The face - and torso - of 19-year-old Taylor Lautner is recognised the world over through his portrayal of Jacob Black, a young werewolf looking to steal the affections of the central character Bella from Robert Pattinson's vampire in the hugely successful Twilight series of films. Said series made more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67b) at the US box office and has earned Lautner a loyal and devoted legion of fans, who follow his every move and make their presence known whenever the actor is filming or embarking on promotion. But can the young star carry these fans outside of the world of Stephenie Meyer's creation, or are Jacob and Taylor not mutually exclusive?
That's the question posed to those funding this new film, Lautner's first solo starring role, in the Bourne-like action-thriller Abduction. Directed by John Singleton (of Boyz n the Hood and 2 Fast 2 Furious fame), the Michigan-born star plays Nathan, a young man whose main interest is going to parties and having fun with his friends. He is, however, troubled by a notion that he is living someone else's life, with his relationship with his parents feeling strained, and these fears are vindicated when he finds a picture of himself as a child on a missing person's website. The terrified and confused Nathan unveils a mass conspiracy, which sees him on the run from the CIA and Eastern European mobsters.
"This was an amazing learning experience for me," beams the actor. "Going on set every day and getting to watch these amazing actors work: Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs ... I feel like I learned something new from watching each one of them and getting to act opposite them in this movie. Also, it had a director who has worked on some amazing projects, and the story was so interesting to me. As soon as I read it I knew I wanted to do it."
The film features a lot of action, something Lautner was more than prepared for. "I have a martial arts background," he explains. "So I was really looking forward to putting my own style on the fights, but it proved to be harder than I expected. Nathan is not supposed to be an experienced fighter, because he's an ordinary teenager thrown into extraordinary circumstances. We had to make it look authentic, like he's fighting for real and not in a choreographed-looking scene."
Did "dumbing down" the action prove difficult when the actor knew he could look more impressive? "I have to hold back," he shrugs. "John [Singleton] had to say a couple of times, 'Taylor, you can do that, but Nathan can't!'"
Born in 1992, Lautner has been in show business since the early 2000s. In 2005, he co-starred in Robert Rodriguez's sci-fi action film Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D, as well as minor roles in television and film. Then, in 2008, his big break came. Still only 16 years old, Lautner won the role of Jacob Black in Twilight, with that role being further expanded in the storylines of the following films in the series. This role, combined with Lautner's impressive new physique, meant he developed a large fan base, informally known as Team Jacob, in reference to the rivalry between his character and Pattinson's character, Edward.
"I'm very lucky to have people who enjoy what I've done with Twilight," he says. "I'm not sure many films enjoy this kind of loyalty."
Has he had any strange experiences with enthusiasts? "They've mostly been great," he says with a smile. "Some get very excited, and the premieres are always wild whenever we go promoting the film, there can be a lot of screaming! But it's gratifying in a way, you know people are excited to see what we've done."
Although it was a departure from the films, he didn't feel working on Abduction made him miss the cast and crew on the saga. "Well, it was a little weird being away from Rob and Kristen, but when I was filming this movie I knew I'd be back filming the final two movies, so it wasn't like I was never going to see them again."
Nevertheless, the actor must prepare for life outside the series, as next year sees the final part of the saga released, and a farewell to the character that made him famous. As he seeks out this new post-Twilight career path, Lautner is hungry to be more than just the action star many have touted him to be.
"I want to work in all kinds of movies, you just can't limit yourself in today's industry," he says. Would he like to follow in the footsteps of his friend, the actor Tom Cruise? "I'd love to have a fraction of the career he's had, I'm not sure you could ever assume to be that successful. I wouldn't say we're best friends but he's been good enough to give me a lot of advice, and I suppose we've worked together [in a skit for the MTV movie awards]. He's an incredibly positive and creative guy, and is very passionate about what he does. He's the benchmark for any actor, but I think at this point in my career I'm happy just doing my own thing and not worrying about being the 'next' anybody."
In the near future, his "own thing" consists of the two part Twilight: Breaking Dawn movies, after which his next move will be looked upon with great interest. He was persistently rumoured to still be attached to Universal's Stretch Armstrong movie, but is likely to be asked to work on a lot more projects to come.
As for fear of being forever associated as a teen werewolf, the actor says he doesn't worry about typecasting.
"If people only remember me for Jacob, then it wouldn't be so bad, it was a great part and these are great movies to be associated with," he says philosophically. "But clearly, I hope I can make a few more movies that people remember me for as well."