This November 16, Twi-hards will have to accept the fact that the on-screen journey of Bella (Kristen Stewart) from schoolgirl to powerful vampire will reach its inevitable conclusion in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2." Director Bill Condon, who filmed "Breaking Dawn - Part 1" at the same time as the final chapter, won an Oscar for his screenwriting debut, "Gods and Monsters," and went on to direct "Kinsey" and "Dreamgirls" before tasked with sending Jacob, Edward, Bella and baby Renesmee off into the sunset, er, dawn.
We sat down with Condon days before "Breaking Dawn - Part 2" opens in theaters as he chatted candidly about Kristen Stewart's startling on-screen transformation, the ease of filming love scenes between a real-life couple like Stewart and Robert Pattinson, and how Taylor Lautner's sense of humor helped lighten the air about the controversial concept of "imprinting."
Both parts of "Breaking Dawn" were shot out of order, so that means Kristen Stewart had to shift between sickly Bella and strong vampire Bella. What challenges did that present?
Well, the biggest challenge was for Kristen. I was concerned about her when we were scheduling the movie and prepping it, but she said, "No, I'm all into it." She took it on as another part of playing this part. Once she was OK, I was better with it. I'll admit that there were a few times that I got confused. You're in the living room where she's sickly and then, in the same place, she's being a badass vampire. Because the movies are so different, it was fun to do this weird thing and film both movies at the same time — very different approaches.
In "Breaking Dawn - Part 2," Bella is finally able to join in the action and the fight sequences. How eager was Stewart to toughen up?
She was dying to do it. She loves doing her own stunts and did as many as she could. She had been sitting back and watching it all and really wanted to have a go at it. She held herself different — she's higher in the shot and has more stature in the second film.
Imprinting is the single most controversial idea in "Breaking Dawn," because the idea of Jacob fixating on a young girl is kind of creepy. Did Taylor Lautner's sense of humor helped diffuse the situation?
I think it did. It happened at the end of the first movie, but this is the first movie in which we deal with it and have a conversation about it. Taylor was so concerned about this. First of all, if anyone was going to turn something that some people see as lurid into something pure, [it] is Taylor Lautner because Taylor is a pure soul. He finds humor in any situation. The fact that you could play it like a little boy who has been caught by his mother doing something diffuses it.
In the Cullens vs. Volturi battle scene that has a lot of heads being ripped off, what did you have to be mindful of to keep the movie in PG-13 territory for the "Twilight" audience?
I think the big thing is that there is no blood because they have no viscera. That made it a little more abstract, and that turned out to work for us. It's one thing to see your head or mine being taken off, but to see a head in this movie that has more of a stone-like quality makes it more acceptable.
One of the major challenges of this movie was how to portray a quickly growing Renesmee. We're sure you debated using CG or different actresses, right?
Oh, yes. And we wound up with a person who did all of those things. We had little girls at different sizes playing the scenes. Then we took Mackenzie Foy's face and did a sort of face implant. The baby in the first scene is purely computer-generated.
When you have to direct a love scene with two people like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson who are a couple in real life, do you give them much direction or just kind of let them do their thing and film it?
In the first one, it was a little more of that, but because [the sex scene in "Breaking Dawn - Part 2"] is a little more abstract — it's vamp-on-vamp sex — it doesn't really relate about what we know about sex. I did it in a very abstract series of images so it didn't connect as much to reality as the first movie. But I think it's always useful to have actors who are comfortable with each other.
Can you talk about changing the ending confrontation between the Cullens and the Volturi from what is in the novel?
I want to keep it a secret, of course. You don't want to give it away. But I think it's a visual medium, and if you get all those people together, you want to make sure it feels like a climax. I was thrilled that [author] Stephenie [Meyer] was onboard with that. Everyone agreed.
You have so many new covens represented in "Breaking Dawn - Part 2." Can you tell us about the "vamp camp" that was set up to get all the vampires ready for the big battle?
It was amazing for that whole sequence when we were doing the battle. I went to find Lee Pace one day and I didn't know what street he lived on, because the trailers were made into actual streets and neighborhoods in a huge area. You would turn 10 different corners of something like 50 vans for 50 different actors. It was a real challenge on some days to get them all on set. That was a logistical nightmare.
"Breaking Dawn - Part 2" relies on computer FX. What is your opinion about CG vs. practical effects?
I think it depends on what the film is. I do think here, because it is a fantasy film and there are all these special powers, that it was inevitable that it would use CG. As a movie fan, I think I prefer things that can be done practically. Sometimes CG is so perfect that you lose your sense of wonder. It would be really hard to make a practical werewolf, but that's how they would have done it in the old days.
You came in to direct the last two chapters of a wildly popular franchise. Did you feel an obligation as a director to try to match the styles of the previous directors?
Not at all. That's what I like about the series. The three directors that preceded me had incredibly different styles. I brought something different too, I believe. It wouldn't have been as interesting if there were a house style that I was pressured into doing. In general, there is a real freedom, whether it's the way the vampires sparkle or their look or their hair. I think if you look at each movie, each director took a different approach to it.
If "The Twilight Saga" were to continue somehow with more movies, would you be open to return?
I really enjoyed doing the end of this story. Part of the pleasure of doing this last movie is to find ways to make it a complete emotional experience, so it's over for me.
Since you're done with "Twilight," where can fans see your work next?
I'm directing a heavily revised version of a musical called "Sideshow," which is about Daisy and Violet Hilton, Siamese twins who were in the movie "Freaks." It's a wonderful, very emotional story that I hope one-tenth of one percent of the people who love "Twilight" check out.