At a fan convention last month in Los Angeles, newly issued vampire Xavier Samuel got a taste of Twilight mania: "I got to hang out with 2,000 people, answer a few questions, mostly about whether I'd have my shirt off in any scenes."
Such is the life of the undead, at least in the world of Twilight, which involves passion, drama and the feverish howling of teenage girls.
"I don't know how you prepare for something like that," Samuel said.
Prepare he must. With the regularity of a full moon, another Twilight movie is upon us — Eclipse, the third in the series inspired by the Stephenie Meyer novels and one that addresses such titanic questions as immortality and high school graduation. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner all return as, respectively, Bella Swan, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, but they are being joined by a virtual legion of previously unseen characters.
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In addition to Bryce Dallas Howard, who replaced Rachelle Lefevre as the vampiress Victoria, there's Jodelle Ferland, who plays Bree, one of the pawns in Victoria's scheme of revenge. "Everybody made me feel very welcome," Ferland said. She giggled. "I also had my 15th birthday on set, so that was really awesome."
And there's Samuel as Riley, a member of Victoria's Newborn Army of bloodsuckers, whose strength is greatest during their early days of un-life. "He's a complex character," Samuel said, "because he's still got human blood pumping through his veins and because he's had his humanity snatched from him, and that stirs a lot of feelings of jealousy and rage."
Riley is being manipulated by Victoria to seek revenge on Bella and Edward, "so he's essentially kind of a puppet, which makes him a tragic figure. It's kind of a Lady Macbeth relationship with Victoria; he's wrapped around her little finger. But director David Slade and I have really talked about the complexities of the character, and about not delving into any clichés and stereotypes."
There are a lot of complexities to Twilight, not the least of which is the triangle involving Bella and her admirers, Edward and Jacob, who come from opposing factions (vampires versus werewolves), but who must unite to protect Bella and all of Seattle. How will it conclude? It won't, not until next year's fourth installment, Breaking Dawn, the screenplay to which is being written by Melissa Rosenberg, who has scripted all four movies. Even then, that installment is being split in two. The first half will be released in November 2011. The fifth movie does not have a release date, according to distributor Summit Entertainment.
"I think we're shooting in October," Rosenberg said, admitting to a certain regret. "Having only done Twilight and Dexter for the last several years, I'm very comfortable in Twilight. I know these characters, I know their voices, I know I can write them. It's a comfortable place to be, and I guess I'm a little bit nervous about going off into the big world.
Twilight, of course, is not something that comes along every day: The last film, which cost about $50 million, has earned nearly $300 million. "I think it's tapped into something intense," Rosenberg said. "You have a character like Bella, who gives us all entry into the world; she's an Everygirl. You're able to get into the vampire world through her very comfortable point of view, and then you become the most wanted, desirable person in the world by these two extraordinary guys — it's wish fulfillment; there's familiarity because it's a series and there's a connectedness through Bella. And Stephenie has really created an incredible world and mythology. She's a good storyteller."