Success can be misleading. Take Taylor Lautner, for example. His meteoric rise to superstardom as Jacob Black in the cultural phenomenon that is the Twilight franchise almost makes it look easy — if you call adding 30 pounds of muscle for a flick easy. But easy really isn't Lautner's MO anyway.
When Jacob 2.0 appeared in the second Twilight installment, New Moon, beefier and sporting a sharp new do and abs to match, his graduation from child actor to teen heartthrob was complete. And it hasn't just been the teenybopper crowd wailing and donning Team Jacob tees while waiting in line. As the frenzy mounted, Lautner vaulted to the top of that lofty Hollywood A-list.
The well-mannered 19-year-old actor's real aspiration isn't to bank on a washboard midsection, though, but to flex his creative muscle. He's all about testing and taxing himself, seeing what he's capable of. Which was his main motivation for taking a break from vamps to star in the upcoming action-thriller Abduction.
"I've always been looking for something like this," he says. "I'm very specific and very picky. But the moment I heard this idea, I knew this had to be my very next project. I knew it would challenge me all around.
"I knew it would challenge me physically — that's obvious. There were tons of stunts, tons of fight scenes. But what was even more intriguing was that I knew it would be challenging emotionally. My character goes through such an incredible journey and changes so much from the beginning to the end. I knew that would be tough, and I was looking forward to that challenge."
The change is the foundation for this unexpected addition to the spy genre, a film that can best be described as a Bourne-style action-thriller with more young-adult appeal. Though Lautner's take on it is action-drama-thriller-romance, "because it has all of those genres in this one movie. I truly believe it's a movie for everyone."
Still, the significance of his foray into waters typically dominated by the likes of Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Cruise isn't lost on him.
"If I could have a tenth of the career those guys have, I would be very happy," Lautner says. "As an actor, I want to be able to stretch myself as much as possible... I've been playing Jacob for so long now, and I did this right before I went back to Breaking Dawn. It was challenging to step outside of Jacob's skin and become a totally different character... And that was tough. But it's really nice to be able to do that."
In Abduction, Lautner plays Nathan Harper, an average, if extraordinarily fit, high school senior, complete with goofy friends, a crush on the girl next door, jock rivals, and parents who ground him when he wakes up on the lawn the morning after a kegger.
Though his dad, played by Jason Isaacs, most recently of Lucius Malfoy infamy, does teach him a lesson via a gloved sparring session more befitting Keanu Reeves in leather and funny shades. Cue clue number one that something more is afoot.
That something turns out to involve espionage, explosions, car chases, and criminals, all centering around Harper, who has been unwittingly trained his whole life to kick ass should this day come. Lautner began studying martial arts at the age of 6, and by the time he was 12, he had trained with world karate champions, won three gold medals representing America in the World Karate Division, and become a three-time Junior World Champion.
"I've been waiting to be able to use my martial arts in a film," he says. "And I've been able to just a little bit here and there. But this was the first time I was able to let loose with it, so it was really exciting for me."
But the thrill of stunts like sliding down the side of a baseball stadium and throwing bad guys from moving trains doesn't compare to the challenge of assuming a new character in a different genre.
"It's kind of an actor's dream to be able to go from one character to the next, and completely different genres. And I'm really thankful that I'm able to do that. And it would be a dream for me to be able to do the Twilight franchise, be in that fantasy-drama genre, and then move over to this action-thriller-romance genre.
"We'll see what it ends up being," he concludes. "But I'm definitely looking forward to something new. I had a lot of fun making the movie, and I'm very proud of the outcome. I'd definitely be open to doing more things similar to this."