VANCOUVER, CANADA — Robert Pattinson is having an Obi-Wan Kenobi moment. Inside a soundstage where "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" is shooting, the lanky English heartthrob stands in front of a tall, wide green screen murmuring a tender admonition, "You promised me nothing reckless." Motion capture cameras hurtle toward him across a length of track affixed to the stage floor, while a team of technicians studies his stance and the tilt of his head.
The plan is to digitally insert Pattinson, who plays swoony good guy vampire Edward Cullen, into a scene that was filmed much earlier -- one in which he appears as a spectral vision to his costar, Kristen Stewart, cautioning her headstrong character, Bella Swan, against hanging out with some unsavory-looking biker types. For the effect to work, Pattinson's image will need to be dropped in at exactly the right position, so despite the cast and crew nearing the end of a very long early May day, perfectionism is still the standard.
The team working on this sequel to last year's Catherine Hardwicke-directed "Twilight," which brought in an unexpected $365 million worldwide for Summit Entertainment, is moving quickly to sustain the momentum of the sexy, youth-oriented franchise.
Between takes, Pattinson chats with the crew while director Chris Weitz stands several feet away, his arms folded behind his head. Visual effects, "that's not my thing," he concedes with a wry smile.
What does interest him is literature. Due in theaters Nov. 20, "New Moon" will mark his third consecutive literary adaptation after having directed "About a Boy," from the Nick Hornby novel, and "The Golden Compass," the big-budget fantasy based on the first chapter in author Philip Pullman's award-winning "His Dark Materials" series. It was his experience making that film -- which should have been a dream project really, given Weitz's reverence for the source material -- that made the idea of taking the reins on the second "Twilight" film so appealing.
During post-production on "Compass," Weitz was unable to persuade New Line Cinema to allow him to move forward with the ending he'd originally planned for the $180 million film, one that was decidedly grim but faithful to Pullman's vision. The movie was released with an alternate ending that the studio felt would be more satisfying to audiences, but something about the project failed to connect; it earned only $70 million domestically, though it did fare better overseas.
"It's one of the great sadnesses of my life that it didn't turn out the way I intended it," he says.
"New Moon," a story about surviving the ultimate heartbreak and loss, is Weitz's chance to heal his wounds and find a new creative path. It's a path that winds through the gloomy forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Italian village of Multipulciano. The last three days of the shoot will happen there, but before then, Weitz needs to complete the complicated camera maneuvers that will enable him to transform Pattinson's Edward into an apparition.
For anyone unfamiliar with the world of "Twilight," a primer: In author Stephenie Meyer's first tale, 17-year-old Bella Swan moves to Forks, Wash., to live with her small-town sheriff father. She soon falls for the mysterious Edward Cullen, a vampire who, like the rest of his extended "family," abstains from drinking human blood. In "New Moon," Edward opts to leave town to protect Bella -- whose proximity to these powerful supernatural creatures places her in almost constant danger -- but his decision leaves her broken and inconsolable.
She begins to regain her bearings spending time with her friend Jacob, but it's not long before his unrequited feelings for Bella and his own otherworldly nature become a source of real tension between them.
The film's success, driven by the unrelenting support of Meyer's fans, most of whom are teenage girls (but whose ranks also include some young men and moms), catapulted 19-year-old Stewart and 23-year-old Pattinson to a stratospheric level of stardom that seems to make both actors deeply uncomfortable.
Their reticence about fame is understandable: The nature of their off-screen relationship has become the subject of frequent tabloid speculation and, earlier this summer, Pattinson was grazed by a taxi in Manhattan where he was shooting the indie drama "Remember Me" after an overzealous mob crowded him, pushing him onto a city street.
These days, they've taken to declining a number of interviews, politely refusing to answer questions posed even by journalists visiting the set. Taylor Lautner, 17, who plays Jacob, hasn't experienced exactly the same sort of frenzy, but with his character moving to the forefront of the action in "New Moon," he soon might. There is, after all, an entire camp that argues that Bella should wind up with his character rather than the brooding Edward.