that you haven't even realized yet was scary, it was a lot of fun for me and extremely fulfilling.
Was there a scene or an aspect of Rey that said that to you; a scene or aspect where you went in terrified, like "Can I pull this off?" and then you felt very satisfied with where you got with it?
I think probably the fact that Rey really is, he's a father figure. He was forced to grow up very quickly, and essentially raise his brother since he was four years old, Oliver. And for me, I didn't know how quite I was going to do that.
I was able to pull from my relationship with my younger sister. I have a younger sister and we're almost seven years apart, and we're extremely close. So I was able to use that, but I think that parental aspect of Rey and that journey with him and his brother was definitely one of the things that worried me most, and I was very happy with it by the end. Me and Nico [Christou], who played Oliver, became very close and we bonded, so that made it easier.
How hard was that big confrontation scene the two of you had?
So brutal! One of the things we did with this movie is we filmed it pretty much in sequential order, which is so rare to be able to do that. I remember when I was first talking with our director Soham [Mehta] about it, he said that he intended on doing that if we could. So it allowed me and Nico to establish our relationship, and we became very close throughout filming.
So I think it was the second to last day that we had to film that scene, and it was just so tough. Me and Nico have so much fun off set, and we're joking around, and then that day, I remember, we kind of just stayed away from each other, because we knew it was going to be difficult, and we knew we would not be able to go in and out of making fart jokes to that scene.
I remember as soon as they would call cut, we would kind of just like turn away from each other and walk away and not really speak. It was very strange, and kind of heartbreaking for me.
There's an aspect of your career that has come with a large degree of fame. With this movie, you get to kind of put that aspect aside and do some hard work. Tell me about how those two things fit in your life: where you have to have perspective about what fame brings to you and makes some things easier -- and some things harder, I'm sure. And then work, which also might be great one day and really difficult one day. Tell me how that all fits in your life.
Yeah, it is true, this thing called fame -- it was thrown to me at such a young age. It hits you like a ton of bricks over the head and you're not really sure what to do with it. And it's true there's a lot of aspects that fame can make your life easier and more enjoyable, but it also can present a lot of challenges.
The biggest thing for me is being able to use your fame, or your popularity, to be able to affect people in a positive way, and that's kind of one of the reasons I chose to do this movie is the message in it. I feel like a lot of people my age, teens and young 20s, can relate to Rey in the sense that he just wants to run away, and he just wants to start over. Whatever that pain is that's in his life and his past, he just wants a new, fresh start.
I think a lot of people can relate to that. But they don't know: are they going to find that light at the end of the tunnel? This story really gives that glimpse of hope.
You've got fans that have followed you from the moment they discovered you. What do you hope that they find in performances like these and the future projects that they're going to follow you to? What are you hoping that they are enjoying out of staying loyal to your "brand" in a sense?
I think it's exactly that: I do want to do projects that they're going to enjoy and be entertained by. But I think the biggest thing is being able to play roles and do projects that just affect people in a positive way.
Recently, I've been choosing things that allow me to do that. It's cool just to know that you can affect people like that, get messages across to them and teach life lessons. We're all learning and growing together.
You mentioned that fear factor being enticing to you now. What was scary about "Scream Queens"?
Because it's something I've never done before. I do a small British show called "Cuckoo," but besides that, it's really the first TV I've done. So that in itself was foreign to me. Being thrown into a cast that is already a family, and me being the new one was scary for me.
And an all-star cast at that.
Exactly. And to be jumping into a cast like that, just such terrific actors, it was intimidating at first. I was like, "How am I going to fit in? I don't know." But I kind of just trusted Ryan Murphy, which is easy to do. It's turned out well. I've had so much fun, personally and creatively, and I'm so glad that I did it.
What did you find out about your own comedic aptitude? Most of the material that you'd done hadn't been comedy-centric, really. So to figure out how you were funny and the ways you were going to be funny for this show -- what was the fun discovery in that?
I have recently done a couple comedy things that I've really enjoyed. I had so much fun with it. This specifically, my character Cassidy Cascade is very real. There's so many big characters in the show, just, like, otherworldly. Cassidy is kind of real. That's kind of where I had to find the comedy, surrounded by the huge, crazy personalities, finding the comedy in just the actual realness of the show.
And yet he's dead.
And yet he is dead!
Or so we all -- and he -- presumes.
So tell me about figuring out how you were going to come at that.
"Scream Queens" is so insane because it's true that they don't tell you what is happening next. You literally are given a script for one episode, and you read it, and you film that, and they don't tell you where you're character is going to go, they don't tell us who the killers are, they don't tell us anything at all. They keep us in the dark. So it does make it challenging to play some of the things.
Like, I hear that I'm dead. I'm like, "Do I actually think I'm dead? Maybe I'm not really dead. So how do I play it? Am I going to pretend that I am dead?" It allows you to use your imagination, and I think that's what they kind of want.
But it definitely is challenging, because with a movie script, you see where your character is going to go. You know where he begins and where he ends. It's quite the opposite with this.
You don't know necessarily if they're going to change up anything or if there are characters on the show that you're going to be working with more so than you have before? You don't really know anything ahead?
Correct. They don't tell us anything. As soon as we get the script for the next episode, we all go into our trailers during lunch and read it as fast as possible. One, to see who dies, so we can start saying goodbye to them. And two, yeah, there's always some sort of jaw-dropping moment in every episode that you don't see coming. So they keep us on our toes for sure.
It looked like, before the second season premiered, that the cast was hazing you a little bit. They were playfully giving you a hard time in interviews, teasing you -- was that also going on while you were shooting?
I don't think there has been too much hazing. Me and [John] Stamos were pretty much the new guys. So we're surrounded by a lot of estrogen and a lot of big personalities. Everybody is nice. They welcomed us with open arms. They didn't make it too rough. They definitely could have made it a lot worse!
"Run the Tide" opens in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on December 2. "Scream Queens" airs Tuesdays on Fox.