UPDATE: On Wed., Jan. 7, a day after this article was posted, Stephenie Meyer confirmed on her website that Taylor Lautner will play Jacob in New Moon.
According to sources around Hollywood, things may start looking very hairy for Taylor Lautner. The actor — not to mention legions of Twilight fans — has been desperate to learn whether Summit Entertainment will cast him once more as Jacob Black in the Twilight sequel New Moon.
This week, Summit is expected to announce its decision for the next film based on Stephenie Meyer’s wildly successful series of vampire romance novels. Kristen Stewart, 18, is set to return as Bella Swan, the beautiful human who falls for a softhearted bloodsucker. And Robert Pattinson, 22, has a lock on his job too; his turn as Edward Cullen, the hunky, soulful vampire, has made him an overnight superstar with young female moviegoers around the planet. But Lautner, 16, has a more uncertain future. That’s because the character he was so perfectly cast to play in the first Twilight film — a slim, baby-faced teenager — will be greatly expanded in the sequel. And by greatly expanded, we mean into a hulking, snarling, seven-foot Lycan. ”Jacob is a totally different character in New Moon,” says Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter of both Twilight films. ”He’s a foot taller and huge — and he’s supposed to look 25. It’s really a question of whether or not the same actor can play the role.” Rosenberg is quick to add, however, that ”everyone would love to keep him. We all think he’s the loveliest person ever.”
Lautner’s certainly been doing everything in his mortal power to hang on to the part. Since Twilight, he’s gained 19 pounds and is promising to pack on 10 more before shooting starts on New Moon this March. And judging from a widely reprinted red-carpet interview, he’s not shy about letting Summit and New Moon‘s director, Chris Weitz (who joined the franchise last month after Twilight‘s director, Catherine Hardwicke, left over creative differences), know that he has the chops for the gig. ”My job for Twilight was to bring Twilight Jacob to life — the friendly, happy-go-lucky little Jacob,” he told MTV News. ”My job for New Moon is completely different. I’ve been looking forward to that. I’ve been getting ready for it, and I can assure them I will follow through with that.”
NEXT PAGE: Division within the Team Jacob camp
Fans of the Twilight novels — specifically those who identify themselves as ”Team Jacob” — are divided over whether Lautner has the machismo to carry New Moon. In fact, pro-Lautner/anti-Lautner fights have been breaking out on the Web for weeks. As screenwriter Rosenberg puts it, ”He has to play a romantic lead against Rob, who’s a 22-year-old man. That’s a tall order.”
Summit declined to comment on the specifics of this story, but Twilight has so far grossed $263 million worldwide, and usually when a studio hits franchise pay dirt it tries to keep all the parts in place. Yes, there are exceptions. Just this past October, Marvel announced it was replacing Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2. Nick Stahl took over for Edward Furlong as John Connor in Terminator 3, while Jake Gyllenhaal very nearly stole Spider-Man 2 out from under Tobey Maguire. Recently, there have been rumors that Michael Copon (The Scorpion King 2) and Steven Strait (10,000 BC) are jockeying for Lautner’s spot. But you can chalk that up to empty Web noise: Reps for both actors say neither has been approached for the role. In fact, in what may shape up to be a triumph of the underdog, sources close to the production say that the simplest route would be to go with Lautner. EW has confirmed that the actor has not only met with director Weitz, but was even screen-tested for chemistry with Kristen Stewart. ”I’m very hopeful,” a New Moon insider says of Lautner. ”We’re not looking at anybody else.”
The irony, it turns out, is that Summit went to an awful lot of trouble to find Lautner in the first place. In late 2007, the studio launched a nationwide campaign, auditioning hundreds of hopefuls in a search for just the right Native American actor to play Jacob Black. They never did find one — Lautner, turns out, is French, Dutch, and German — but it was a lot of work. Of course, nobody back then could have anticipated just how huge a phenomenon the first Twilight movie would become — or how much would end up riding on the casting of its sequel. Even if Lautner does keep his job, he may be nervous enough to start pulling his fur out.