Interview: Bryce Dallas Howard, David Slade, and Melissa Rosenberg Talk Eclipse

For the last of my four interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind Eclipse, the latest (and, I think, best) installment in The Twilight Saga, I sat down with screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (she’s written every movie so far, and will be writing Breaking Dawn as well), director David Slade, producer Wyck Godfrey, and the beautiful and talented actress Bryce Dallas Howard who replaced Rachelle LeFevre as Victoria this time around.

Cole Haddon: David, Eclipse is your second vampire movie following the gory and rather fantastic 30 Days of Night. What’s your fascination?

David Slade: Aren’t they fascinating? In many ways, they are the worst and the best of us. What was so attractive to me about the Twilight film after doing the horrific film I did before, is that [author] Stephanie [Meyer] had…cleverly packaged all that is so dangerous and slightly sexy into this purity, and then surrounded it with family and made it lovable and acceptable. At the end of the day, there’s still a carnivore in it that, so that’s such a great bit of material to work with.

CH: You’re the third director in as many Twilight movies. How did you prepare for Eclipse in terms of bringing your own style to the series?

DS: There's a vocabulary, a cinematic vocabulary to each of the films they've done. And it doesn't come from that much premeditation. It comes from two things. One, seeing the film in my head before we go out and make it, and being very clear about that and planning it. Two, [doing] what's right for the scene and the character. I believe the most interesting thing to look at in the world is the human face, so that is why I tend to be a little closer to human faces than maybe other directors will be.

Wyck Godfrey: When you were first talking to us about the movie, you had said that by letting the background fall out of focus and really focus on the characters in the dangerous scenes, it creates a heightened sense of anxiety. You feel like you don't really know what's back there, and in the romantic scenes it creates an incredible sense of intimacy. You really feel like you sense these two people in that world, and I really think that was effective.

DS: I’m just going to go on to elaborate for one sentence, which is to say that with close-up comes selective focus. And it is to focus the viewer, to point them in a direction. And when I talked about vocabulary, in a sense, you get a close-up which has very little amount of focus in it, but you'll see medium shots and wider shots that will bring the audience's attention to a specific place, which is completely intentional.

CH: But David, were their any expectations for you to maintain the style and tone of the first two movies? Or did you have carte blanche?

DS: I think the only thing really that was expressed to me was continuity. Different films are expected of different directors per film, different visions for the film, so I was given a great deal of freedom in terms of the aesthetics. Certainly as I was talking about a vocabulary of shooting. That vocabulary reaches to all areas of production. I inherited the sets, but I went into the kitchen set and we made it bigger, we went into Bella's room and made it four feet wider because I was going to shoot with a different lens than the way they shot before. So the answer is, I was given freedom, only just to respect what had come before. There were no mandates.

WG: I think if anything, one of the chief reasons we hired David was for his visual style and that it was different from the first two films. He had really worked with young actresses and gotten performances out of them that were incredible, and felt he understood them, but that's something we've always wanted was for each director to bring his own individual style.

DS: I tried not to focus too much on the other two films. I tried to just keep this one in my mind, and people like Wyck would be there to give me a nudge if I was doing something that was going to invalidate something or cross a line, which hardly ever happened, really.

WG: Every now and then he'd have Edward [Cullen (Robert Pattinson), a vampire] walk through the sunlight and, “Oh wait — he has to sparkle.”

DS: Let me tell you, the sunlight was our biggest enemy in Vancouver. We had the sunniest, sunniest time, and every day we'd spend more time in the sun than we did in the rain.

WG: No one likes to hear that you're not shooting because it's sunny.

DS: It would be perfect for any other movie.

CH: David, you were handed a ready-made cast for Eclipse. How did you help establish what would be expected of their characters for this film?

DS: What I did is, I saw each one of the actors individually, and we had one-on-one meetings. The first time I was just listening, I was looking at everything they told me about their characters – everything they thought about their characters. Then we'd meet again, and we'd talk about the script. But each time, one-on-one. Then a third time, fourth time. By this time, we’re now talking about all the ideas that we're incorporating, all of that character and story that they've taken from me. And then the final stage is we go into an ensemble rehearsal, where all the actors come together, but we don't talk about character anymore — we talk about content and story. And that's the most respectful way, and that's how I chose to go about it.

CH: Melissa, you’ve said Eclipse was the most difficult of the first three movies to write. Why is that?

Melissa Rosenberg: I think to begin with, it actually took me by surprise. Because I actually thought this would be the easiest, because there's so much conflict in it. You have this huge battle that you're building toward. But then once I got into it, and actually [started] breaking the story, I realize all that happened in the third act. So then it was looking at what's going on in the first two acts other than conversation leading up. What I found was that [there’s] a lot of the threat that is in the third act building that conflict, pulling that forward and being able to expand on the mythology. In a movie we can cut away to another perspective, but in the book, it's all Bella's perspective. So it actually ended up being the most fun to write in the end, after I got over the incredible disappointment that it wasn't going to be easy — as if anything ever is.

CH: I would have imagined the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, would have been the most difficult.

MR: Well, while I was writing Eclipse, it was. I had not gotten to the fourth one yet. Before Breaking Dawn, yes — talk to me in another year.

CH: Are you ever intimidated by Stephenie Meyer close involvement or presence on set? I imagine you’re there as well.

MR: I’m really grateful she’s able to spend the kind of time on set that she does, because she and I are the people on the page, and we see things in a way that I hope is valuable to the director and the producers. And because I’ve been juggling [working on] Dexter and Twilight for all this time, and going right from one Twilight to the next, I’ve been unavailable to be on set. And frankly I don’t know that I could have been much use. I mean, if David needed a rewrite, [I’d get] a phone call.

WG: Also, you and Stephenie work so closely together in the outlining and the script stage that, by the time we're shooting, there aren't really any surprises. And if anything, Stephenie can come and answer questions that we have that aren't in her books. You know, like, “Does that character ever do this?” And she's like, “No, that character was born in 1702, and...” She rattles it off and it really just fills out the screenplay.

DS: She has all of these back stories for everybody. I remember you and I getting on the phone with her about [the vampire villain] Riley and the cave, and we had no idea. We said, “What is all this?” and Stephanie was like, “Well, it's obvious — this is how it happens.” We wouldn't know, but she would know, because she's written it the story in her head.

CH: Bryce, how was it coming into this world for just one time? I know you’re a huge fan of the Twilight books.

Bryce Dallas Howard: It was very fast, it was very sudden, and to be honest I was intimidated going into it for a variety of reasons. But I felt so lucky to get to meet this group of people. It’s a group of people that have genuine friendships, and are so deeply committed to doing justice to these stories, and always put the character first, always put the story first. Obviously that’s translated and I think that’s why the movies are as beloved as they are.

CH: And your hair color made you kind of an obvious choice for the part, apart from being a great actress.

BDH: Actually, quite ironically, I think I flew out on a Monday or a Tuesday to do the role and that Friday I had dyed my hair really dark. My natural hair color is an orange-red, which is what is depicted in the book. That Friday I dyed my hair really dark, and that Monday learned [that I got the part], and flew out the next day and showed up and they were like, “This is not the girl we hired.” Shooting had to start pretty quickly, so I wore a wig, which I was really happy about because it was really important to have continuity with the character. And even though my hair color was perhaps right, I felt that the texture and everything needed to be as exact as possible.

CH: Wyck, can you talk about bringing in Bryce to replace Rachelle LeFevre as the villainous vampire Victoria when her scheduling availability narrowed a bit? There was a lot of controversy around the decision, particularly from fans.

WG: It all happened really quickly. Rachelle became unavailable three weeks into shooting, and we had to react very quickly. Bryce was somebody that early, early on, even from Twilight, had been on a list and unavailable. So we were kind of up against it, frankly, and had to pick quickly, and we were really fortunate that we could send her the script immediately. And then she decided she wanted to do it. So that, the process of replacing Rachelle and finding the right actress was actually smooth, because Bryce was the first person we went to and she said yes.

DS: One of the slight misconceptions about these films is that they’re these giant, huge-budget blockbusters. These films are made more like independent films, so our schedule, not just for money but also for actor availability, was so tight. We shot this film in 50 days? 52 days? Most action movies are shot in double, triple that. And we had a schedule that basically fit together like a jigsaw puzzle — one way — so we just had no other choice [except to recast Rachelle].

CH: David, earlier today Robert Pattinson mentioned earlier that you wanted to change his character up a bit. What do you think he meant by that?

DS: I think what I was getting at, and it was a very early conversation with Rob, was I really wanted to make sure this character was dangerous. That's what I was getting at. In the last movie he had played a different character arc, but in this movie I wanted to bring out the carnivore in him.That had to come throughout the film, and he hadn't really done that so much — a little bit in Twilight — and I think that was the main thing. So it was a case of try to look at every scene with that in mind. Underlying this is danger. Underlying everything is danger. That was the intention.

CH: And Bryce, you got to face off against that new and more carnivorous Edward Cullen in a pretty badass fight to the death. He said you were especially careful with him, and that he was nervous about pushing you around during shooting. How did you put all that skittishness aside, and just go for it?

BDH: There was a lot of fight training that happened to prepare for it. Actors are always nervous about not only hurting each other, but maybe perhaps hitting each other’s face and ending one’s career. So there was a lot of preparation that made us feel more comfortable, certainly. I just knew that if I rustled his hair, perhaps millions of young women would want to kill me, so I was quite cautious for that reason.