Given the adulation of "Twilight" fans for Taylor Lautner, one could easily forget that just a few years ago he was almost replaced as heartthrob Jacob Black in "New Moon." But with two sequels under his belt and two more to go, Lautner is poised for the same kind of superstardom as his costars.
This week, Lautner tackles his first lead role in "Abduction," an action-thriller that casts him in the mold of a young action star not unlike Tom Cruise, to whom he's been recently compared. With chatter like that floating around the blogosphere, we spoke with Lautner, polled his fellow cast and crew members, and examined his professional past and future to see if this young star seems likely to turn into a Cruise-style top gun.
First and foremost, Lautner loves Cruise: When asked about comparisons made between the two of them, he confessed he wouldn't mind following in Cruise's footsteps. "Tom Cruise is probably number one on my list and always has been," Lautner said. "I've looked up to him since I was really young. I think the biggest reason that I've looked up to him is just his career choices. He's always continued to challenge himself and do different things, going from 'Risky Business' to 'Top Gun' to 'Jerry Maguire' to 'Born on the 4th of July.' The variety in those roles and genres is absolutely insane, and that's what I admire about him the most."
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"That's my goal," he revealed. "To be able to challenge myself like he did. If I end up with a tenth of the career that that guy's had, I would be completely happy."
His costars definitely see it. In "Abduction," Alfred Molina plays a CIA operative who is chasing after Lautner's character, for reasons that are initially unclear. But Molina said that he was confident that Lautner was on track for Cruise-hood. "I think he's well on the way to emerge as one of them," Molina observed. "He's got all the attributes that are required for that, and plus, he likes that kind of movie. He loves that world and he wants to make that world his. I think that's great. There's an old adage that it's not enough to have the talent, you have to the talent to have the talent -- and I think he's definitely got that."
His director is breeding it in him. John Singleton is the sort of cinephile filmmaker who shows his cast a lot of older movies for inspiration when making his own. When the two first met, Singleton showed Lautner a selection of films from Cruise's filmography, less for inspiration on "Abduction" than in his career as a whole. "[In] our initial bonding sessions, he and I would sit alone in a screening room watching different films. I showed him 'The Fugitive,' I showed him 'Minority Report,' I showed him various action films studying first Harrison Ford and then Tom Cruise -- but Tom Cruise to show him people who were kind of in his position at his age, and how they transitioned and evolved as actors."
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Singleton indicated that he thinks Lautner has the physical chops to keep pace with Cruise, but encouraged him to nurture within himself Cruise's other talent, for consistently choosing talented, high-profile collaborators. "I think [the comparison] is accurate in the action sense, but what I wanted him to concentrate on was Tom's transition from the 'Risky Business,' 'Top Gun' stuff to the 'Rain Man' and 'Born on the 4th of July.' I was like, look how Tom made a conscious decision to work with these types of directors, and to work with veteran actors like Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman, who you know when he was young he was getting advice from those older actors. And that just made Cruise better, so when you talk to Taylor, that's his plan: I want to work with interesting directors, and work with actors."
Looking at "Abduction," the immediate quality he shares with Tom Cruise is his commitment to the character, and the demands of the role. Lautner did as many of is own stunts as the producers would allow, and he clearly threw himself into the web of emotions his character untangles while coming to terms with the discovery that his parents are not who they appear to be. That his confusion is convincing is a testament to his laserlike focus on what he's supposed to do on screen, not to mention an indicator of his determination to make every film in which he appears as successful, and effective, as possible.
Of course, it certainly doesn't hurt that whether this film is a blockbuster or not, he's got two others coming that will invariably be big successes: "Breaking Dawn" Parts 1 and 2. Meanwhile, he's wasted no time lining up post-"Twilight" projects, including a couple of thrillers, as well as a big-screen representation of the classic action figure Stretch Armstrong. But no matter which of these falls into place, it's clear that stretching is what Lautner's most interested in doing, not cruising -- whether it's just expanding his repertoire as an actor, or parlaying his workhorse mentality into a successful career.