Xavier Samuel better stock up on earplugs. The Australian actor, best known for indie films in his homeland, is about to burst onto the scene (and into tween hearts) as the newest young hottie in the obscenely popular Twilight franchise. Samuel reportedly beat out Channing Tatum and Tom Felton to land the role of Eclipse’s Riley, a bloodthirsty vampire who is tasked by Victoria to assembly an army of newborn vamps to destroy Bella.
The 26-year-old actor talks to Dose.ca about stepping into a huge franchise, crashing at costar Bryce Dallas Howard’s house, and getting attacked by a raccoon in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
You’re new to the hysteria surrounding the Twilight franchise. How are you handling it?
It’s a wonderful thing; all these people come out and support these stories and they’re really passionate. It’s intimidating when you’re doing the work because you really have to pay tribute to the characters that are so dear to people.
Was the Twilight convention in L.A. your first experience with that sort of intense fan reaction?
Yeah. It was really nuts. They just kind of pushed us out into a sea of 2,000 people. It was just bizarre. But they’re all really friendly. I think the fans will laugh and cheer at just about anything you say.
Did you know anything about the franchise before you signed on?
Well, I didn’t have the matchbooks or the pillow cases or anything like that.
[Laughs] I know! Well, I knew that it was severely popular; I’d seen the posters on the back of busses. And then when I found out I had an audition, a whole bunch of friends kind of jumped out of the Twilight closet and were like “Oh my god! You need to do this!” and got really excited on my behalf. But yeah, I didn’t know much about it.
This is your first American movie?
So you decided to start small, huh?
Yeah, I thought I’d just start off with a little independent film. [Laughs]
Was it intimidating to step into a huge franchise?
I think if you thought about it too much you’d drive yourself crazy. I just kind of focused on doing the best job I could do. And what eased that was everyone I meant and worked with were just so down to earth and focused on doing a good job also.
What was it like working with David Slade?
I think he’s done such an amazing job. He really got a good grip on the darker side of the book. He did a film called Hard Candy; did you see it?
Yeah, that movie stayed with me for weeks.
I know. You just realize that he’s not only technically brilliant, he’s also an actor’s director and fiercely intelligent. So I’m not surprised that Eclipse is as exhilarating as it is.
The opening scene with you is intense. It definitely sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Yeah, it was intense to shoot it, too. We were down at the docks and they had these rain machines and it was really slippery. It’s a great introduction to the character.
I’ve read all the books…only because, you know, I had to for my job.
Oh yeah, sure. [Laughs]
But from what I remember from Eclipse, Riley is barely mentioned. But in the movie, he’s a big character.
That’s the thing. When I got the job, I was flipping through it going “Where’s Riley, where’s Riley, where’s Riley?” But I think one of the other really exciting things about this installment is that it’s the first time that it departs from Bella’s perspective. So not only has it given me more to do, it also gives us the opportunity to learn more about the Cullen family. You learn a lot more about Jasper and Rosalie’s backstories, which is really exciting.
One thing about Riley’s character in the movie compared to the book is that I think the audience has a lot more sympathy for him now. You really feel bad about the way Victoria is playing with his emotions. Did you and David talk about how to approach him as this complex, tortured guy instead of just a straight-up villain?
Yeah, that was really important. We talked about how the relationship between Victoria and Riley really mirrors Lady MacBeth and MacBeth. She’s manipulating him; she’s got him wrapped around her little finger and he’ll do anything for love, even if it means assembling a newborn, bloodthirsty vampire army. But on top of that, we talked about how he’s had his humanity ripped away from him, and as a result he harbours this intense jealousy and rage and hatred for humanity. He’s really wrestling with that, so he really is a complex character.
You did most of your scenes with Bryce Dallas Howard. How was she to work with?
She’s the most evil, self-consumed, egotistical woman I’ve ever met in my life.
Wow. Don’t hold back!
[Laughs] No, I cannot say enough nice things about Bryce. She’s so ridiculously talented, she works harder than anyone I’ve ever met and she’s the nicest person ever. She helped me out a lot. When I was in L.A., she let me stay at her place and her husband Seth is a really great guy who I’ve become good friends with. And they’ve got a little boy, Theo, who’s three. When I came back this time to see him, he’s still obsessed with the same movie – Cars. So it was like I never left. He was like “Hello, Xavier. Let’s go watch some Cars!”
All of your scenes together are so intense. Did you try to lighten the mood between takes?
Sometimes not, because there’s a danger of deflating the whole scenario if you release the pressure after building up the momentum. But sometimes it was the only way we could get through the battle stuff because the stakes are so high, that you just couldn’t help but laugh as soon as they stop rolling, because you have to release the tension. As a matter of fact, Bryce and I were rehearsing our big scene the night before and we just couldn’t stop laughing and giving each other shit. And then we just looked at each other and said, “Oh, my God, how are we going to do this tomorrow without cracking up?”
How do you prepare for a character like this? Did you watch any particular movies or listen to certain music to get into Riley’s headspace?
Actually, I did. David Slade put me on to Blade Runner, which I hadn’t seen before, which is a travesty. But the bad guy in that [Rutger Hauer], he’s wrestling with how to control his emotions, and that was a really great source of inspiration for me.
Stephenie Meyer just released The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, in which Riley plays a big role. Would you be happy if they made that into a movie?
Absolutely! It’s a chance to re-enter the Twilight world. [Before shooting] they gave me the special manuscript to read; it was handed to me from David Slade himself. There was a lot of security around it. Actually, I think I still have it. I was supposed to return it. Oops!
Well, it’s in bookstores now, so you’re probably safe.
Yeah. [laughs] But it really did inform a lot of the world because he’s barely present in the Eclipse novel, but in The Short Life of Bree Tanner, you really learn a lot more about him and his relationship with Victoria, so it was really a goldmine of information.
I’m guessing that being part of a franchise like this is opening a lot of doors for you.
It has. I just got back from Berlin where I was shooting a film with Roland Emmerich, which is really cool. It’s a departure for him because it’s not about the end of the world; it’s about Shakespeare. It contests the authorship of his plays, so I was really glad to go from evil vampire to Elizabethan aristocrat.
Last question: is it true that you got attacked by a raccoon in Stanley Park?
I did! Bryce and I were walking in Stanley Park. It has this grey, lazy eye so I should have known something was up with it. I wish I could show you the photos…
Wait, you have photos of it attacking you?
Yeah. Well, Bryce was taking photos and I wanted to have one with this cute little raccoon, because I’d never seen one before. And I sat next to it and it kind of waddled up to me. And then it launched at me and bit my finger. There’s this great photo where there’s this furry ball launching at me. And Bryce kept happily snapping away. I was like, “Um, I think I need immediate medical attention.” I was worried I would turn into a vampire raccoon.