Every aspiring actor dreams of starring in a movie. And every movie star dreams of the film becoming an enormous hit. For the young stars of Twilight, being propelled from relative obscurity to the center of a global movement is an instantly life-altering experience. But as thrilling as the mass adulation may be, for Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner, the toughest step now lies ahead: transforming the hysteria of a blockbuster into a lasting acting career.
For every star who has leaped from a blockbuster franchise to permanent stardom (Harrison Ford, Leo DiCaprio), studio floors are littered with the headshots of those for whom that monster part wasn’t the magical beginning of the fairy tale but the tragic finale (Mark Hamill, Roger Moore).
Navigating the journey away from the blockbuster is treacherous, and the star faces some tough choices. Not all roads, in the end, are equal, though. Pattinson, Stewart, and Lautner should take note of the rules for stars moving on from the biggest role of their lives:
1. Don’t be a hero.
Heroes may beat the bad guys in the last scene, but when audiences leave the movies, it’s rarely the man in the white hat who captures the imagination. For Mark Hamill, landing the role of the interstellar version of an "aw, shucks" farm boy assured his place in film history but didn’t whet the public appetite for more. And though his role may have been slightly more complex, Daniel Radcliffe will spend many years ahead proving to the world that he’s not just the sweet orphan Harry Potter. It is heartwarming to see the hero — the usual two-dimensional incarnation of human goodness — win in the end, but not terribly interesting. Far better to be the flawed but rugged best friend, the laconic misanthrope dragged against his will into the fight, or better still, the villain himself.
2. Take the blockbuster ball and run with it.
The problem with being the star of a beloved hit is that you are forevermore associated in the public mind with that character. While many stars spend the rest of their careers trying to erase that character from the public minds with a series of against-type characters (Christopher Reeve shocked the world when he followed up Superman with a role requiring one of the big screen’s first gay kisses, in Deathtrap). Far more successful, however, have been those who simply embrace their iconic character and take it on the road. Charleton Heston’s square-jawed determination worked for Moses or Ben Hur or any other character he came across for the years to follow. Burt Reynolds essentially played the Bandit in a dozen films after that series. It only took a hat and a whip to turn the ironic, monotone Han Solo into Indiana Jones and dozens of characters thereafter.
3. Get serious.
For some stars, playing the same cartoon character over and over is not what they had in mind when they enrolled in acting class. For them, the post-Blockbuster years are a time to act as hard as you can and prove you're not the lightweight pretty face the world thinks you are. In the decade and a half since Titanic, Leo DiCaprio has tied his career to America’s auteur, Martin Scorsese, appearing in four of the director’s films, appearing almost exclusively under the hand of A-list prestige directors — taking roles for Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Sam Mendes, Woody Allen, and Steven Spielberg. Kirsten Dunst, for her part, left her three-picture Spiderman tour to become one of the most daring stars of the independent film world, taking roles with Lars Von Trier, Sophia Coppola, and Walter Salles, among others.
4. Be timeless.
Sean Connery defined '60s cool in his turn as James Bond. When he stepped away from the tuxedo, however, Connery’s wry demeanor seemed just at home in period dramas such as the The Man Who Would Be King and The Untouchables and in outer-space epics like Outland. Connery’s successor in the Bond role was not so lucky, however. Roger Moore’s dandyish demeanor was so precisely attuned to decadence of the disco age that by the time his Bond stint ended in the mid-'80s, his charm seemed a relic from another world.
5. Don't be confusing.
When Michael Keaton made the leap from comic actor to Batman, the world was perplexed. Eventually, however, his talent was strong enough that he gained acceptance as Tim Burton’s incarnation of the Caped Crusader. Having reinvented himself once, though, when he left the Batsuit, there was little space for Keaton to do it again. Despite being one of the most talented actors of the '80s and '90s, he careened between dramatic parts back to comedy without America ever quite knowing how to wrap their brains around Keaton — and never quite warming to him as a leading man again.
6. Don’t make the blockbuster your first stop.
As tempting as it is to open a career with a bang, when one arrives an empty vessel on the blockbuster stage, the enormity of those hits can become your entire identity. Relatively unknown before his Anakin days, Hayden Christensen has never quite been able to walk away from the Star Wars shadow. Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, however, already well-established when they enlisted with Lucas Co., put their stint on Naboo behind them in a heartbeat and now it is just a distant footnote for both. The situation is even worse for child stars who have a hard enough time transitioning to grown-up stardom. For Henry Thomas, Macaulay Culkin, and Jake Lloyd, the shadow of their big breakthroughs never faded.
You can cash in on the attention of the big part, signing up for new roles by the sackful while the iron is hot and your asking price is sky-high, hoping that one of them turns into a hit. Or you can wait for the dust to settle and the right project to come along. In the five years since the lights faded on Sam Rami’s Spider-Man trilogy, Tobey Maguire has starred in exactly two film releases (2009’s The Brothers and 2011's The Details). However, with Andrew Garfield having seized the Spider-Man hood and memories of Maguire's run fading, he is about to burst out all over again, costarring in Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby adaptation and with a role in Jason Reitman’s next film. With the years now behind him and some solid parts on the way, Tobey 2.0 should just be a few months off.
8. Reinvent yourself.
Carrie Fisher never found another leading-lady part that came close to Princess Leia. But four years after Return of the Jedi, Fisher turned a new page and published the novel Postcards from the Edge, soon followed by a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep. From then on, she has worked as one of Hollywood’s premier screenwriters and an accomplished author, the acting career a mere sideline and curiosity from the past.
For the young stars of Twilight, it remains to be seen which of these roads each will go down. With a handful of well-received, non-vampire dramatic roles under her belt, Stewart seems on her way down the path of seriousness. Lautner, for his part, seems to be sticking with his hunky action-hero outlines, with a part in a Michael Bay film coming soon. For Pattinson, however, whose non-Twilight parts have thus far been mostly commercial disappointments, the fear must be rising that if he doesn't find a better path soon, the Skywalker road will be all that is left to him.