'Twilight' Star Jackson Rathbone Relishes His First Leading-Man Role In 'Dread'

'I like roles that I can sink my teeth into,' actor says from horror film's London set.

[movieperson id="1017548"]Jackson Rathbone[/movieperson] is drenched in blood from head to toe, and being dragged down a flight of cellar stairs. Somewhere, a million Twilighter hearts are weeping for the hunky young star of their favorite blockbuster. But somewhere else, horror maestro Clive Barker is smiling a wicked grin.

When MTV News recently visited the London set of "Dread," based on a short story by the twisted mind behind [movie id="15334"]"Hellraiser"[/movie] and [movie id="5152"]"Candyman,"[/movie] things weren't looking good for the 23-year-old actor who shot to stardom last month portraying earnest vampire Jasper Hale. But, as Jackson was eager to tell us, life has never been better.

"This has been a fun movie to work on," he smiled, pretending for a moment that he wasn't soaked in Karo syrup. "It's my first leading-man role. I was always a character actor when I was in theater as a kid, and I've done a lot of character roles in television shows and whatnot. But this is a character that has a lot of development, a lot of progression. ... I like roles that I can sink my teeth into."

Like so many of his "Twilight" friends, Rathbone can now satiate his hunger as only a young star coming off a hot Hollywood film can. But rather than cashing in with generic romantic comedies or action flicks, he has chosen to partake in Barker's psychological thriller that tells the tale of Stephen (Rathbone), Quaid (Shaun Evans) and Cheryl (Hanne Steene), three college kids making a documentary about the origins of fear — until one decides that the only way to get to the truth is by extracting dread from those around him.

" 'Dread' is a Kinsey-esque study of fear," the star explained of the plot, which is already being loosely compared to the "Saw" films' exploration of the lengths people will go to for survival. "We're setting up this fear study, and what we do is we interview people about their greatest fears and their dreads. The film starts out in this sweet college and then gets darker as people start having to live through their fears. A lot of times, it makes them stronger or it breaks them. That's what this film is about: It's about facing your fears and seeing what happens."

And the bottom line, according to Rathbone, is that he had never read a script quite like it before.

"It's not that typical romance, love-triangle thing — which is what I'd really like to stay away from," Jackson laughed while discussing the decades-old story by Barker, as well as the film version being overseen by director Anthony DiBlasi. "I've always loved the horror genre. As a kid, I wasn't allowed to really watch TV, let alone horror. I come from a fairly conservative background, and so I had to sneak away to watch movies like 'The Terminator' when I was 10 years old, and when I was about 13, 14, a good friend of mine gave me a George A. Romero box set with 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'Day of the Dead.' I loved those movies, but I had to hide them under my bed as a kid.

"If my parents saw them, they would have grounded me for months," he remembered. "They didn't want certain images ingrained in my mind."

Now, Rathbone is hard at work bringing himself to death's door and hoping a portion of his sizable fanbase will similarly risk getting grounded to see the film when it comes to theaters next year. "I really have to give all props to my fans, because they've really been so supportive of me," he explained. " [movie id="369195"]'Twilight'[/movie] has given me, and a lot of the other actors on 'Twilight,' a much wider fanbase, and they've been so supportive of us, and that's really what we need. As an actor, you need an audience to practice your craft. A painter can paint alone, a photographer can take pictures alone, a musician can play — but as an actor, you need someone to watch you, and we couldn't have a better audience. ... I've been able to do a lot more films because of them."

But whereas "Twilight" famously took the fangs off vampires and portrayed the Cullens as vegetarians whose bloodlust could be held in check by the occasional woodland-creature buffet, "Dread" seeks no such horror suppression. "Several of us go through a lot of prosthetics in this film," Rathbone explained. "It's really good. I mean, it looks real, and it's fairly horrific.

"And when you're off camera, it's fun to chase someone around covered in blood," he joked. "That's a lot of fun."

But don't think that all this blood and gore will make "Dread" a completely different film than "Twilight," as Rathbone said both films share similarly shadowy undertones. "There's something about playing darker, like a vampire, or somebody like Stephen who's just kind of wrapped up in death," he compared. "With Stephen, it's the death of his brother, and he's trying to get over that. With Jasper in 'Twilight,' it's about controlling the urges to feed and trying to establish that humanity. I think that's what I really love about playing a darker character, finding the humanity. Because we all have dark sides of ourselves, and if we let that control us, then we're never gonna be happy. It's about finding the balance."

Based on Rathbone's diverse marathon of filming a [movie id="190150"]"Donnie Darko"[/movie] sequel, "Dread" and "New Moon" back-to-back-to-back, as well as his continued participation in the band 100 Monkeys, finding a balance doesn't seem to be a problem for this fast-rising star.

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