EW talks with the movie's director, Bill Condon, and actors Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner about the final film in the vampire franchise

By Sara Vilkomerson
Updated August 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

Forever — the word and the concept — is a very big deal within the Twilight universe. ”Forever” is the tagline on the early posters for Breaking Dawn Part 2 as well as the goal for the final installment of the blockbuster franchise: an eternal happily-ever-after for Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Moviegoers who’ve followed the trio with intense devotion since the first film appeared in 2008 want and expect nothing less.

In real life, though, forever can be more elusive. When photographs of Kristen Stewart, 22, kissing her married Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders, 41, surfaced on July 24, they whipped the media into an almost hysterical lather. The actress issued an immediate public apology, directed to her never-before-confirmed live-in boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, 26: ”This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.” That only managed to increase the furor.

Let’s just say people took the news rather personally. London’s The Sun declared Stewart the most hated woman in Hollywood. Apoplectic fans flooded YouTube with outraged videos. New York’s Daily News labeled her a ”trampire.” That so much vitriol is being heaped upon a young, unmarried woman is both disheartening and unfair (do you remember making any poor choices at 22?). But it underscores how blurry the line is between Twilight‘s fiction and these young actors’ reality.

For better or worse, Stewart and Pattinson and their much-speculated-upon romance have always been intertwined with the onscreen relationship of their fictional counterparts, Bella and Edward. In Breaking DawnPart 2 (out Nov. 16), newlywed Bella is finally a vampire and can spend eternity in love with her husband. No one can know what will happen in the private lives of Pattinson and Stewart, who are very much human.

”The fact is, these are actors playing parts,” says Bill Condon, director of Breaking DawnPart 1 and 2. ”Maybe it’s not such a bad thing for people to be reminded of that.” Condon, who says he has not spoken to either of his young stars since the story broke last month, understandably wants fans to watch his movie without letting messy real life get in the way. ”Both of these actors gave heart and soul to the Twilight movies, not only during shooting but also by navigating so graciously the whole life-in-a-fishbowl aspect of the phenomenon,” he says. ”Above all, they have always shown great respect for the fans who made these movies such a success. Now it’s time that some of that respect be returned to them.”

About a week and a half before the Twili-verse imploded, EW sat down with Stewart, Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner on a sunny San Diego afternoon. Nothing seemed amiss. In fact, the trio were particularly relaxed after enduring their final Comic-Con panel. Lautner, 20, stretched out in an armchair. Stewart kicked off her shoes and curled up on a sofa beside Pattinson, occasionally leaning over to nudge him when his attention waned or his answers meandered.

Not that you can blame him. Breaking DawnPart 2, which Pattinson calls ”stranger than all the other films put together,” is indeed a hard film to explain. Part 1 was all about Bella’s wedding, her honeymoon, her pregnancy, and the violent birth of a baby girl who technically kills her but also allows her to return as a full-fledged member of the Cullen vampire clan. Part 2 ventures even further from reality, with just about everyone in the film (except for Bella’s father, Charlie) either a vampire or a member of Jacob’s wolf pack. Accordingly, there’s a lot more action. ”The second film takes place right where the first one ends, but it’s almost like they’re in different genres,” says Condon, who shot the two films simultaneously.

Playing a vampire instead of an awkward high schooler, Stewart digs into her role with claws and teeth. She ferociously stalks prey in the forest — the Comic-Con crowd cheered at footage of her taking down a mountain lion — and appears taller, sexier, and somehow much more dangerous on screen. Meanwhile, Jacob, who has spent so much of the series pining for Bella, finds true love after ”imprinting” on Bella and Edward’s infant child, Renesmee (played by 11-year-old newcomer Mackenzie Foy). As if all this weren’t complicated enough, the real drama of Part 2 comes courtesy of an unfortunate miscommunication with the ruling vampire class known as the Volturi, who mistakenly believe that Renesmee was born human and then turned. (Vampire babies are a violation of vampire law, the punishment being death for both the child and the makers.) Of course, Renesmee is half human, growing toward adulthood at a preternatural rate. So the Cullens assemble an international vampire alliance to testify that Renesmee grows and ages.

Got all that? Well, just you wait: Even devoted readers of the Stephenie Meyer books are in for a pretty big shock in the final third of the film, when the plot strays from the last novel in a sequence dreamed up by Meyer and longtime screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg one night over dinner. ”When I first read the script, I got to that part and was like, ‘What?”’ Pattinson says. ”And then I had to go back a page.”

The actors stress that they hope the film’s surprises won’t leak out before Nov. 16 — so we won’t spoil anything here. But we can tell you that even those averse to change will be more than satisfied, and probably thrilled, by how the series ends. The actors certainly are. ”It does it a serious justice,” says Pattinson. Stewart agrees. ”It’s clearly made by someone who really likes [the saga], who really cares,” she says. ”That’s why Bill Condon is perfect. Thank God for him.”

Still, getting there wasn’t always smooth. Shooting the two films back-to-back took six months — with plenty of complaining along the way. (”It’s a really easy way to cause dissent within a cast — stick contact lenses on them,” says Pattinson of the obligatory golden vampire eyes.) For Condon, one of the biggest challenges was depicting Renesmee’s rapid rate of growth. Nearly a dozen girls of different ages stood in for Renesmee during production, and Foy’s face was digitally added later, via F/X, as with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

But before stumbling on that CG-based approach, Condon commissioned a nearly three-foot-tall Renesmee doll (”that robot-baby,” as Pattinson calls it), which was quickly deemed an epic fail. ”Did you see it? That thiiing,” Lautner says, joining Stewart and Pattinson in giggles. The ill-fated prop even got its own name: Chuckesmee. ”Chuckesmee was a giant misfire on all fronts,” Condon concedes. ”Truly, it was one of the most grotesque things I’ve ever seen. It was a horror show! There was one shot where I call, ‘Cut!’ and suddenly she turns her head and mechanically stares right into the camera. It was incredibly disturbing.” (Condon promises that Chuckesmee, who never appears in the finished film, will turn up on the DVD extras.)

”Your whole life is becoming part of the performance,” Pattinson said back in July. ”People watch a character through a prism of how they perceive you in public.”

Those public perceptions are taking a beating in light of recent developments, creating a new challenge for Summit Entertainment, the studio releasing the film, as it gears up to promote the final Twilight installment. ”While it is studio policy not to comment on the personal lives of actors, Summit is moving full steam ahead,” Nancy Kirkpatrick, the company’s head of worldwide marketing, told EW. But questions linger: What happens during an international press tour and red-carpet premiere when the two top-billed stars may or may not be speaking to each other? Will the news change how the film plays for Twihards? And what effect will any of this have on Pattinson’s and Stewart’s future projects? (Pattinson’s film with David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis, hits theaters Aug. 17; Stewart’s On the Road is due Dec. 21.)

It’s tempting to attach greater meaning to comments the Twilight stars made in a more innocent time, just a few weeks ago. But the truth is that even in San Diego, the actors were already feeling somewhat reflective as their four-year journey was reaching an end, clearly coming to terms with the many ways the franchise has changed them. What life lessons had they learned from their characters? EW wondered. Lautner answered first. ”I respect how passionate and persistent Jacob is about what he loves and what he wants. He’s not going to let anything stop him from that. That’s the thing that’s stuck with me.”

Pattinson marveled at Edward’s unflappable ability to stay rational. ”It’s strange. All through the series, it’s like, ‘Hey, this guy is trying to be sensible! Let’s think this thing out.’ And everyone is like, ‘F— you!”’ he said with a laugh. ”But what did you learn?” prodded Stewart. Pattinson answered, still laughing, ”Don’t be pragmatic. Be an emotional idiot.”

Then Stewart chimed in about her ongoing struggle to carve out a public life that feels authentic. ”I’ve never been able to fully form this thing, this persona, that some people are so f—ing good at. That’s an art. I know a lot of actors [who can do that], and you guys aren’t them,” she said, gesturing to Lautner and Pattinson.

”Did you just point to us?” Pattinson asked.

”Yeah,” Stewart said. ”And thank God! I don’t like people like that. People who are a complete non-person but somehow through the lens seem like they are on and interesting and engaged. I care way more about the people standing in the room. I don’t want anyone leaving and saying, ‘God, that girl is so fake.’ People tell me to make it easier on myself and to play a character when I go out on carpets and stuff,” she said. ”But you know what? I’d rather be me.”

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 115 minutes
  • Bill Condon