Robert Pattinson was the breakthrough star of the first Twilight movie. Taylor Lautner was the “it” guy of the sequel New Moon. So will Australian actor Xavier Samuel be the man of the moment in Eclipse, the third chapter of the mega-popular series opening on Wednesday? Playing the evil vampire Riley, partner of sorts to the even more evil Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) — who’s out for revenge on the loving couple of Edward (Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) — Samuel has already been that guy for many Twi-hards for a while. “Even going to the New Moon premiere last year, there were fans who loved the Riley character and knew that I was playing him. It is strange hearing people scream your name when you haven’t even done anything yet,” he says, laughing. I recently had the chance to talk with Samuel about his roles in Eclipse and the upcoming Roland Emmerich drama Anonymous, as well as his take on what animal is more dangerous than a pack of movie werewolves. Read below for the Q&A, and check out a clip from Eclipse featuring Samuel. (You can also see him in action in this Eclipse featurette.)
Photos courtesy of Summit Entertainment
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You’re the new guy to the Twilight saga, but have you ever seen anything like the fandom for this movie?
I got a glimpse of it all at the New Moon premiere. I went along and happily flew under the radar, but it’s 360 degrees of hysteria. It’s hard to come to terms with how severely popular the whole thing is. I’ve only ever seem something similar like the Beatles, that kind of hysteria where people are literally screaming and reaching and mobbing people. I’ve certainly never waited patiently outside someone’s hotel for eight hours to get close to them as they get in a car. [Laughs] I really loved Australian football and there were a lot of players who I really admired and wanted to be, but it never reached that level of hysteria.
No stalking involved?
Nah. You have to have the stalking gene.
Have you had any weird fan exchanges yet?
I did get an email with a marriage proposal, which I thought was a bit strange considering I’ve never met the person before. And I don’t know how they got my email address. [Laughs] I haven’t had any bizarre encounters yet — just people asking for hugs and kisses and photographs.
I think Rob’s gotten a couple of those proposals in the past few years.
Yeah, I’m sure he’s racking them up.
Did you get a kick out of seeing yourself as a vampire for the first time on screen?
[Laughs] Well, yeah. And it’s great to watch the transformation as well. That happens at the very, very beginning of the film. We worked so hard in what Riley would look like and to actually see it on the screen, larger than life, is a pretty surreal experience.
Riley has a very small part in the Stephenie Meyer book Eclipse, but director David Slade fleshed the movie character out a lot more for the film. There’s more to him than just a couple lines.
When I read the books, I was flipping through going, “Where’s Riley?” I think he appears on one page in the Eclipse book. But this is the first time in the saga that the story departs from Bella’s perspective, which opens up other territory so you get the back story of Jasper [played by Jackson Rathbone] and Rosalie [Nikki Reed], and Riley’s character is also fleshed out a little more. I was really happy about it because it gave me something more to do. David Slade and I talked a lot about how to approach this character and not delve into any clichés or stereotypes – to really crate this villain that has a dimension to him that isn’t just purely evil. He’s essentially a tragic figure because he’s being manipulated by Victoria and she’s got him wrapped around her little finger. He’s in the position of doing anything for love.
The main theme of Twilight is the love between Bella and Edward, but when you read the books, you find that the vampires who become vampires are usually unwilling participants. They’re either about to die or turned for some nefarious reason. There is a certain seriousness to when a vampire turns.
Absolutely. I guess what’s interesting about Riley is he’s had his humanity snatched and taken away from him. As a result, he harbors this intense jealousy and rage for humanity – that’s exactly what he’s been deprived of. It’s juicy material and territory to explore.
You’ve played Hamlet, and you’ve done a good deal of Shakespeare. How much of that carries over into Riley?
Well, it does inform a lot of it, especially the relationship between Riley and Victoria. It mirrors Lady MacBeth and MacBeth’s relationship: She’s kind of behind him and persuading him and manipulating him to do some very evil, terrible things. And because he’s confused and in love, he’s vulnerable in that respect. There is lots of crossover with things I’ve done in the past that really inform the experience and the way I’ve approached it.
Growing up in Australia, were movies a goal?
I never really imagined I would be an actor, especially when I was young. But I always watched The Three Amigos. I used to watch that on repeat. [Laughs]
Who was your favorite Amigo?
I reckon Martin Short. He was awesome. He plays that quick-draw character, the fastest quick draw even though he’s an actor. He never used trick photography, and I thought that was really cool.
Eclipse has more action than the previous two movies, especially with the big werewolf/vampire throwdown in a forest. Did you like going into action mode?
Oh yeah, it was a blast to shoot. Anytime we weren’t shooting, we were rolling around in fits of laughter because everyone’s got their serious faces on, and it’s hard to keep a straight face when you’re playing this stuff. We prepared so much for it and worked so hard to make those scenes as exciting and compelling as possible. The focus of the film is this climactic battle toward the end of the film, and it really is a full-scale war. The wolf pack and the Cullen clan are making an alliance for the first time and they’re sworn enemies, and it’s the only way they could even compete with an army of the magnitude that Riley’s assembled.
With that many people, even with stunt work, there’s apt to be some falling down every now and then. Did you sustain many cuts and scratches?
Yeah, you wake up with a few bruises here and there. I got a bit of a sore neck because I get thrashed about by this wolf, and it’s different wires anchored to different points of my body. Then they just hoist you up and down like a puppet. No one sustained any serious injuries, although I did get bit by a raccoon in Stanley Park in Vancouver.
How did you manage that? Did he sneak up on you?
I’d never seen one – they don’t have any of those in Australia. I didn’t know that they were nocturnal. When you see them in the daytime, they get really aggravated, but because tourists feed them bits of bread and stuff, they hang around. I was like, “Awww, a raccoon!” I was with Bryce and I was like, “Would you mind taking a photo for me?” I sat down next to this raccoon. It’s literally like a before-and-after shot: There’s one photo of me sitting happily next to this raccoon, and then the next photo is this furry ball launching at my arm. It’s hilarious. And Bryce is just happily taking photos, and I’m like, “Bryce, I need to go to the hospital and get some sort of shot in case I turn into a raccoon vampire.”
How was filming Anonymous? Usually Emmerich’s movies are disaster epics.
I got the impression that this is the story he’s always wanted to tell and it was close to his heart. It’s certainly a departure for him because the world doesn’t end in this picture. It’s about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, but also perhaps even more so about the relationship between art and politics and how they can impact each other. I got to play this guy called the Earl of Southampton, a really honorable, loyal young man who’s a patron of the theater that ends up, because of his loyalties to the Earl of Essex, staging a rebellion. It’s kind of cool to go from an evil vampire to an Elizabethan aristocrat.
That’s kind of night and day there.
Yeah, I know. Tell me about it. [Laughs] Plus, I have this long, blond flowing hair and I got to ride around on a horse.
Anything else your new fans will be wanting to see?
There’s an Australian film that I did called The Loved Ones, this really gruesome pop-horror film about this guy who gets abducted by this quirky girl at school. He’s basically tortured. The whole film is like peering into a grotesque dollhouse. It’s really great. You know when you see a horror film and it takes itself too seriously? The wonderful thing about this film is that it has a sense of humor, and it works as a release for the tension the horror brings to it.
Quick: Which was the best torture sequence?
Oh, you wouldn’t believe. There are a lot of interesting things. She drills a hole in my forehead with the intention of pouring boiling hot water down the hole to melt my brain and turn me into a zombie. That’s one to look forward to.