If you live in North America, you probably first saw 28-year-old Australian actor Xavier Samuel in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" as Riley Biers, the (doomed) vampire tasked with helping to create a new vampire army.
Twi-hards know that Samuel won't be sinking his teeth into another "Twilight" film, but you can see him in the pseudo-historical drama "Anonymous," now available on DVD and Blu-ray. The twisty film is based on the theory that the historical William Shakespeare is a fraud and the real Bard is Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Samuel plays Henry Wriothesley, the illegitimate son of de Vere and Queen Elizabeth I.
We called Down Under, where Samuel's new romantic comedy "A Few Best Men" just opened in theaters, and asked the affable actor to wax philosophical about the impact of Shakespeare and vampires on his life.
"Anonymous" isn't your first experience with Shakespearean drama. How did the Bard help shape your early acting experiences in Australia?
I studied Shakespeare all through high school. Both of my parents teach English and history, so it has always been around my experience as a young man. When I started acting school, we did a production of "Hamlet" with an American director who was visiting. So, yeah, Shakespeare has been a big part of my experience so far. I think when you are working with writing like that, you're amazed at how contemporary it is. It really does still speak to today's audience. It hasn't been dated at all and it's still relevant.
"Anonymous" is controversial in its suggestion that Edward de Vere wrote most of Shakespeare's work. Has your experience with this film made you rethink your own views on the historical Shakespeare?
I'm pretty certain the Earl of Southampton wrote his plays. There are a lot of strange coincidences that point towards de Vere as the creator of the other works. I guess for me, personally, it doesn't really matter. Regardless of who wrote these plays and body of work, it's still there. We certainly had some interesting conversations about it. It makes for a thrilling story, and that's what attracted me to the screenplay in the first place. The crux of the film is the relationship between art and politics and how, during that time, you could put on a play and potentially overthrow a government or at least put a chink in its armor. It's relevant to remind people how powerful art is and how it can make change for the better.
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There are a lot of secret affairs and illegitimate children in "Anonymous," making your character, Henry, both the son and grandson of Queen Elizabeth I. Do you think Henry ever found out the truth as depicted in "Anonymous"?
I think de Vere wanted to tell him, didn't he? My character and de Vere have this affinity for each other that is part of a father-son relation. But I don't really contribute too much thought into what happens after the film. I think that's where you hand it to the audience and try to let them think about what happens afterwards because it is where my job ends.
What prompted you to mail an audition tape from Australia to play Riley Biers in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," and how surprised were you to get the part?
It was like being struck by lighting and was totally surreal! I had done a few auditions that way by sending tapes over from Australia, and you kind of get into a habit of not really thinking about it. You send them off into oblivion and you think, I wonder if anyone is going to watch this? It was a total surprise, so I flew myself to Vancouver to meet [director] David Slade and it snowballed from there. They were very secretive about the story. I don't think I read a draft of the film until three weeks before we started shooting.
You won an MTV Award for Best Fight for playing Riley. How has being a part of "Twilight" altered the course of your career?
It's hard to gauge, really. It's certainly opened a lot of doors that never would have been opened and presented a lot of opportunities. You meet really interesting people that you become friends with, and that's been the main advantage for me. Also, coming back to Australia, it kind of changed the temperature of the way people perceive me. It's been very positive.